Tule Elk to be Killed on Point Reyes National Seashore

It’s a misty morning in Point Reyes.

A bobcat stalks quietly through the tall native grasses. Red-wing blackbirds paint the horizon with dazzling, cloud-like formations. A red-tailed hawk circles overhead, on the lookout for ground squirrels, moles and songbirds. But one group of figures stand out from the fog. Their massive antlers are unmistakable. They are the Tule Elk. 

Point Reyes Tule Elk bull photographed by Jim Coda.

A rare creature to most Californians, the Tule Elk are a sight to behold. For thousands of years, these regal animals have roamed the Northern California coast. In fact, centuries ago it was estimated that as many as 500,000 Tule Elk roamed the state. In these days, herds numbered in the thousands. 

Tule Elk are endemic to California, which means they are found nowhere else. 

But humans hunted them mercilessly. Cattle and sheep farming destroyed the prairies they once grazed. Hunting wiped them out by the masses. By the late 1800’s, the Tule Elk were thought to be extinct.

Luckily, a small herd was discovered in Central California. Conservation efforts gradually brought the Tule Elk’s population back into safer numbers.

Even today, only 5,700 of these animals remain. Most Tule Elk now roam in groups of 30-50. These herds once covered the horizon. 

One of the only places in California where Tule Elk can be viewed is Point Reyes National Seashore. But now, these elk are once again in danger. For years, Point Reyes has allowed private meat and dairy ranches to lease land. This land is public and taxpayer-funded.

These private ranches have always caused issues for wildlife. Cows in such large herds strip the land of its nutrients, cause erosion, and pollute waterways with their feces. In fact, the beautiful waters of Point Reyes actually rank in the top 10% most contaminated by feces in the United States. The barbed wire fencing used by Point Reyes ranches has killed and injured many animals. 

A bull elk with his antlers caught in barbed wire, photographed by Jim Coda. Barbed wire fences often kill animals by catching their hind legs as they jump over the fencing.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the National Park Service has announced a plan to kill elk on the ranchers’ behalf. They’ve decided that Point Reyes’ elk population should be capped at just 140 animals.

To keep these tight numbers, an estimated 10-15 individuals will have to be shot every year. The National Park Service calls Tule Elk “overpopulated” on the seashore, yet allows over 5,000 cows to graze the same land. 

The truth is that the Tule Elk are not overpopulated on the seashore. The truth is that the Tule Elk, just like wildlife all over the world, compete with the cows for grazing.

What do you think causes more damage to a native landscape: just over 200 members of a native species, or over 5,000 non-native cows? We think the answer is obvious. 

Currently, private, for-profit ranches cover a third of Point Reyes. Isn’t this enough? The presence of the ranches is harmful to wildlife already. Killing wildlife to appease these businesses is unthinkable. 

We are urging our supporters to take action. Click here to find out how you can contact the Assistant Secretary of Fish and Wildlife and the Secretary of the Interior. We’ve even provided a sample letter to make the process fast and convenient.

We can’t let the National Park Service get away with this. Killing native wildlife on public land to appease private businesses sets a dangerous precedent. Whether or not this decision goes through will determine the future of conservation on public lands.

The Tule Elk and all native wildlife are counting on us to stand up for them.

To learn more visit forelk.org. ForELK is a volunteer-run, grassroots organization founded by Diana Oppenheim and Spiraleena Mason in an effort to save, free, and prioritize the native tule elk. Animal Place is grateful to them for the enormous amount of labor they have put in advocating for the Tule Elk.

At the advice of ForElk, we are asking you to send an email to help the Tule Elk. 

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