Point Reyes Installs Water Troughs to Help ‘Thirsty and Dying’ Tule Elk

Photo by Ronan Furuta

Following a year where 152 tule elk died in Point Reyes National Seashore, wildlife officials are attempting to make the herd’s life a little easier during the drought with the introduction of water troughs in the park.

Three large troughs were placed at the south end of the Tomales Point Tule Elk Reserve and will stay in place until rain returns next winter. The gravity-fed water troughs will be continuously replenished by a 2,000-gallon tank located on Pierce Point Road and include escape ramps for smaller wildlife who might get stuck in them.

Marin County declared a drought emergency in May, with the area seeing its lowest rainfall in 140 years.

Water troughs for tule elk in Point Reyes. Photo by National Park Service.

The move comes following months of activists protesting the treatment of one of California’s largest herd and the National Park Service’s decision to limit tule elk populations in favor of cattle ranchers. In December 2020, activists defied orders from the National Park Service to haul in 150 gallons of drinking water for the animals. The actions were met with resistance from NPS officers, but they ultimately let the water stay in place. According to the activists, the elk are “thirsty and dying.”

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. 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.

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