Why California’s Tule Elk population may be declining

Bay Area

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) — Animal advocates are concerned about the Tule Elk at Point Reyes National Seashore.

A wildlife photographer found carcasses of the elk throughout the reserve. The photos were taken in the summer of last year – one of Marin County’s driest years in 90 years.

The county only received 20 inches of rain in 2020.

The National Park Service says the Tule Elk’s population declined in 2020, likely due to drought conditions impacting the elk’s food.

An annual census count found about 150 Tule Elks living on Point Reyes National Seashore have died likely due to drought conditions.

Tomales Point is home to the largest Tule Elk herd on the land.

A total of six necropsies were conducted from the Tomales Point and Drake’s Beach herds.

Outreach coordinator Melanie Gunn said the necropsy results showed two elks ate toxic plants. Two others had heavy internal parasite loads, and one had a systemic infection.

But Gunn says the elk’s declining population shows no evidence of dehydration. She adds that elks can use seeps and springs throughout the reserve as alternative water sources.

But dairy and cattle ranchers are also sharing the park. A fence was installed at Tomales Point decades ago to isolate the elk from cattle.

Advocates are calling on the park to remove the fence so the animals can roam free and have access to better food.

That means the dairy and cattle ranchers who have been here for generations would have to leave, and that won’t happen anytime soon – according to the National Park Service‘s 1998 Tule Elk Management Plan.

The 99-page plan calls the elk’s population decline a natural process during droughts.

As of 2021, Marin County is under a moderate drought with conditions expected to get worse in the summer.

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