NPS Considers Proposal to Allow Tule Elk Herd to Roam Free in Tomales Bay Area of Point Reyes

The National Park Service has put forth a proposal to allow a tule elk herd to roam freely within the Tomales Point area of Point Reyes National Seashore and to discontinue the practice of supplying supplemental water to the herd during periods of drought.

Initiating the process, the park service kicked off a 31-day public comment period on Friday for its management plan and potential alternatives aimed at safeguarding and preserving the area’s natural wildlife ecosystem.

The elk are currently enclosed within a 2,900-acre reserve, managed as a restricted herd, with supplementary water provided as necessary.

The park service’s proposition entails dismantling the elk fence and temporary water systems. The NPS will also seek to enhance the infrastructure at the historic Pierce Ranch and modify the visitor usage regulations, which currently permit both overnight camping and day use of the beaches.

To engage the public, the NPS has scheduled a virtual public meeting on September 7 at 5 p.m. For commenting, the preferred avenue is through the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public Comment website. The final verdict on the Tomales Point Area Plan is anticipated by next summer.

Point Reyes National Seashore is the only park in the US with tule elk and has had its share of elk controversy in recent years. The Tomales Point herd experienced a decrease from 445 elk to 292 elk between the winters of 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 amid a severe drought. This prompted the park to place water troughs and mineral licks in the reserve in 2021.

In the same year, Harvard Law School’s Animal Law and Policy Clinic filed a federal lawsuit accusing Point Reyes National Seashore of negligence in elk management and violation of federal law. The lawsuit claimed the park specifically violated the Administrative Procedure Act, a statute regulating federal agencies’ rule-making and judicial review of decisions.

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