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.

2019 Hunting Season

People interested in hunting at Ron Stewart Preserve must first apply for a GMU 20 rifle elk hunting license with hunt code E-F-020-L3-R through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Hunters who obtain that license will be contacted with information about how to apply for our random drawing. All selected hunters will be required to pass a shooting proficiency test and attend an orientation.

Please note that the E-F-020-L3-R license is only valid in a small area of unit 20. Hunters should obtain other landowner’s permission in case they are not selected in our random drawing. Please see page 41 of the 2019 Big Game brochure for details.

If you have questions, please email elk@bouldercounty.org.

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.

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 (as of 1/14)

  • 30 of 51 hunters have had successful harvests.
  • The herd was intensely hazed by the hunting pressure. Over the course of a couple days, the hunters pushed the herd from the eastern agricultural fields onto Cushman, then onto southern Rabbit, and finally to Indian.

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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

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 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
323-420-8551