Protecting Point Reyes Tule Elk

The Center is working to protect 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 have been lobbying the Park Service to remove or fence out the free-ranging tule elk from ranching and dairy areas. We filed a lawsuit in 2016 to stop the Park Service from implementing a plan to evict elk and extend cattle grazing leases without adequate environmental review. The Park Service has agreed to amend the National Seashore’s General Management Plan by 2020 and initiated a planning process for managing the 28,000 acres of public lands that are currently leased for grazing. The management plan will consider a full range of alternatives, including ending or reducing beef- and dairy-cattle ranching in the park. It must also address concerns about damage to wetlands, streams and wildlife habitats from cattle grazing.

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