Want More Tule Elk? Just Add Water!

Want More Tule Elk? Just Add Water!

Here’s some more good news about the captive Tule elk herd inside the fenced “Reserve” at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, California: there are more of them!

The National Park Service (NPS) finally released its annual Tule elk census at the end of March, revealing what we activists assumed would be the case: there are more Tule elk in each of the park’s three herds, including the park’s largest herd, the one trapped inside the fenced, so-called “Reserve” (which we hope will be dismantled by year’s end – more on that in a moment).

It’s welcome news after the deadly fence killed half of all Tule elk trapped within it between 2020-2021.

The happy, furry numbers: last year there were 262 Tule elk in the Reserve. As of March of 2024, there are 315… including lots of babies! In the Limantour area herd, there are 199 elk, up from 169 elk two years ago (there was no count last year). For the third Tule elk herd, at the Drakes Beach area, now there are 188 elk, up from 170 in 2023.

Why are there more elk? In a word: water

Water, water, is everywhere in California this winter and spring. Heavy rains meant drinking water for elk, and all animals. Also, an abundance of water grows more plants for our ungulate herbivore friends to eat and grow and reproduce.  

With more water and food, the elk population increases. This is the natural way of wild animals when there is no unnatural “management” by humans. Also, in this case, there are but a few wild animal predators in the park, bar one or two black bears and mountain lions.

The NPS wanted to rely on two “management” techniques for the park’s wild elk, to keep the elk numbers artificially low. 

One was the Reserve fence itself, which caused the Reserve’s elk population to crash from a high of 445 elk in 2019 to a mere 221 in 2021. Elk couldn’t move naturally beyond the Reserve to reach more food and water in a drought, so hundreds of elk died horrific, torturous deaths by thirst and starvation.

The second, proposed management method was by rifle – meaning shooting “excess” Tule elk to death! This monstrous “management” policy has been approved by the NPS, but it has publicly stated it has no plans to shoot elk. With hundreds of local advocates, we have strongly opposed this plan. You can be sure we are watching to ensure there is no shooting of elk… ever! 

We consider the shooting of elk highly unlikely at this time, since the NPS has since initiated a process to dismantle the Reserve’s fence. In addition, it would be another public relations disaster, much like the one that has helped precipitate a major elk policy shift: removing the fence.

The 3-mile-long, 8-foot-tall Tule Elk Reserve fence remains a threat to the health of all 315 elk who live there, including the young, healthy elk born recently. But we still have high hopes that the fence could be dismantled by the end of 2024, which would be the culmination of an approximately 16-month-long bureaucratic process the NPS announced in June 2023. 

Yet, changing a 45-year-old federal policy in a national park unit is no small matter. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidelines must be followed. The process includes public comment periods; one of which you may have participated in last year — thank you if you did! We expect a second Public Comment period by summer and hope we can count on your support again — please stay tuned.

For now, the increase in the number of our beautiful elk friends is good news all around. Good news for them, and us, and the land which benefits from having elk on it. It’s also good to press our case for fence removal, to avoid another, inevitable, future population crash — more elk deaths. 

Any zoo enclosure, even a 2,600-acre one called a “Reserve” at Point Reyes, is both unnatural and deadly for wild animals. A national park is no place for captive animals, ever!

In our line of work — advocating for more, healthier, freer, and happier animals — we welcome good news whenever we can get it. More water, more plants, and more wild Tule elk at Point Reyes is good news. Thank you for your continued support to get us to this positive place on the road to Tule elk freedom.

For more updates and ways to get involved, check out our Tule Elk campaign. 

Please consider supporting our lifesaving work for the Tule elk by making a donation of any amount.