To Protect Elk Herd, CSF Opposes Mad Rabbit Trails Project

Contact: Ellary TuckerWilliams, Rocky Mountain States, Assistant Manager

  • The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), along with 15 other sporting conservation organizations, submitted a letter of opposition to the Proposed Action in the Environmental Assessment for the Mad Rabbit Trails Project.
  • As proposed, the Mad Rabbit Trails Project presents serious concerns for Colorado’s second-largest elk herd which is already exhibiting declining population trends.
  • Increased human disturbance, habitat fragmentation, and loss of critical elk calving habitat are a just a few of the identified concerns surrounding the Mad Rabbit Trails Project.

Why It Matters: Colorado is experiencing rapid growth of participation in outdoor recreation, coupled with unprecedented levels of relocation to rural areas of the state. While having more people enjoying the great outdoors is fantastic, it is creating an unprecedented strain on our public lands and wildlife that must be properly management and mitigated.

The Mad Rabbit Trails Project is situated in the habitat of the E-2 Bear’s Ear elk herd, the second largest elk herd in Colorado, making it the second largest in the world. The E-2 Bear’s Ear herd has been experiencing recent declines in elk calf recruitment leading to concerns about the overall herd population’s trajectory. While several factors play into the overall health of elk populations, there is a growing body of science that shows just how harmful human disturbance during elk calving season is to the overall sustainability of the herd. Research has shown an increase in the probability of mortality by 5% each time an elk calf or its mother is disturbed, which can occur as far as 1500 meters away from trail-based recreation, leading to habitat loss, compression, and fragmentation. Furthermore, studies in Colorado have shown a decrease in elk reproductive rate of approximately 40% when subjected to nearby simulated human activities during calving season.

The Proposed Action in the Mad Rabbit Trails Project draft Environmental Assessment proposes 52 miles of new trail construction (both non-motorized and motorized trails) near Rabbit Ears Pass, with many of the trails located in the Long Park Roadless Area. The Mad Rabbit Trails Project is part of a larger proposal explicitly designed to attract 180,000 incremental summer visitors to the Steamboat area, each staying on average over 4 nights. Prorating for the portion of the project represented by the Mad Rabbit Trails Project adds over 1,700 summer visitors per day. New trail construction paired with increased use during elk calving season only increases the probability of repeated human disturbance, putting additional stress on an already declining population. As stewards of the land, it is vitally important that we balance the demand for more outdoor recreation options with the needs of our wildlife. Unfortunately, as proposed, the Mad Rabbit Trails Project presents a serious threat to the long-term sustainability of the E-2 Bear’s Ear elk herd and other wildlife that is sensitive to human disturbance.

CSF, along with 15 other outdoor sporting conservation organizations signed onto a coalition letter opposing the Proposed Action in the Environmental Assessment for the Mad Rabbit Trails Project and calling for a full Environmental Impact Statement. If the project is allowed to proceed as described in the Proposed Action, it would likely harm local wildlife, compromise the Long Park Roadless Area, violate NEPA and Colorado Roadless Area processes, and disregard Routt County residents’ overwhelming support for a balanced approach to recreation and conservation.

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