Point Reyes National Seashore rethinks elk herd strategy

Jean J. Sanders

The Position Reyes National Seashore is looking at new ways to control its biggest tule elk herd pursuing important die-offs for the duration of droughts.

The options could incorporate making it possible for the Tomales Stage elk to roam through the park or getting park staff shoot some animals to control the inhabitants.

The Nationwide Park Company has kicked off what is envisioned to be a multi-calendar year planning work to weigh the different management solutions, setting up with an original general public remark period lasting through Could 2.

Alongside with staying the greatest herd in the park, the tule elk at Tomales Point stand for an environmental good results tale. They ended up the 1st herd to be reestablished in the park in 1978 following the elk were considered to have gone extinct from searching and habitat loss right before the close of the 19th century.

Point Reyes is the only countrywide park exactly where tule elk can be observed.

In contrast to the park’s two absolutely free-roaming tule elk herds set up in later many years, the Tomales Level herd resides in a fenced-in 2,600-acre reserve that separates it from the rest of the park, together with private cattle ranches.

The Tomales Place herd has gained extra attention in recent a long time and is now the matter of a federal lawsuit against the park services right after hundreds of elk died in the course of latest droughts.

The inhabitants declined from about 445 elk to 293 among the winters of 2019-20 and 2020-21, some of the driest on report in Marin County. Park personnel attributed the fatalities to overpopulation and a deficiency of forage. Before that, about 250 elk died in the course of the 2013-2015 drought below very similar situations, according to park staff members.

In reaction, the park took the unprecedented action of setting up drinking water troughs and mineral licks in the maintain in early 2021.

The herd tally was 221 as of the newest rely this past winter season, a reduction of 72 elk since the preceding winter season. In an update in December, park Superintendent Craig Kenkel the population seems to have stabilized given that the summer time.

“Park workers used considerable time in the reserve involving Could and December 2021 but observed only 3 carcasses of elk that died during this period,” he wrote.

The park past updated its tactic to the Tomales Position herd in its 1998 Tule Elk Administration Strategy. The park states the program did not foresee the severity of the recent droughts or other local weather modify impacts and ought to be changed.

The new scheduling work will take into account a assortment of solutions for how the park could deal with the herd. These include things like no matter whether to take out the 3-mile, 8-foot-tall fence to allow the elk to roam into the relaxation of the park where by extra means would be readily available.

A different alternative involves controlling the herd sizing by permitting park staff to shoot some of the elk — fence or no fence.

The elk no extended have purely natural predators in the park. The seashore a short while ago accepted a individual management prepare that enables the park to shoot some of the elk in the totally free-roaming herd to handle its populace, mostly to protect against conflicts with cattle ranchers who lease park land.

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, whose district includes Marin County, mentioned Friday that it is proper for the park to start out reassessing how it manages the Tomales Place herd specified the transforming weather and new die-offs.

“We genuinely have to try to hear to the science and professionals on this. I don’t know what the remedy is,” reported Huffman, a Democrat who life in San Rafael. “But I do know that if people think that if you just get down a fence and do some other single issue that you never have to be concerned about herd management. They might not value the simple fact that we no for a longer time have predators for elk.”

The state and most of the U.S. utilizes hunting to command elk populations. Even though the Issue Reyes Nationwide Seashore is not taking into consideration looking in the park, it had thought of allowing park employees to shoot some of the elk when it was developing its 1998 program. As an alternative, the park made a decision to allow for the elk inhabitants to be self-regulated centered on the means in the preserve.

Nona Dennis, a member of the Marin Conservation League board, stated the variation in between the Tomales Stage elk and the two free of charge-roaming herds is that 85% of the reserve is in a federally selected wilderness area, safeguarded beneath the Wilderness Act of 1964.

“The Wilderness Act restrictions them in what they can do,” Dennis said. “It’s a challenging situation since they are in a wilderness.”

Park workers declined to remark further more about the preparing work because of a federal lawsuit submitted from the park previous 12 months. The lawsuit, submitted by Harvard Law University on behalf of North Bay environmental teams and regional inhabitants, alleges the park was negligent in the die-offs. The lawsuit states the park established an unnatural barrier that cuts off the herd’s obtain to other foraging locations.

“They’re locked into a drought-ravaged land by a fence,” mentioned a single of the plaintiffs, Jack Gescheidt, an activist with In Defense of Animals and the TreeSpirits Challenge.

Far more information about the arranging energy and how to submit a remark can be uncovered at parkplanning.nps.gov/tpap.

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