MEDIA RELEASE: April Fools'! Park Service Announces New Plan for Tule Elk at Point Reyes: Burgers

MEDIA RELEASE: April Fools'! Park Service Announces New Plan for Tule Elk at Point Reyes: Burgers

Point Reyes, Calif. (April 1, 2021) — National Park Service (NPS) representatives stunned attendees at a media event at Point Reyes National Seashore this morning. Social Media Outreach Coordinator Melanie Gunn was first at the lectern, set up outside for pandemic safety at the Bear Valley Visitor Center, to tout the NPS’ pending new 2021 General Management Plan for the Seashore. 

Gunn fired off first, announcing a startling new fate for its rare, iconic Tule elk: not just shooting them for ranch leaseholders, but serving up the gunned down elk to park visitors, at roadside concessions, as Tule Elk Burgers.  

“We can kill two birds with one stone,” gushed Gunn. “We can manage the elk population, and help struggling ranchers with a new, profitable roadside concession. Plus, offer visitors a delicious grab-and-go meal, all at the same time. Hey, I guess that’s three birds — or two birds and an elk,” she quipped.

“We’d also like to unveil a T-shirt competition for the Tule Elk Burger concessions. Which do you like best?” she asked the gathering, holding up three T-shirts with different slogans and graphics: 

1) “Come for the elk, stay for elk burgers!”
2) “Taste the wild in every bite!”
3) “I’m lovin’ elk!”

One of the many shocked reporters immediately questioned the ethics — and public relations optics — asking, “You’re going to feed to the public the very animals they came to the park to see, alive, in the wild?”

Point Reyes wildlife ecologist Dave Press jumped in to help sell the novel eat-some-elk idea. “First, everyone agrees we have to cull the herd,” Press insisted, even as audience heads, already with jaws hanging in incredulity, shook slowly side-to-side.  

“Second,” he continued, “The native Coast Miwok who lived here for thousands of years killed and ate elk, and deer, and bear, and so on. Elk burgers are just a 21st-century culinary update of an authentic Native American practice, living off the land, wasting nothing, in harmony with nature.”   

Press is the ecologist in charge of monitoring the three herds in the park, and infamously presided over the death of almost half of the entire herd of 540 elk fenced trapped inside the 2,600-acre fenced area the NPS calls the “Tomales Point Tule Elk Preserve.” From 2012 to 2014, during California’s drought, 254 captive elk died in the Preserve on his watch. He insists to this day that the mass elk deaths were “natural” — despite the 8-foot fencing preventing them from reaching forage and ranch ponds just yards aways, outside their enclosure.

Press pressed on, “By allowing ranches to offer up roadside, char-broiled elk to thousands of visitors who come to see the rare Tule elk, they’ll get a taste of these majestic animals in their natural environment. Literally,” smiling at his pun. “But without the challenging bow-and-arrow hunting and time-consuming Native American rituals and reverence.”

Gunn, added, “We see it as a win-win-win: for the historic ranches, for visitors, and for maintaining elk herd health — if maybe not for the elk who take a bullet for the team.”

An outraged audience member yelled out, “But the elk and Native Americans were on this land for thousands of years. American ranches and cows came from Europe less than 200 years ago, stole the land and killed most of the wild animals. How does a national park justify killing Tule elk who are way more ‘historic’ than the ranches and cows?”

Press jumped in again, “Well, yes, technically, Tule elk are a native species and the thousands of cows could be considered invasive — if you mean the damage they do trampling 27,000 acres of coastal plant communities, polluting streams, lagoons and bays with feces. And the methane cows add to global warming. But aren’t these a small price to pay for great, local, organic milk and meat — and fresh Tule elk burgers? Ranches are here to make money, and part of our job is to help them. Why do you think there are miles of fences here in the first place?”

Looking flustered as he heard himself digging a rhetorical hole, Press dug deeper, “Look, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. A cow weighs three times more than an elk. And elk are adapted to live on this land, eating a lot less than cows do. Elk don’t destroy native vegetation like cows do. Elk also don’t need huge amounts of hay and water to be trucked in like cows do. And besides,” he continued, growing exasperated, “the cows all get eaten too. It’s not like they have it easy.”

