Rabbit Mountain Elk Management Plan
Elk at Rabbit Mountain

Rabbit Mountain Elk & Vegetation Management Plan

Only those currently holding a Rabbit Mountain Sub-unit GMU 20 tag (Hunt Code E-F-020-L3-R) from Colorado Parks & Wildlife will be eligible for the lottery this year. If you DO have this tag, there is no need to do anything. CPW will be contacting you soon with information about next steps.

2017-2018 Implementation

Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain will be closed to the public Monday through Wednesday from September 11, 2017, through January 31, 2018, to allow hunting. Only two hunters with access passes will be allowed on the property during that time. The two hunters will also be permitted on Indian Mountain, which is closed to the public, for the entire week (Monday – Sunday).

It has been decided that for this year, only hunters that possess a valid Rabbit Mountain Sub-unit GMU 20 tag (Hunt Code E-F-020-L3-R) and are 18-years-old or older will be eligible for a random lottery draw to hunt on Rabbit Mountain. All hunters who draw a Rabbit Mountain Access Permit will be required to attend a shooting proficiency test and onsite orientation.

Boulder County staff will provide regular updates in public meetings to the Board of County Commissioners and posted on this page. The county will evaluate the elk management plan every year and will announce the plan for next year before the CPW license draw in early April for the 2018-2019 hunting season.

Decision by the Board of County Commissioners

Staff presented the draft plan and Memo to the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, June 20. The hearing lasted for more than three hours and included about two dozen speakers. In addition, public comments were accepted in written form prior to the public hearing.

The Boulder County Commissioners gave approval to staff to move forward in working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to develop a plan for Rabbit Mountain Open Space for the purpose of wildlife and vegetation management that includes limited elk hunting for this fall season (and up to two additional years), with a request to staff to come back to the board in August of this year (prior to the hunting season) with more details and/or clarification on specific pieces of the management plan, to include:

  • Elk hazing plan
  • Public communications coordination plan
  • Data collection plan
  • Fencing plan
  • Annual review process and periodic updates to understand adaptations being made to the management plan

In summary, while the board will allow limited hunting to take place this fall based on the immediate need to address elk-related damage to the sensitive surrounding ecosystem and the size of the herd, the commissioners’ approval of hunting female (cow) elk in the Rabbit Mountain herd does not amount to creation of a new policy of allowing recreational hunting on Boulder County open space properties.

Final Plan Approval

Amendments for the final plan approval will be presented to the commissioners on August 22 at 11 a.m. in the Commissioners’ Hearing Room in Boulder. No public comment will be accepted at this public meeting.

Draft Management Plan

The Rabbit Mountain elk population has grown from 25 to 350 in the last 10 years. The elk have learned to avoid hunters by not migrating – staying on or around Rabbit Mountain year-round and raiding neighboring agricultural fields at night, returning to the safety of Rabbit Mountain during the day.

The elk herd’s rapid expansion is causing extensive damage to the highly diverse native plants and wildlife habitat of Rabbit Mountain. According to the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Rabbit Mountain is rated B1: Outstanding Biodiversity Significance, which means the plant and wildlife diversity is globally rare and irreplaceable. In addition, the elk have caused substantial damage to neighboring residential fences, landscaping, and agricultural crops.

After careful consideration of many options, and in consultation with Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Boulder County Parks & Open Space (BCPOS) staff believes it is imperative to re-establish seasonal migration in this elk herd by allowing limited and controlled public hunting on Rabbit Mountain. This is in addition to existing private land hunting and will help reduce numbers, which is also imperative to reducing all impacts from this elk herd, public and private.

Plan Goals

  • Encourage migration – This is the primary goal for the plan. By having elk hunted on Rabbit Mountain, they will no longer have their safe haven during the day and will mix with other elk in the area.
  • Use fencing, hazing, and adaptive management – These additional methods will help reduce the grazing and trampling impacts on the native vegetation and encourage migration.
  • Permit limited hunting on cow elk – Cow elk reduction is necessary to reduce the reproductive rate of the herd. This also ensures that elk hunting is for resource management purposed only, not trophy hunting.
  • Close property three days/week, after Labor Day through Jan. 31 – The plan states that we will close the property on three of the least busy days at Rabbit Mountain. This is for consistency with the public so they can plan their visits to Rabbit Mountain accordingly. We will use social media and the website to inform park visitors if we are able to open the property on the closed days for any reason.
  • Mimic Rocky Mountain National Park and Centennial Cone (JeffCo) – the two nearest examples of using hunting (or culling as in Rocky Mountain National Park) in combination with fencing, etc., were both successful at reducing the impacts of stationary elk herds on native vegetation in the Front Range.

Alternatives Considered

  • BCPOS tried hazing for several months and the elk returned after one to six days.
  • Culling has been suggested.
    • There is no established process for getting approval for culling by the state agency responsible for managing the state’s wildlife. There is no guarantee this option would be approved.
    • Culling can be either removing animals with volunteer sharp-shooters (hunters) who then don’t get the meat, or culling in some peoples’ minds is the rapid removal of 10-100 or more elk at one time by professionals.
    • Culling is expensive. Rocky Mountain National Park’s culling efforts cost $4,700/elk.
  • Fencing – BCPOS will use fencing for the high value and highly impacted area on Rabbit Mountain. Fencing is not feasible on neighboring property because it shifts the raiding elk from one private property to others without solving the refuge provided by Rabbit Mountain.
  • Fertility Control – There is no legal method approved by EPA for fertility control in wild elk. BCPOS will work with researchers to determine if fertility control could be used in a research setting to keep elk numbers down once the plan’s objectives are reached. In addition, fertility control is not a primary option with our current herd size because it would take too long to reduce herd numbers and our experience trying to capture elk for radiocollaring indicates we could not feasibly trap these elk to administer the fertility control.

Draft Rabbit Mountain Elk & Vegetation Management Plan: 2017-2027

Elk at Rabbit Mountain graph

Rabbit Mountain elk herd minimum counts and projected population growth.

Telemetry locations of four female elk

Telemetry locations of four female elk from the spring of 2015 to the spring of 2016.

Past Public Meetings

June 20

Staff presented the plan and Memo to the Board of County Commissioners on June 20.

The Boulder County Commissioners gave approval to staff to move forward with limited elk hunting for this fall season. Staff will return in mid-August with a final plan for approval.

May 25

Staff presented the revised plan to the Parks & Open Space Advisory Committee on May 25.

The committee voted 3-3 to recommend the plan to the Board of County Commissioners.

April 27

Staff presented the draft plan to the Parks & Open Space Advisory Committee on April 27.

The advisory committee requested more information and readdressed the issue on May 25.

Open House
April 6

Staff hosted an open house on April 6 and presented the draft plan.

Public Comments Received

Public comments received from the initial plan, the revised plan, and comments submitted to the commissioners have been consolidated into one document.

Contact Us

Parks & Open Space

Therese Glowacki