Campus growth has repercussions for wildlife near UCCS

December 5, 2017

Nate Kingsley

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    As UCCS expands, their footprint spreads further into the 32 acres of wilderness that surround the university.

    In 2016, UCCS completed construction of Alpine Valley, which includes the Roaring Fork Dining Hall and three residence halls: La Plata, Cucharas and San Juan. Next year, the Ent Center for the Arts will open, followed by the William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center in 2019.

    While these developments have contributed to positively to university growth, construction can have a negative impact on surrounding wildlife.

    New construction requires habitat destruction. For example, developments that require wilderness to be leveled kills plants, like sage and sagebrush that might be protected species, according to Colorado Sagebrush & Sage Species Conservation Strategy.

    With 445 acres already developed, the university may need to turn to another area for construction.

    But the effects can be broader; animals can be displaced by changes to their environment, such as the construction at UCCS.

     I have lived in a neighborhood behind UCCS for the last seven years. My family’s property touches the land that belongs to the university. We have seen an impact in the campus’ expansion on the local wildlife, and it hasn’t been entirely positive.

    I grew up hiking the Bluffs and plains and marveling at the abundance of biodiversity that this small chunk of wilderness has to offer.

    At one point, I had mapped two coyote dens by my house, one of which had been active in the same spot for six years and was only about 200 yards from the Roaring Fork Dining Hall.

    Last year, when the Roaring Fork’s construction was nearly completed, I went to check the den for activity. It was completely abandoned. I assumed that the sounds and lights from the construction pushed the animals from their homes.

    It may seem like the displacement of wildlife is of no concern to a college student because it’s just another building or two going up. UCCS has even shown on their master plan, that they have already destroyed vegetation around the campus, according to the 2011 North Campus Master Plan.

    In learning more about the new construction and impact to wildlife, Facilities Services and the Office of Sustainability did not respond for comment.

    I am a state-licensed falconer, meaning I had to study Colorado ecology and the care of birds of prey. One thing that happens when predators are displaced from their homes is that there is a boom in their prey’s population. In this case: rodents.

    Maybe you’ve noticed the abundance of rabbits on campus; they’re a much more pleasant and less pest-like result of the university’s construction.

    A less pleasant product is that rats and mice are breeding more because there is nothing to regulate the population.

     Remember the Black Plague? Or maybe the Hantavirus Outbreak in Yellowstone National Park? These were caused by an overabundance of disease carrying rodents and the same thing may be imminent in your backyard.

    The threat doesn’t stop there. Think about how vulnerable these animals must feel without a safe shelter.

    When an animal is scared it becomes aggressive and it has to protect itself and its family. So what happens when a coyote wanders onto campus to hunt the rabbits that we have and suddenly finds a wave of students walking to class?

    It is going to feel threatened and may attack, injuring a student and ultimately resulting in the animal’s destruction. Other animals that may start moving into campus are prairie rattlesnakes, bobcats, mountain lions and black bears. None of these are animals that you would want to have attack you.

    As we celebrate the growth of our campus, let’s also consider what this means for the organisms around us.