A third reporter called out Press, questioning killing elk at all, rather than removing the park unit’s cows and fences, “What about the climate crisis? A United Nations report and other studies [Worldwatch Institute report] estimate 18-51% of greenhouse gases come from cows. But by killing elk and keeping thousands of methane-emitting cows here, aren’t you part of the climate problem, and not the solution?” (There are only about 700 elk at Point Reyes, but over 5,600 cows. And cows, especially enlarged dairy cows, weigh about three times more than elk.)

“Jeez, everyone thinks they’re a scientist these days,” Press muttered under his breath — but so close to the microphone everyone heard his struggle with the media messaging Gunn has mastered. 

Now in a deep rhetorical pit of his own digging, he tried to claw his way out. “But there is a rich, cultural tradition of ranching and dairying here in Marin,” he pleaded, “And we strive to find a balance between ranch and wildlife needs. Are cows and elk diametrically opposed land uses, as environmentalists claim? Sure. I’m not an idiot. Even though I don’t have a doctorate as most scientists in my position of power at the Park Service do… Melanie?... A little help, please!”

Gunn stepped in again, “That’s why we sidestep these ‘alternative facts,’” she said, using fingered air quotes, “and talk ‘management’ and ‘balance’ and ‘history’ and ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ and ‘the local economy.’ Don’t those words sound happy and good?”

Gunn took another shot at placating the rowdy press corps, holding up one of the Elk Burger T-shirts and asked, “How would everyone here like a coupon for a free Elk Burger with local Cowgirl Creamery cheese and all the fixins on an organic whole grain bun?” The assembly groaned, likely from mixing that visual with the rising tendrils of solar-heated cow manure enveloping the gathering.

Press tried one last time: “The two free-ranging herds of Tule elk at Drakes Beach and Limantour will be healthier if we cull some each year,” he said. “Sure elk are sentient and emotional animals with complex family hierarchies and social interactions, but sometimes you have to blow up a village, or in this case an elk herd, in order to save it.”

Point Reyes’ largest herd of over 430 elk is the one trapped inside the Tule Elk Preserve. Two other smaller herds of about 125 and 175 elk are free-ranging. It’s these elk who are targeted for what the NPS calls an “elk management” plan — what elk advocates call an “elk shooting” plan because the plan calls for shooting elk.

The new Park Superintendent Craig Kenkel leapt to the lectern to calm the proceedings gone off the rails. “We believe the new General Management Plan will give the Seashore’s historic ranches and dairies a helping hand with livestock diversification, adding goats and sheep and chickens and, we hope, approval for adding these delicious wild game concessions to the culling program. Reducing elk numbers means less competition for the park’s finite space and limited natural resources, and thus a healthier herd.” He seemed pleased that his confident air quieted the audience down, not realizing they were just struggling to understand what all his reasonable-sounding words actually meant.

“With new 20-year leases, and extending waivers for ranchers to self-monitor their pollution, plus adding elk burgers, the Park Service will continue supporting these historic ranches, thus serving the public and the local economy.”

A reporter finally challenged Kenkel’s bureaucratese. “But what about the hundreds of private trucks tearing up the park’s publicly maintained roads, hauling out thousands of tons of milk and cows for slaughter every year? And, again, what about methane from the thousands of cows?” 

“Well, I’m new here,” said Kenkel, squirming, “So I admit I’m still learning all the details. But the white-tailed deer program I oversaw at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio was a great success. The deer are doing great now — I mean except for the dozens we shot. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.”

“‘Deer-killer Kenkel,’ isn’t that what animal advocates in Ohio called you?” the reporter followed up.

“First, get your facts right, it was ‘Deer Slayer Kenkel,’” quipped Kenkel. “Second, I don’t think those jokes are funny, or fair. We used truck-mounted platforms and tree stands to ensure the deer removals were humane for the deer and safe for the public. Deer were calm and relaxed until the moment we blew their brains out.” 

“Park Service employees love wild animals and want to protect them. But sometimes we’re asked to kill them for private business interests, like here in Point Reyes,” he added.

