Rare elk population declining due to drought conditions

Bay Area

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MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) — In the North Bay, parts of the region are classified under moderate to extreme drought conditions.

The National Park Service says 152 tule elks have died from these drought conditions, and the situation is causing controversy over their habitat.

“This is a very rare animal. These are rare, native, endemic to California. Tule elk. They are a symbol of this area. Yet right behind this fence, 152 animals were allowed to die during a drought,” said animal activist Fleur Dawes.

The National Park Service announced a declining population in 2020 due to lack of food caused by drought-like conditions.

“This looks to me looks like a young calf,” Jon Spear came to advocate for the animals and found part of a skull on the other side of the fence.

“My concern is clearly this elk was looking to go somewhere and certainly prevented from getting outside,” Spear said.

The hope is to have a fence removed so the animals can have more access to the land.

The fence was installed decades ago to isolate the elk to avoid conflicts with cattle.

The National Park Service says removing the fence will only be considered if ranching activities in the area terminate.

This means the dairy farmers who have been here for generations would have to leave.

As part of the National Park Service’s 1998 tule elk management plan, the population decline is a natural process and the recent deaths are within normal and predicted population fluctuations.

With the drought conditions expected to get worse in the summer, these activists worry the park will lose more herds.

“This is a national park area, wild animals are supposed to be protected here but instead they are dying,” Dawes said.

The National Park Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife believe the elk population declines are drought-related, but say there is no evidence that the population decline is due to dehydration and a lack of water.

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