Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain Elk & Vegetation Management Plan
Elk at Rabbit Mountain

Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain
Elk & Vegetation Management Plan

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).

All hunters who drew a 2017 Rabbit Mountain Access Permit were required to attend a shooting proficiency test and onsite orientation.

Fencing and hazing will also be used to help reduce the grazing and trampling impacts on the native vegetation and encourage migration.

Boulder County staff will provide regular updates on this page and in public meetings to the Board of County Commissioners. 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.


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Updates as of November 14. No hazing or fencing activities occurred during this period.


  • 19 hunters have participated.
  • 16 have been successful.


  • The count from mid-September was about 200, which did not include the elk hiding in the tall corn.
  • A partial counting effort on October 6 detected several groups around the mountain (47, 27, 5), but none on Indian Mountain or Cushman.
  • On October 13, 102 animals were counted, with some uncounted at the top of Ron Stewart Preserve and corn areas.
  • Collared elk activity shows animals spreading out throughout the subunit: elk are in the corn and private lands to the southeast, in the area of the mine west of Ron Stewart Preserve, on private land in Stone Canyon (west of Indian Mountain), on the Wynn-Forsberg Open Space (north of Apple Valley), and on Ron Stewart Preserve.

Communications & Public Feedback

  • Hunters attended one of three hunter orientations and took proficiency tests before their assigned week.
  • Social Media and Public Feedback have been very light.


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Management Plan

On August 22, 2017, the Boulder County Commissioners approved the Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain Elk and Vegetation Management Plan. The plan outlines strategies to manage a sustainable elk population on Ron Stewart Preserve and surrounding areas through adaptive management. While the plan does allow limited, controlled hunting of the Rabbit Mountain elk herd as a management tool, it does NOT allow recreational hunting on this or any other open space properties.


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. The herd stays on or around Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain year-round and raids neighboring agricultural fields at night, then returns to the safety of the preserve during the day.

The elk herd’s rapid expansion is causing extensive damage to the highly diverse native plants and wildlife habitat of Ron Stewart Preserve. 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 Ron Stewart Preserve.

Plan Goal & Objectives

Manage a sustainable elk population on Ron Stewart Preserve and surrounding areas through adaptive management.


  1. Re-establish seasonal migration patterns where the elk migrate to higher elevation summer range for three to five months each year and do not concentrate year-round on Ron Stewart Preserve.
  2. Reduce impacts to grassland sites, shrub stands, and forested areas in the high-use areas of Ron Stewart Preserve. Curtail any expansion of high-use areas from the current core area.
  3. Maintain an elk herd of 30-70 animals on Ron Stewart Preserve based on historic numbers. The lower end of the range is for non-migratory elk. The upper end if seasonal migration is re-established and elk use Ron Stewart Preserve only for winter range.
  4. Continue to work with farmers and landowners to minimize elk damage to private property and elk-human conflicts to the extent possible.
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.

Meeting History

August 22, 2017

Staff presented the plan to the Board of County Commissioners. The plan was approved.

June 20, 2017

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 was asked to return in mid-August with a final plan for approval.

May 25, 2017

Staff presented the plan to the Parks & Open Space Advisory Committee.

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

April 27, 2017

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

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

April 6, 2017

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

Public Comments Received

Public comments received throughout the planning process have been consolidated into one document.

Contact Us

Parks & Open Space

Therese Glowacki