With this, Gunn blurted out, “I guess it’s fitting we’re ankle-deep in cow crap today since we shovel so much of it out of this office all year,” attempting to use humor to distance herself from the public relations spin machine she herself heads. Or perhaps just woozy from the stench of cow dung.

Kenkel lunged for her microphone, but Gunn was faster on the draw, side-stepping her new boss while pleading, “C’mon Craig, you know ranching — just look at this place,” gesturing toward the manure-encrusted fields around them. 

“And take a whiff, sir,” Gunn continued. “It’s disgusting! I know YOU grew up on a farm, but I came here to see antlers, not udders,” she blurted out, wildly off-message, judging by the pained look on Kenkel’s face. “We could rename this place, “Poop Piles National Seashore.”

Kenkel shot back at Gunn, “Melanie, don’t make me put you out to pasture...” then pausing, realizing his threat was empty by already being true.

Another ranger in attendance, who had removed his nameplate so he couldn’t be identified beneath his hat, Ray Bans and Covid mask, yelled out, “If we don’t do what we’re told by Washington, we’re shipped off to Russell Cave [National Monument, in Alabama] or Nicodemus [National Historic Site, in Kansas]! Let’s face it, the Bay Area’s a great place to work — but not if you’re stepping in cowshi$$ all day.” 

“He’s right,” Gunn explained, “We take our orders from D.C. Maybe that can change with Deb Haaland,” referring to the newly appointed Secretary of the Interior, who also heads up the NPS. She’s the first-ever woman Secretary, and first-ever Native American [Laguna Pueblo] in the position.” 

Her voice was quaking with effort because while she held the mic with her right hand, her left hand was planted on Kenkel’s ranger-hatted head, holding the tiny man in the giant hat at bay while his arms flailed away like pipe cleaners against Gunn’s kneecaps. 

Kenkel was trying to reach Gunn and her mic, to regain control of the meeting run amok, but she towered over him, so he only managed to push more of his tiny body into his hat which Gunn gripped. Meanwhile, Gunn continued to unload, like a crook at confessional, explaining why her department promotes ranching at Point Reyes to the detriment of wildlife, including the plans to shoot beloved Tule elk.

“Look, despite all evidence to the contrary, we’re not blind, or stupid.” Gunn lamented, “Anyone with eyes and a brain can see that thousands of cows destroy the land and pollute the streams and everything else. In fact, independent water quality sampling commissioned in January by In Defense of Animals and Western Watersheds Project found levels of fecal bacteria from cows — coliform, E. coli and enterococcus — at 5x, 30x, 40x, and in one sampling location, 300x the allowable health limit. That’s crazy! Who would defend that? It’s a veritable cesspool by the seashore.”

“None of us joined the Park Service to kill the wild animals here,” Gunn gushed as Kenkel kept flailing away at her. “That’s why Craig here will bring in the USDA’s Wildlife Services to do the wet work. We love the elk like the public does, but if we don’t get on board with the culling program, we’re outta here like dung in a downpour.”

With this, the superintendent threw in the towel, collapsed exhausted into his chair and crawled completely inside his hat, like a certain neck-pouched Kentucky senator withdrawing into his shell. By now, the cow stink had engulfed the proceedings, and those still conscious headed to their cars in the Visitor Center parking lot, got in, and turned on their air conditioning.


EDITOR’S NOTE: All the information in this release is factual, except: the NPS has not included elk burgers as part of its Tule elk culling program. Not yet, anyway. The NPS Management Plan does include shooting Point Reyes elk, every year, to please ranch leaseholders. And cattle are the world’s leading driver of the climate crisis. Also, we have no idea how tall Supt. Kenkel is. Although Kenkel did preside over a white-tailed deer-killing program in his previous position at a national park, April Fools, he likely cannot fit his entire body into a ranger’s hat. 

### STOP PRESS: No joke, the NPS just announced the death of 152 of 445 Tule elk — one in three individuals fenced in an enclosure which prevents them from accessing water and forage. ###

There’s still time to take action for the Tule elk before the California Coastal Commission meeting on Thursday, April 22:

You can support our work by donating

Act Now