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Tule Elk Continue to Die in Point Reyes National Seashore; Park Service Displays Indifference, Takes No Action

For Immediate Release: September 24, 2020


Laura Cunningham, Western Watersheds Project, 775-5131280,

Matthew Polvorosa Kline, Independent Wildlife Photographer & Cameraman, 415-747-8502


POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE, Calif.—In the midst of a severe drought on Point Reyes National Seashore, Park visitors continue to find dead tule elk inside the fenced Tomales Point Elk Reserve managed by the National Park Service (NPS). Fifteen rare and endemic tule elk have been found dead and their deaths documented by wildlife photographer Matthew Polvorosa Kline during the last two months. The agency has done nothing to remedy the situation and, indeed, claims this is a normal cyclical and seasonal occurrence.

The Tule elk are trapped in a portion of the park that is running out of water due to the prolonged drought. They are confined to this area because the livestock operators insist on 8-foot tall fences to keep forage pastures off-limit to the native species, effectively trapping the elk in the dry zones. Elk are unable to move freely and access water elsewhere in the seashore and have been dying of thirst and mired in the mud.

“Something’s not right here when these native elk are prevented from seeking adequate water because the National Park Service is prioritizing livestock use on the seashore,” said Laura Cunningham, Western Watershed Project’s California Director. “The priority management goal of the Park Service should be California’s unique tule elk, not the abundant cattle that are everywhere. National Park units should not have commercial cattle operations that replace wildlife habitat.”

These stock ponds are considered some of the most important water sources available to the fenced-in elk on this drought-stricken peninsula, yet now all but one of them is inadequate and dry.

Recent photos include:

  • South Pond I dry by at least June 22, 2020.
  • South Pond II dry by at least August 18, 2020.
  • Central Pond I dry long before August 20, 2020.
  • North Pond I dry long before August 20, 2020.
  • A dead elk found trapped in muddy and hazardous Central Pond II. September 16, 2020.
  • A second dead elk in the same muddy and hazardous Central Pond II. September 16, 2020.
  • Another dead elk, this one in the White Gulch Area. The evening before, rain actually occurred providing just a trickle of water that would be all too late for this poor male. September 16, 2020.
  • A monitored seep that the park claims is “adequate for now,” is actually a mud puddle that will not provide adequate fresh water to elk herds in the area. September 16, 2020.

“The Park Service is utterly negligent in allowing these elk to die,” said Polvorosa Kline. “The situation continues to deteriorate, and I have never documented so many deceased elk in such a short period. It’s like the La Brea Tar Pits at the seashore right now, but it’s entirely preventable.”

“It’s clear that the Park Service believes that Nature should just run its course on the Park,” said Cunningham. “But Nature didn’t put up an insurmountable barrier for the sake of livestock profits, and the agency can’t ignore that it has created this situation by prioritizing agriculture over wildlife.”  



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