UPDATE: The National Park Service Proposes Removing Tule Elk Fence at Point Reyes National Seashore!

UPDATE: The National Park Service Proposes Removing Tule Elk Fence at Point Reyes National Seashore!

In a surprise announcement, the National Park Service issued a proposal on Friday, June 9, 2023, to do what we Tule elk activists have been demanding it do for years: remove the deadly elk fence at Point Reyes National Seashore.

The quietly issued National Park Service (NPS) news release contained this sentence (italics added):  “Based on the review of public comments and internal scoping, NPS has identified a proposed action for the Tomales Point Area Plan. The proposed action would include removal of the tule elk fence and temporary water systems installed during the most recent drought…"

The NPS suggestion to dismantle the fence, installed in 1978 when ten of the California native Tule elk were re-introduced to Point Reyes, is big news. It’s an important first step toward a victory of freedom for the public, for committed activists — and most importantly for the trapped and vulnerable Tule elk.  These noble animals remain at risk; they can still suffer — and die — from thirst and malnutrition inside the drought-stricken Tomales Point elk “Reserve” because California's summer-autumn season is increasingly hotter and drier due to the climate crisis. 

What prompted this dramatic proposal by the Park Service is now a source of speculation, with no answer likely. Was it because of the pressure of two pending lawsuits against the Park Service? Or because of relentless demonstrations by activists and hundreds of citizens? Or tens of thousands of public comments submitted over the years demanding Tule elk be freed and commercial cattle operations removed? Or because ranchers are struggling financially as people quit dairy? Or because the massive amounts of water needed for cattle operations is growing scarce in California? Or that the children of ranchers don’t want to run the family business?  Or because citizen activists now regularly report Point Reyes ranch violations — including sewage system leaks, cattle manure polluting waterways, illegal garbage dumps, and illegal stream damages? Is the proverbial writing just on the wall from all of the above?

The 8-foot-tall, 3-mile-long artificial elk fence in question confines about 270 Tule elk (the count as of December 2022) inside the 2,600-acre “Reserve,” which is inside the 71,000-acre National Seashore. The fence prevents elk inside from roaming freely for food and water and mingling with the park’s other two herds. It is indirectly responsible for at least 475 elk deaths in the last decade.

We are thrilled the Park Service has now formally made this preference public, but following through with it is what matters.
As of today, dismantling the fence is not assured. Still ahead is a lengthy approval process, probably over a year-long, including another public comment period. We will again facilitate this process and ask for your participation with letters for a public record (also for possible future legal actions).

More work and new problems lie ahead, including how to keep the Tule elk safe when the fence finally comes down. Elk may face hazing and harassment from ranchers who still won’t want elk on “their” cattle ranches — even though it is not their land, it’s all of ours, including wild animals; the park belongs to the public. (Ranchers unfairly are allowed to rent the land from the federal government, at cheap rates subsidized by the public.)

The Park Service itself is currently authorized to shoot Tule elk in the other two herds outside the fenced Reserve. So what happens when the elk herds naturally move about and intermingle?  While this is healthy for their genetic diversity, does it mean that the Park Service’s ability to “cull” elk — shoot them to death — can include all elk? Of course, any shooting of elk, and of any wild animals in this and all national parks, should be forbidden.

For all these reasons, we remain more committed than ever to working for elk freedom, plus advocating for additional protections.  We know we will be successful because we continue to make progress on this campaign to free the elk. 

As part of our ongoing effort, we will be asking for your help, too, including to again flood the Park Service with comments in support of finally freeing the elk, so they have no choice but to move more compassionately forward to free the Tule elk.

But this is a great first step, and you helped make it happen! (Maybe don’t open the champagne yet but, if you like, break out a bottle.) We won’t rest until the fence is dismantled and the wild Tule elk of Point Reyes Seashore are finally, actually, wild and free.

Learn more about what we’re doing and how you can get involved.

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