MEDIA RELEASE: Deadly Fence Kills 152 Rare Tule Elk at National Park & Sparks 120-Strong Rally

MEDIA RELEASE: Deadly Fence Kills 152 Rare Tule Elk at National Park & Sparks 120-Strong Rally

Point Reyes, Calif. (April 12, 2021) — The deadly mismanagement of Point Reyes National Seashore sparked a rally of over 120 people on Saturday hosted by In Defense of Animals, The TreeSpirit Project, and ForELK with a land blessing by representatives of the Coast Miwok. The National Park Service recently announced that 152 Tule elk died in 2020, all from one herd trapped in a fenced Tule Elk “Preserve” at Tomales Point. Two other Tule elk herds that roam freely in the park did not suffer mass deaths because they are not prevented from accessing food and water, but the NPS plans to start shooting them while expanding ranching at the Seashore.

“There is nothing ‘natural,’ as the Park Service claims there is, about putting wild animals in an enclosure — in a national park, yet — and then claiming they’re still wild and should be left to die. Either take down the fences or provide the trapped elk food and water. A private zoo killing this many animals via starvation and thirst would be convicted of animal abuse,” said Jack Gescheidt of The TreeSpirit Project.

One of 152 Tule elk victims who died in the “Preserve” because of an 8 ft fence which ensures access to food and water for private meat and dairy ranchers.

Photo: Matthew Polvorosa Kline

Tule elk are a protected species endemic to California. For months, advocates have raised serious concerns about the lack of access to adequate water and forage, and have documented life-threatening conditions for the fenced herd inside the “Preserve.”

When activists raised the alarm about the huge number of confined elk dying during California’s drought, the NPS repeatedly denied the problem existed and failed to enact its purported emergency “contingency plan.” Not only did the NPS willfully fail to act, but rangers were also instructed to immediately dump water provided by activists for the dying animals on two separate occasions.

One in three elk inside the “Preserve” died unnaturally from lack of access to food and water. Their remains can be found along the fenceline and throughout the enclosure. 


The elk at the “Preserve” are especially precious since they are the largest remaining population of their species in the world. However, they are prevented from reaching water and forage in California’s drought season since they are trapped behind an 8-ft fence which stretches for miles across the peninsula. The fence preserves resources for private ranchers.

The latest elk numbers announced by the NPS on March 30, 2021, reduce the elk population at Tomales Point from 445 to 293, and follows a similar mass killing by neglect between 2012 and 2015 when more than 250 elk died as a result of drought conditions and prevented from accessing water. Without intervention, many more are expected to die in the coming months of the summer-autumn drought.

Despite being mandated by national park legislation to protect the Tule elk, the NPS has instead allowed elk to unnecessarily suffer and die, instead prioritizing resources for (5,600) privately-owned dairy and beef cows who now outnumber (587) Tule elk ten-to-one. 

Over 100 more of the trapped elk are expected to die during drought conditions this year, and 12-18 free-ranging Tule elk will be gunned down annually if the NPS is allowed to enact its disastrous, controversial, and cruel General Management Plan.

Thousands of Californians responded to a recent consultation on Seashore management and the vast majority want factory farms removed and the natural environment restored. However, the NPS is proposing the opposite plan which includes gunning down free-ranging Tule elk and allowing ranchers operating in this national park unit who already benefit from below-market leases to diversify their operations and extend their leases for 20 more years.

Cattle ranching takes up 1/3 of the public land, causing climate change, habitat destruction and posing a hazard to wildlife and visitors from E. Coli and enterococci. 

Photo: Jim Coda

The General Management Plan proposed by the NPS would further jeopardize Tule elk, harm other wild species, and continue to damage this national park’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Independent water quality testing recently initiated by In Defense of Animals and Western Watersheds Project found extremely high levels of fecal coliform in water draining from ranches, with some showing E. coli and enterococci at levels that exceed the allowable human health limits by 40x and 300x, respectively. 

“It’s unconscionable that these rare ‘wild’ elk have been fenced in and forced to suffer and die without adequate resources,” said Lisa Levinson, Wild Animals Campaign Director for In Defense of Animals. “They are confined to benefit publicly-subsidized beef and dairy ranches that currently dump millions of gallons of excrement on the land every year, accelerating a climate crisis and destroying this unique and fragile ecosystem. The ranches need to go, and the fence needs to come down.” 

A land-blessing was given by Coast Miwok representative Lucina Vidauri. Activists hope that newly-appointed Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland will change policy at Point Reyes National Seashore to respect unceded Coast Miwok lands and wild animals.

Photo: Silver Reaction Media

“We have tried on numerous occasions to work with the NPS on this issue. They continue to ignore us and the thousands of people who are catching wind of these malicious practices. We want accountability from NPS staff, and most importantly we want a thriving and free Tule elk population,” said Diana Oppenheim of ForELK.

Members of the public are encouraged to take action before the California Coastal Commission meets on April 22 to consider the NPS plan to shoot Tule elk and intensify animal agriculture at the Seashore:


IMAGES, all free to use with credit per filename:



In Defense of Animals, Lisa Levinson,, 215-620-2130 

ForELK, Diana Oppenheim,, 248-840-5684

The TreeSpirit Project, Jack Gescheidt,, 415-488-4200


In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization based in Marin with over 250,000 supporters and a 37-year history of protecting animals’ rights, welfare, and habitats through education, campaigns, and hands-on rescue facilities in India, South Korea, and rural Mississippi.

The TreeSpirit Project combines art, advocacy and activism to raise awareness of the crucial role of trees, forests, wild animals, and the natural world in our human lives, both globally and personally.

ForELK is a grassroots organization of people who fight for the protection of the Tule elk and their habitat within Point Reyes National Seashore. They work toward public engagement through education, direct outreach, network building, political demonstrations and protests.

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