MEDIA RELEASE: NPS Proposes Elk Fence Removal at Point Reyes National Seashore Following Pressure Campaign
POINT REYES, Calif. (June 13, 2023) — In Defense of Animals and The TreeSpirit Project are cautiously welcoming news that the National Park Service (NPS) has proposed removing a controversial 3-mile-long fenced “Reserve” where hundreds of at-risk Tule elk have died in recent years at Point Reyes National Seashore. This is the first time in over 45 years the NPS has singularly proposed removing the fence, and follows years of activist pressure campaigns and overwhelming public sentiment to free the captive elk.
On June 9, NPS issued a news release stating the agency’s intention with a proposal to remove both the elk fence, as well as the supplemental water tanks and troughs it recently installed in response to a years-long pressure campaign by citizens and activist water-drop interventions. Several times, activists have risked arrest to bring water to elk in the Reserve, which the NPS had refused to provide.
In the last decade, 475 of the elk affected by seasonal heatwaves and droughts have died indirectly because the fence prevented them from reaching water and food sources outside the reserve, on private ranches which occupy a full one-third of the park’s 71,000 acres.
In the past decade, 475 Tule elk trapped in the “Reserve” have been killed by lack of access to food and water because most of the park is fenced off for cattle ranchers. Photo: Jack Gescheidt/TreeSpiritProject.com
The fence keeps Tule elk trapped on the drought-stricken Tomales Point peninsula where forage is nutrient-deficient due to the climate crisis, making California’s summers and autumns increasingly hotter and drier.
The NPS proposal is the latest, surprising development in the controversy swirling around the elk deaths from mismanagement.
Activists are skeptical of the NPS’s proposal because previous proposals included options to remove the cattle industry and free the elk proved hollow, the agency ultimately recommending the exact opposite: extending private cattle ranch leases. In addition, the NPS has repeatedly ignored the will of the public, which owns the park, and on whose behalf the NPS is legislated to manage it and its wildlife. Ninety-one percent of public comments from NPS’ own 2019 survey wanted elk to remain and cattle ranches to be removed. Directly contradicting the public’s wishes, the NPS gave themselves the option to “manage” elk by shooting them in two of the park’s three herds, and extended ranchers’ leases for 20 years. In addition, ranchers could kill and “process” farmed animals on site while adding even more cows, and introduce goats, sheep and chickens to the public parkland. These amendments prompted the largest mass demonstration on a dairy farm in the seaside park’s history.
“We urge the National Park Service to make good on its latest proposal and finally end the elk-killing, pollution and degradation at Point Reyes National Seashore,” said Fleur Dawes, Communications Director for In Defense of Animals. “The public overwhelmingly supported the park service’s last pro-wildlife proposal and were outraged when managers instead opted for yet more confinement, killing and pollution. Removing the deadly fence is the first step towards getting justice for the elk, the environment, the land, and all peoples who love the seashore. Industrial ranching in the park must also be stopped. We urge all members of the public to show their support for the pro-elk proposal and get involved at idausa.org/elk.”
A dramatic increase in the number of demonstrations and citizens willing to take action to end the confinement and death of Point Reyes elk have put pressure on the National Park Service. Photos: Jack Gescheidt/TreeSpiritProject.com
The native ungulates, re-introduced to Point Reyes in 1978 when the wooden post and woven-wire fence was constructed, remain vulnerable to starvation and withering deaths to this day. Citizen demonstrations and actions by In Defense of Animals, TreeSpirit Project and other organizations, including many at the fenceline, have dramatically increased media attention to the plight of the Tule elk in recent years. As a result, support for the elk and awareness of their plight has grown substantially from the public and celebrities. Actor Alexandra Paul, NBA sports personality Bonnie Jill-Laflin, The Cove director Louie Psihoyos and actor Peter Coyote have all spoken out for the Tule elk with In Defense of Animals at rallies, in videos, or through their comments.
Activists now remain wary, if also cautiously optimistic, because past NPS proposals, which seemed initially genuine, eventually were proven bogus. For example, when the agency offered various options for re-working its General Management Plan for the ranches, one option was to remove all of the cattle operations. But in months of deliberations, it became clear this option was never seriously considered. In addition, public opinion polls, including the agency’s own surveys, show the public overwhelmingly wants Point Reyes elk to be freed from fences, and cows removed. This clear, passionate public preference is simply ignored.
