National Park Service Reveals 152 Tule Elk Died in Point Reyes in 2020

Photo by Hari Nandakumar

Following the controversial decision to kill Tule Elk in Point Reyes National Seashore in favor of cattle ranchers, the National Park Service (NPS) announced that 152 of the animals died in the area in 2020. For the NPS, this means they won’t need to kill part of the herds in Point Reyes. For conservationists, this development is much too convenient.

The NPS announced that the population of three tule elk herds at Point Reyes declined from 445 to 293 elk in 2020. According to the announcement, this population decline was due to “poor forage quality.”

“Over the past 25 years, the Tomales Point elk population has fluctuated between 280 and 550 individuals,” the NPS said in a statement. “The herd’s population tends to increase incrementally during favorable conditions, with the population expanding beyond carrying capacity, followed by less favorable conditions and subsequent population declines.”

Officials could not determine whether the population decline was due to dehydration and a lack of water, but rather the forage quality had been substantially damaged due to drought-like conditions. According to conservationists battling the NPS in Point Reyes, that’s not the whole story.

In December 2020, conservationists defied orders from the National Park Service to haul in 150 gallons of drinking water for the animals in Point Reyes. In a video posted to YouTube, activists are seen bringing tubs of water into the area of the elk and filling them with water. Although there is a brief confrontation with an NPS official, the activists successfully delivered the water:

The Point Reyes elk is one of the largest herds in California, and because they’ve taken up a home at residence of the grassy fields near Drakes Beach, they are competing with dairy cows for grass feeding. So when the National Park Service released its final plan to extend the leases of the ranches within the park from 5-years to 20-years, it included limiting the population of the competing tule elk.

The plan calls for reducing and limiting the tule elk population to 120. The herd currently sits at 138. According to the activists, 18 elk died during the 2020 drought because of a fence for private ranching that prevents them from reaching seasonal water sources.

“The actions of the National Park Service speak loud and clear: private ranching business is favored over public opinion and the lives of native wild animals at Point Reyes National Seashore,” Fleur Dawes of In Defense of Animals said in a press release. “Removing water from thirsty and dying rare Tule elk is despicable.”

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

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