Protecting Point Reyes Elk From Ranchers

The Center is organizing public support for the free-roaming tule elk herds at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, California. We aim to prevent the National Park Service from caving to ranchers who want the elk evicted, sterilized, or fenced out of their preferred habitats at the national seashore.

Point Reyes National Seashore is a success story for the reintroduction of native tule elk and restoring ecosystem processes. Tule elk grazed the Point Reyes peninsula for about 10,000 years until they were eliminated by hunters and ranchers in the late 1800s. These magnificent animals were thought to be extinct in California, but from a remnant herd, they've now been reintroduced into 22 areas around the state. Tule elk returned to Point Reyes in 1978 when the Park Service reintroduced elk to Tomales Point. This was one of the largest tule elk herds in California, with a stable population of more than 500 elk fenced in on the remote point. In 1998 the Park Service moved elk to the Limantour wilderness area of Point Reyes to establish a free-roaming herd. The Limantour herd has now grown to 120 elk, and a herd of 92 elk has established itself near Drakes Beach. The park's stated management goal is to allow the free-roaming herds to expand to 250–350 elk.

But ranchers who enjoy heavily subsidized cattle grazing and dairy leases on these public lands are lobbying the Park Service to remove or fence out the free-ranging tule elk from ranching and dairy areas. The Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association claims that elk cause economic impacts by eating grass they believe belongs solely to their cattle, and inaccurately characterize native tule elk as “invasive.” The Park Service has initiated a planning process for managing the 28,000 acres of dairy and beef cattle ranches within the park, and is considering extending existing ranching leases for up to 20 years. The management plan will address concerns about alleged conflicts between tule elk and ranch operations. The Park Service has proposed management techniques including sterilizing elk, fencing, relocation, and even “lethal removal” of elk (See the November 2014 Ranch Comprehensive Management Plan Update.)

Tule elk are an ecologically critical part of the landscape of Point Reyes, while cattle grazing permits in the national park are a privilege for a few livestock owners. Ranch leaseholders shouldn't be able to dictate Park Service policy that hurts or kills park wildlife. The Park Service is required to manage Point Reyes National Seashore without impairing its natural values and for the maximum protection, restoration and preservation of the local natural environment.


Oil train photo courtesy Flickr/roy.luck