In this Oct. 5, 2015, file photo, prairie dogs look on during a release of 30 of the ferrets by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, Colo. Colorado officials have closed parks and canceled a Major League Soccer game's fireworks display after plague was confirmed in prairie dogs in a Denver suburb. The Tri-County Health Department said Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019 that prairie dog burrows in Commerce City are being sprayed with insecticide to kill fleas that could transmit the disease to the rodents, people and pets. Credit: David Zalubowski | AP

Just an FYI if you planned on attending the fireworks show that was scheduled to follow Saturday night’s MLS match between the Colorado Rapids and Montreal Impact in Commerce City, Colorado.

The Rapids tweeted: “Statement regarding tomorrow’s match, fireworks and closures around @DSGpark due to plague.”


According to the Rapids, Saturday’s match will go on as scheduled after the team consulted with officials from Commerce City – a Denver suburb – and the Tri-County Health Department.

“However, it has been recommended that the post-game fireworks display be canceled due to the confirmed presence of plague-infested fleas affecting prairie dog colonies in the surrounding areas,” the team wrote in a story posted on its website.

Also, parking lots at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park will be restricted to the asphalt portions. Again, because of the plague.

The stadium is bordered to the north by the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to “330 species of animals, including bison, black-footed ferrets, deer, coyotes, bald eagles and burrowing owls,” its website says.

And, apparently, plague-infested prairie dogs.

The refuge has been closed to the public since Wednesday after two confirmed cases of sylvatic plague – a rare disease caused by a bacterium that can be transmitted to humans via mammals and their fleas – were discovered in black-tailed prairie dogs on the refuge and in other nearby areas of Adams County. Refuge officials are applying pesticides to burrows in the impacted prairie dog colonies to eliminate the fleas, and the refuge will reopen when U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff members decide it is safe to do so.

This type of plague is reportedly fairly common in such areas and can be devastating to prairie dog populations, which are a key cog in the ecosystem.

“Plague is widespread throughout the western U.S. and frequently occurs in wild rodents,” according to the U.S. Geographical Survey. “All four species of prairie dogs in the U.S. are particularly susceptible to plague, suffering high mortality rates during outbreaks (> 90 percent) and resulting in local extirpation and population reductions. As a keystone species of grassland ecosystems, prairie dog losses significantly impact numerous other species that depend on them for food or shelter, including endangered black-footed ferrets, burrowing owls, mountain plovers, and several canine and avian predators. Controlling plague is a vital concern for ongoing management and conservation efforts for prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets.”

Plague is transmitted to humans via flea bites, handling of an infected animal or through the air in close quarters when a plague-infected person coughs (the CDC says the latter hasn’t happened in the United States since 1924). The two most infamous plague epidemics both originated in China, according to the CDC: the “Black Death,” which began in 1334 and spread along trade routes to Europe, which saw an estimated 60% of its population wiped out; and a “Modern Plague” that began in 1860 and caused an estimated 10 million deaths as it spread to port cities across the world.

So yeah, good idea canceling that fireworks show.