Boulder County commissioners to review Rabbit Mountain elk hunting program

If you go

What: Boulder County commissioners‘ public hearing on the elk and vegetation management plan for Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain

When: 3:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Third floor hearing room, Boulder County Courthouse, 1325 Pearl St., Boulder

Further information about the management plan :

Boulder County commissioners on Tuesday afternoon are to review the results of the first season of limited elk hunting at the Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain and other nearby county open-space holdings.

As part of an effort to reduce the size of the elk herd lingering on the Rabbit Mountain open space area northeast of Lyons and the damage those elk were causing to the vegetation there, Boulder County allowed hunting of cow elk from Sept. 11, 2017, through Jan. 29 of this year.

Thirty-two hunters participated in the program last fall and winter, taking a total of 27 elk — 15 on Rabbit Mountain, seven on the county‘s nearby Cushman open space area and five on the county‘s Indian Mountain open space, according to Therese Glowacki, manager of the county Parks and Open Space Department‘s Resource Management Division.

During the Board of County Commissioners‘ Tuesday meeting, the county staff and Colorado Parks and Wildlife will present what Glowacki said would be a few minor suggested changes to the three-year elk and vegetation management plan the commissioners originally approved last August, including the hunting that‘s to resume early next September and last through the end of January 2019.

Under one of those changes, the number of hunters the county would allow to participate each week would increase to three, up from the two-per-week limit that applied in September 2017 through last January.

The first Rabbit Mountain hunting season included a closing of Rabbit Mountain to the general public from Mondays through Wednesday‘s during the hunting weeks, reopening the popular open space area to public use from Thursdays through Sundays.

Another of the management-plan change for next fall‘s and winter‘s Rabbit Mountain elk hunt would allow Boulder County‘s staff to reopen the park earlier than Thursday of the affected weeks, if all that week‘s three participating hunters are successful by or before Wednesday of the week.

Pretty much ‘status quo‘

Glowacki said in a memo to the commissioners‘ for Tuesday‘s meeting that in some of the weeks in the September 2017-January 2018 hunting program, all of that week‘s hunters on Ron Stewart Preserve were successful on the first day.

However, “we kept the property closed for the three days” — Monday through Thursday of those weeks — “to reduce public confusion,” she said.

Glowacki said that in the September 2018-January 2019 round of hunting, people could be alerted about the sooner-than-Thursday reopenings through social media “and good signs. We think this is the best in pubic service.”

Other than the increase in hunters and the possibility of shorter closings of the Rabbit Mountain open space while the hunting is under way, the staff-suggested 2018-2019 management plan would pretty much be “status quo” from the plan the county commissioners OK‘d for 2017-2018, Glowacki said in interview.

The herd reduction program would continue to include fencing to try to keep the elk off high-use areas where they have been damaging vegetation, and hazing of elk to get them to move elsewhere, officials said.

Boulder County began installing fence around two high use areas in April, and those fences are to be completed by Youth Corps members and volunteers this summer.

Officials said 12 hazing efforts took place between April 15 and May 15 to get elk to move from one high-use area but that observations showed that the hazed elk did leave the property, but then returned within a day or two, sometimes even on the same day.

Boulder County and Colorado Parks and Wildlife will again be comparing elk movements from elk with radio collars, during the hunting and after hazing.

Glowacki reported that last winter‘s high count for elk at Rabbit Mountain was 260, down from a 2016-1017 count of 360 elk a year earlier, and “significantly lower than the growth-curve projected 600 elk” that had been expected to be lingering in the area without the intervention and management measures taken.

Radio-collared elk activity showed animals spreading out much more since intervention began, she said.

The hunting activity, hazing, fencing and other parts of the management plan are intended to get the elk away from the Rabbit Mountain open space, where the growing herd‘s browsing, grazing and trampling of vegetation had caused extensive damage to the highly diverse native plants and wildlife habitat at Ron Stewart Preserve, officials have said.

Prior to implementation of the elk and vegetation management plan, Rabbit Mountain‘s elk population had grown from 25 to 350 in the last 10 years. The elk have learned to avoid hunters by not migrating.

The herd staying on or around Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain year-round had been raiding neighboring agricultural fields at night — causing substantial damage to neighboring residential fences, landscaping, and crops — before returning to the safety of the preserve during the day.

Multiple objectives

Boulder County commissioners on Tuesday are to hold a public hearing on the elk and vegetation management plan‘s results thus far, and the staff recommendations on revisions to that plan, before deciding whether to approve those revisions.

The management plan‘s objectives, according to its Boulder County website, are:

• “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.”

• “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.”

• “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.”

• “Continue to work with farmers and landowners to minimize elk damage to private property and elk-human conflicts to the extent possible.”

Leave a Comment