BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – A herd of elks’ decision to take refuge year-round at Rabbit Mountain has forced the state and county to consider opening hunting on public land.
Boulder County, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, officials said the herd of elk in northern Boulder County killed a lot of the habitat’s plant life, ruining the land for other species.
“It is absolutely essential to manage herbivore population,” said Larry Rogstad, Parks and Wildlife Area Manager. “We’ve been seeing an exponential increase in the elk.”
Rogstad said the elk population was estimated to be around 50, just 10 years ago. Entering 2017, an estimated 400 elk roam the same 500-acre property.
“These elk are no longer migratory,” Rogstad said.
Rogstad said the elk have learned where hunters are on private properties surrounding the open space. With an abundance of food resources, mixed with protection from hunters on private land, the elk have not found a need to migrate to the mountains during the summer.
Therese Glowazki, Resource Manager for Boulder County, said Rabbit Mountain is known as an “ecotone.”
An ecotone is a habitat which combines mountainous terrain, with the ecosystems of the plains. The combination makes the land prime living space for animals, and even better growing space for plant life.
Glowazki said, from her perspective, making sure the land thrives is priority.
“When you have that kind of a concentration, (elk) trample the vegetation,” Glowazki said.
Glowazki said the vegetation is important for maintaining an ecosystem natural to Colorado. Also, preserving the ecosystem could help other species survive. For example, one third of the snake species found in Colorado can also be found at Rabbit Mountain alone.
State and county officials said the ever-growing elk population threatens the livelihood of both plants, and other wildlife.
“When you have bare soil, you have erosion. It is degrading the plant life up here,” Glowazki said.
In order to limit the damage done to the ecosystem, Colorado Parks and Wildlife considered allowing hunting on Rabbit Mountain.
Hunters would be limited to one tag, and only a handful of licenses would be issued.
Rogstad said permitting hunting would help control the population, while also pressuring the herd to begin their natural path of migration they once took.
To maintain safety, the park would also be closed to pedestrians during the hunting period.
Rogstad said the process would also save taxpayer dollars. Colorado Parks and Wildlife is required by state law to reimburse residents near the open space for some damages done by the herd. By running the herd away for portions of the year, Rogstad said the state could save thousands of dollars per year.
“Our goal is to keep the biodiversity on Rabbit Mountain, by keeping all of the systems of the ecosystems in place,” Glowazki said.
The county, and state, have scheduled an open forum to discuss the idea with the community. For more information on how you can weigh in, contact either the county, or Colorado Parks and Wildlife office.
Dillon Thomas is a reporter at CBS4 and a Colorado native. He believes everyone has a story, and would love to share yours! You can find more of his stories by following him on Twitter, @DillonMThomas.