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

Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain
Elk & Vegetation Management Plan

Boulder County manages elk at Ron Stewart Preserve using limited hunting and other resource management tools.

2020-2021 Hunting Season

Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain will be closed Monday through Wednesday from Sept. 21 through Jan. 31 for elk management through limited hunting. If hunters are successful early in the week, the park will be reopened the following day. The park is open Thursday through Sunday and on the following days:

  • Nov. 23-25 OPEN (Thanksgiving week)
  • Dec. 21-23 OPEN (Christmas week)
  • Jan. 18 OPEN (Martin Luther King Jr. Day)

Three hunters will be granted a one-week access permit to hunt on open space each week during the season. Hunters can take advantage of the closure to hunt on Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain on only the closed days, Monday through Wednesday. However, they may hunt the other areas (Indian Mountain and the Cushman Property) on any of the other days of their permit. All hunters will have passed a shooting proficiency test and attended an orientation. Learn more about hunting on open space.

This hunting program is solely and specifically permitted as a resource management tool. There is no cost to the hunter beyond the existing Colorado Parks and Wildlife license system and Boulder County does not receive any additional revenue. Recreational hunting at Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain or any other open space property is strictly prohibited.

2020-2021 Implementation

Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain will be closed to the public Monday through Wednesday from Sept. 21 through Jan. 31 for elk management through limited hunting but will remain open to the public during the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. When management activities cease early in the week, staff will open Ron Stewart Preserve early to the public.

Updates as of Oct. 15

  • Season began Sept. 21.
  • Staff completed three on-site orientations at Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain held on Saturday, Sept. 12, Wednesday, Sept. 16, and Saturday, Oct. 10.
  • 12 hunters have participated.
  • 9 harvests (8 animals harvested on Indian and 1 on Rabbit Mountain).
  • 75% success rate.
  • Staff will begin collecting vegetative data beginning in late October on days when there is no hunting (Thursdays through Sundays).

Permitting Results

  • 85 hunters declared interest in hunting Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain.
  • 190 hunters declared interest in hunting both Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain and Red Hill.
  • 51 hunters and 20 alternates were selected through a random draw.
  • 13 hunters successfully drew both hunts, whether selected to hunt or selected as an alternate.

Herd Distribution

  • Approximately 116 elk were counted on Jan. 30 with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
  • There have been no recent counts as we have been waiting for corn harvest.
  • Animals are distributed across the landscape during the rut, including west of Indian Mountain and at points inside Larimer County.
  • Additional counts are scheduled for this fall and winter.

2019-2020 Implementation

Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain was closed to the public Monday through Wednesday from Sept. 9 through Jan. 31 for elk management through limited hunting but remained open to the public during the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. When management activities ceased early in the week, staff were able to open Ron Stewart Preserve early to the public on seven occasions.

Updates

  • 56 hunters
  • 27 harvests
  • 48% success rate
  • Approximately 116 elk were counted on Jan. 30 with Colorado Parks and Wildlife
  • Additional elk ground counts will occur in February and March
  • Staff continued to collect vegetative data
  • Staff recruited volunteers to assist with hazing efforts during the spring and summer outside of calving season

2018-2019 Implementation

Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain was closed to the public Monday through Wednesday from Sept. 17 through Jan. 31 for elk management through limited hunting.

Updates

  • 31 of 57 hunting sessions resulted in successful harvests.
  • Staff and volunteers built two small exclosures to keep elk out of overused areas. The areas will be rehabilitated and reseeded.
  • Staff continued collecting vegetative data.
  • CPW added two radio collars (total 7) on elk to track movements.
  • The high elk count this winter was 168, that is 100 lower than last year, and 200 lower than pre-elk and vegetation management.

Elk Trapping & Radiocollars

One important feature of management is radiotracking. It is important to know where these animals are, when they are there (and when they are not there), and what kinds of moves they make, daily and seasonally. We work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to capture, collar, and follow these animals across the landscape.

