Activists to Hold Tule Elk Demonstration Sunday

A coalition of activists will hold a demonstration this Sunday to bring attention to the living conditions of a herd of tule elk living in the Point Reyes National Seashore.

In late August, activists garnered headlines by raising concerns about depleted water sources in the Tomales Point Preserve, a fenced-in area where most of the elk reside. A week later, activists snuck approximately 150 gallons of water into the area to quench the animals’ thirst.

Park administrators, meanwhile, say they are monitoring the situation and will bring troughs of water into the area if they believe the elk do not have enough water.

There’s a lot of backstory to the current standoff. At the heart of the long-running conflict is the National Parks Service’s effort to balance the needs of the cattle ranchers, who lease land, while preserving the local population of tule elk, an endangered species.

A three-mile long, eight-foot-high fence has divided the elk’s 2,600-acre area from other parts of the park—which ranchers use to graze cattle—since 1978. Activists argue that the fence cuts the elk off from reliable water sources, leading many of the animals to die during droughts. In 2014, approximately half of the herd died during a drought and activists say they have discovered six dead elk, which they believe died of thirst, during recent visits to the park.

The NPS has sought to assuage the activists’ concerns. Although one pond is dry, there are other sources of standing water for the elk and other wildlife to use, the NPS claims in a statement on its website.

“We have been monitoring the water conditions at Tomales Point since late July and will continue to do so until the winter rains arrive. If the elk need more water later this year, we’ll install a water trough at a location where they already look for water,” the statement says in part.

Diana Oppenheim, a member of ​ForELK, pushed back on the NPS’s response in a press release Friday.

“NPS​ says it will supply water when the seep runs dry,” Oppenheim stated. “But by then, it’s too late. We’ve seen this situation before. Some 250 elk died during the last drought in 2014 while the seep was flowing — and the ​NPS​ failed to provide additional water. The seep is treacherous for elk to access and an inadequate measurement of necessary water.“

This Sunday’s planned demonstration, organized by In Defense of Animals, ForELK, TreeSpirit Project and Rancho Compasión, falls on the 58th anniversary of the signing of the legislation which designated the Point Reyes Seashore as part of the National Parks System.

The demonstration will be held between 11am and 2pm on Sunday, Sept. 13, at the Tule Elk Preserve, Pierce Point Rd., Inverness. More information is available on Facebook.

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Will Carruthers
Will is a news reporter for the Pacific Sun and North Bay Bohemian.
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