“The public’s overwhelming opinion about how wild animals should be treated inside a U.S. national park, which is public land, paid for with our tax dollars, has been completely ignored again and again at Point Reyes,” said Jack Gescheidt, Tule elk consultant for In Defense of Animals and TreeSpirit Project founder.
The conflicts arising between Point Reyes’ wild elk and its commercial cattle operations in the headlines are a microcosm of a larger, national problem: wild animals being killed and pushed off public lands to benefit for-profit private cattle operations. Commercial beef and dairy operations both large and small compact and desiccate soils, destroy vegetation, and drain public reservoirs, rivers and water tables.
In August 2022, citizen-initiated surface water testing revealed massive fecal contamination of park streams and waterways from the approximately 4,500 cows grazing on Seashore ranches which are fenced off to the visiting public.
Human and animal feces pollution from ranches has ignited demonstrations to stop the hazardous waste. Photos: JocelynKnight.com
All this ecological damage is subsidized by the public, just like at Point Reyes. The park’s ranchers rent their land for about half its market value in desirable Marin County, and use millions of gallons per year of its increasingly precious water while human residents face rationing and price hikes.
“The Park Service is supposed to enforce federal legislation which prioritizes the land, waterways and animals at Point Reyes National Seashore, and in all park units. In bowing to the financial interests of dairy and beef ranches, they’re doing neither. And hundreds of wild elk at Point Reyes have paid the ultimate price — with their lives,” added Gescheidt.
A misled public simply doesn’t know, and doesn’t really want to know, that all beef and dairy businesses pollute the land, streams, the ocean and the atmosphere with massive amounts of manure and methane. These massive polluters include so-called “free-range,” “regenerative,” “grass-fed,” “grass-finished” and “organic” meat and dairy brands like Straus, Clover, Nicasio Cheese and Cowgirl Creamery.
While the NPS is currently updating its management plan for the Seashore, that typically years-long process has been further stalled by two lawsuits brought by citizen and environmental organizations. One suit, brought by The Harvard Animal Law and Policy Clinic, is focused on the lethal confinement of elk in the Tomals Point Reserve. The other lawsuit, brought by the Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Resource Renewal Institute, deals more directly with the devastating ecological impacts of private cattle operations on the national seashore’s public land.
The proposal must still undergo a comment period for state and federal agencies, and for the public. And yet the public’s input is not binding, so even another show of overwhelming public support does not guarantee NPS’ removal of the fence.
The next decision in the lengthy process isn't expected until the summer of 2024.
So far, the NPS has received more than 4,000 comments on the proposal. Many are passionate. And most demand elk take precedence over ranching operations and urge either more restrictions or total removal of dairy farming from the national park.
While neither is on the table, public opinion favors Tule elk. It's something advocates have long awaited and a move celebrated by some environmental groups.
The question of what prompted this surprising proposed action from the Park Service is a divisive one and no definitive answer is expected.
Tule elk, now number fewer than 6,000 in the world — not much greater than the number of cows just at Point Reyes National Seashore.
Until the fence is removed, the confined Tule elk will continue to suffer and die.
Learn more and take action: http://www.idausa.org/elk
### NOTES ###
Contact: In Defense of Animals/TreeSpirit Project, Jack Gescheidt, [email protected], 415-488-4200
Photos (free to use with credit per filename): https://bit.ly/ElkPixSelection2023
Previous NPS Pro-Elk Proposal - Alternative F of the General Management Plan Amendment:
- September 14, 2021 MEDIA RELEASE: Animal Activists Condemn Decision to Shoot Rare Tule Elk & Expand Ranching at California National Park Unit
- NPS Public Comment Page
- PDF document with thousands of individual public comments
In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization based in Marin, California, with over 250,000 supporters and a 40-year history of fighting for animals, people, and the environment through education and campaigns, as well as hands-on rescue facilities in India, South Korea, California and rural Mississippi. www.idausa.org/elk
The TreeSpirit Project raises awareness of the crucial role of forest, wildlife and the natural world in the lives of humans. Thousands of people have taken part in fine art community photographs that give people a sensory, real-world experience of this interconnection, beyond the virtual internet. https://treespiritproject.com
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