We like to have a representative segment with collars to describe the range and movements. They also help us find and count groups (collars are not usually alone). Our counts are important metrics to help us reach our management goals. As radiocollars run out of battery life, collars fail, or animals die, we need to trap each winter to keep that representative sample size collared. We begin shortly after the end of the last hunting season for the subunit area (centered around Rabbit Mountain) and try to trap until we have reached our number, or the safe trapping period for pregnant cow elk ends (usually around April 1). The radiocollars allow us to monitor movements and distribution throughout the year – and from year to year, as we proceed with the plan.

Data from the radiocollars shows our efforts are working. We are seeing fewer elk overall that spend less time on Rabbit Mountain and cause less damage to the natural resources, agricultural resources, and private landowners.

Radiocollar data

Elk trap

Elk are trapped in a large, walk-in cage. They are blindfolded and given oxygen while they are tagged.

2017-2018 Implementation Updates

Hunting

Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain was closed to the public Monday through Wednesday from Sept. 11, 2017, through Jan. 29, 2018, for limited hunting. Only two hunters per week with access permits were allowed on the property during that time. Hunters were also permitted on Indian Mountain and the Cushman property, both of which are closed to the public.

Hunters first had to secure a GMU 20 tag for the Rabbit Mountain area (E-F-020-L3-R). All of those subunit tag holders were then offered an opportunity to opt into our access program. They then applied for a specific week in which to hunt through our website. All hunters who drew a 2017 Rabbit Mountain Access Permit were then also required to attend a shooting proficiency test and on-site orientation.

  • Hunting season ended Jan. 31, 2018.
  • 32 hunters participated.
  • 27 of 37 hunter sessions were successful (15 on Rabbit Mountain, seven on Cushman, five on Indian Mountain). Some hunters had more than one session.
  • Some hunters on Ron Stewart Preserve were successful on the first day. We kept the property closed for the three days to reduce public confusion.
  • Hunters in the sub-unit, but outside of Ron Stewart Preserve, were more successful than previous years with at least 31 additional elk harvested on private property.

Communications & Public Feedback

  • Hunters attended one of two hunter orientations and took a proficiency tests before their assigned week. The last hunter orientation was Saturday, Oct. 28.
  • Many participants provided positive feedback on how well organized the program was implemented.
  • Social Media and Public Feedback were very light.
    • Fewer than 10 emails about the implementation, mostly about the Ron Stewart Preserve closure.
    • Early comments on Facebook among five people, half supported and half opposed.

Telemetry/Counts

  • The winter high count from this year was 260 elk. That is down from 360 elk last year and significantly lower than the growth-curve projected 600 elk without intervention.
  • Collared elk activity shows animals spreading out much more since intervention began.

Radio Collars

  • Initiated live-trapping to replace radio collars on elk.
  • Six new radio collars placed on elk.
  • This effort also disturbed the elk to keep them moving.

Hazing & Fencing Activities

  • Fences were installed around the two high use areas.
  • Hazing took take place in spring (April 15 through May 18) to get the elk to move from the high use areas. Hazing was resumed in the summer (June 26 through September 3). Observations of hazing show that the elk leave the property, then return within a day or two, sometimes even the same day.
  • We will be comparing elk movements from the radio collars with the hunting and after hazing.

Management Plan Extended

The Boulder County Commissioners approved a three year extension of the Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain Elk and Vegetation Management Plan on March 30, 2020.

Past Meetings

Board of County Commissioners (March 30)
On Monday, March 30, the Boulder County Commissioners approved a three-year extension of the Ron Stewart Preserve Elk & Vegetation Management Plan with the caveat that hunting will cease once herd objectives are met.

Parks & Open Space Advisory Committee (Feb. 27)
On Feb. 27, the Parks & Open Space Advisory Committee voted to recommend the plan to the Board of County Commissioners.

Original Management Plan

On Aug. 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.

Background

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 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

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

Objectives:

  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

May 28, 2019

Staff presented results form the first two years of the plan and requested approval of recommendations for year three. The Board of County Commissioners approved the changes.

May 29, 2018

Staff presented results from the first year of implementation and proposed recommendation for minor changes to the plan. The Board of County Commissioners approved the changes.

Aug. 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

Jenny Dalton
Hunt Coordinator
323-420-8551
Dave Hoerath
Wildlife Biologist
303-678-6204