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Conservationists Demand End to Elk Confinement Under Tomales Point Area Plan

For Immediate Release, March 31, 2022 

Contact:

Laura Cunningham, Western Watersheds Project, (775) 513-1280, lcunningham@westernwatersheds.org

Chance Cutrano, Resource Renewal Institute, (312) 403-3702, ccutrano@rri.org 

 

POINT REYES, Calif.— The National Park Service (NPS) announced that it has initiated a new planning process to address “complex wildlife, resource, and wilderness management issues” at Tomales Point at Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) in Northern California. The planning area includes the 2,900-acre Tomales Point Tule Elk Reserve where rare native tule elk, once thought to be extinct, were reintroduced in 1978. Point Reyes is the only national park where tule elk exist.

The NPS confines the Seashore’s largest elk herd to Phillip Burton Wilderness Area, at the northern end of the park, where a 8 foot fence prevents the elk from foraging elsewhere in the national seashore. Tomales Point has few fresh water sources, which have gone dry in recent droughts.

The Tomales Point Tule Elk herd has been the subject of national controversy at Point Reyes National Seashore. In 2015, the NPS announced the population behind the elk fence declined from 540 to 286. In 2020, hikers photographed dead and emaciated elk behind the fence at Tomales Point and brought it to the attention of the NPS. Following an annual elk count, NPS announced the drought-induced death of 221 elk in the Tomales Point herd. Since then an additional 25% of the rapidly diminishing herd has died.

“The die-off of tule elk was a needless tragedy and was difficult to witness as the Park Service delayed helping these captive wildlife,” said Laura Cunningham, California Director at Western Watersheds Project. “The Park Service needs to take down the fence and let the elk roam free.”

In 2021, attorneys from the Animal Law Clinic at Harvard Law School sued the NPS over the elk die-off at Tomales Point. Conservationists petitioned the Park Service to remove the fence, as hundreds protested against leasing parkland to commercial beef and dairy operations in the Seashore. Public outcry eventually pushed the NPS to temporarily supply water to the elk.

Point Reyes National Seashore is one of a handful of national park units that permit livestock grazing. Ranchers complain that Tule elk compete for food and water with the more than 5,000 cattle that graze in the Seashore, cutting into profits. In their recent General Management Plan process, the NPS proposed to remove the elk fence and restore the Seashore to public use by sunsetting ranching under Alternative F, which would have allowed all elk to roam free. Instead, the NPS approved an alternative which keeps elk trapped behind the fence, expands commercial agricultural activities, and extends ranch leases for up to 20 years.

“The National Park Service has prioritized the needs of commercial ranches over the health of wildlife at Point Reyes National Seashore for far too long, ” said Chance Cutrano, Director of Programs with Resource Renewal Institute. “The public has overwhelmingly supported  protection of tule elk and restoration of Point Reyes National Seashore. Had the NPS listened, the agency could have invested its limited resources in removing the elk fence. Instead it’s conducting yet another planning process.”

The NPS says a new plan will evaluate the potential removal of the elk fence, water availability, and culling the elk to further reduce population.

The 30-day public comment period will close on Monday, May 2, 2022. Comments must be submitted online via the National Park Service portal.

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