Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Colorado and local municipalities closed on a land exchange Monday that will allow approximately 1,200 acres of important wildlife habitat to be added to the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, increasing the refuge’s size by nearly one-third and connecting it with the region’s open space and trail system. Rocky Flats is one of three National Wildlife Refuges in the Denver metropolitan area that provide open space, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation opportunities.
Today’s closing is an important step in establishing the Rocky Mountain Greenway, an uninterrupted trail and open space network will connect hundreds of miles of trails in the Denver metropolitan area. The Rocky Mountain Greenway will link community trail systems, Rocky Flats and Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuges, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, and Rocky Mountain National Park.
The land exchange is a part of a larger set of transactions involving private landowners and other public entities that will result in the conservation of habitat and recreation lands. Together, these transactions seek to eliminate development threats to the western edge of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, connect the Refuge’s protected plant and animal habitats to conserved land owned by local government open space programs, and buffer the Refuge near its southern boundary.
The land closing follows a favorable ruling by the federal district court in Colorado that the Service complied with the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Act of 2001 and applicable laws. Last Friday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied an emergency motion to block the land transaction. As part of the refuge expansion, the Service transferred a 300-foot wide strip of land on the eastern boundary of the Refuge to the Jefferson Public Parkway Highway Authority for transportation improvements. The transfer of the Indiana Street transportation corridor is required by the Refuge’s authorizing legislation.
The land exchange offers the protections of the National Wildlife Refuge System to a large, contiguous and intact tract of xeric tallgrass prairie. Xeric tallgrass prairie only exists on a narrow band of the Colorado Piedmont, east of the mountain front in Colorado. The xeric tallgrass prairie grassland on Rocky Flats and the City of Boulder Open Space nearby to the west are believed to be the largest remaining tracts of this plant community in North America. Additionally, portions of land that the Service will receive include additional riparian habit for the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, a species listed by the federal government as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1998.
Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge sits at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The refuge site played an important role in Cold War history as a Department of Energy-operated facility for the production of plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads. The refuge entered U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stewardship in 2007 following the Environmental Protection Agency’s determination that corrective cleanup actions had been completed.
For additional information on the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, please visit: http://www.fws.gov/rockyflats/.