UPDATE: Tule Elk: Water for Now, But No Justice Yet

UPDATE: Tule Elk: Water for Now, But No Justice Yet

There’s good news and bad news for Tule elk at Point Reyes National Seashore. After record rains this past winter, Tule elk in the fenced Reserve and in the park’s two other herds, all have plenty of water – for now.  Streams and seeps are flowing everywhere; the land is saturated, warmed by spring sunshine, and bursting bright green with new vegetation, which is food for elk.

How long all this lasts depends on when California’s long, hot, dry summer-autumn season begins and when it ends.

Two of Point Reyes' three elk herd populations — in the infamous Tomales Point Elk Reserve, and at Drake’s Beach — increased since last year’s count. The third herd at the Limantour-Muddy Hollow area was not counted by the National Park Service, its website explains, because of poor weather and staffing issues. We assume this means the park decided not to spend its limited budget to count elk. (Far more is spent subsidizing private cattle ranches.)

Elk in Prison

What remains unchanged is the cause of hundreds of past — and future — Tule elk deaths: confinement. None of the three herds are free to roam and reproduce however and wherever they please across this National Seashore’s full 71,000 acres. Wild elk are cordoned off inside a national park, which was created, as all national parks are, so wild animals could roam freely, and not compete with commercial businesses for their survival. 

Tule elk are not welcome to eat grasses on a full one-third of the park; 28,000 acres are rented out as cattle pastures (who are themselves imprisoned and exploited for profit). Big Meat and Big Dairy operations rule, pollute, and exploit cattle across the American West, and this oceanside park, too.

We’re glad the Tule elk at Point Reyes have been having plenty of water and forage for a few months now, but they remain prisoners, and prison conditions change with the weather.

Elk in Court

A decision has finally been reached in one of the two pending lawsuits against the National Park Service involving Point Reyes wild animals and cattle ranching.  A federal judge in Oakland, California, issued a decision on February 27, 2023, in the lawsuit, Gescheidt v. Haaland, which was brought by The Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic over the abusive, deadly conditions created by fencing in elk.

Bad News: Maddeningly, the judge ruled in favor of the defendant, deciding he saw no statutory remedy for imprisoned elk in the Reserve at Tomales Point.

Good News: The plaintiffs are appealing the decision, which will move the case to a new court, California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and a new judge. This means a new mind and the possibility of a different interpretation of the law and the facts. Hundreds of Tule elk dying from confinement at Point Reyes is clearly inconsistent with the park’s founding legislation which prioritizes “natural resources” over other considerations – which includes its wild animals. Certainly, this means the Tule elk must take priority over private cattle ranches leasing land in a public park.

Our Fight to Inform the Public and Free the Tule Elk Continues

Tule elk advocacy and activism are long-term. It means calling out the atrocious situation for Tule elk at Point Reyes. Growing public outrage can pressure politicians to change National Park Service policies, and finally free the Tule elk from confinement, suffering, and death.

What You Can Do

If you haven’t already, sign and share our alert urging California Congressman Jared Huffman to change his position and favor wild Tule elk over for-profit cattle ranching at Point Reyes.

For more ways to help and updates on this situation, visit our Tule Elk campaign.