Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the most diverse spots in California, housing 15% of all California biodiversity. It is home to over 1500 plants and animals including 200 types found no where else in the world. Almost half of all bird species known in the Americas are spotted within the park. It is the largest piece of the coast south of Alaska that is protected. For this and so much more, this makes Point Reyes a critical place to protect.
Point Reyes is a National Park, which in theory has the highest level of protection. Yet, 1/3 of the park is leased to private cattle industry, the leading cause of species extinction and deforestation. When Point Reyes became a National Park in 1962, the federal government paid millions of dollars to the ranchers to purchase their land. They were given 25-year leases and were then to be phased out of the park. Their original leases have long expired but the park continues to re-issue their permits and allow them to continue operation. They have been documented being the highest emitter of greenhouse gases, the manure runoff has contaminated some of the most precious waterways including where the coho salmon spawn and the elephant seals raise their pups. They have been documented spreading noxious weeds, and limiting the wildlife and biodiversity where they operate. And, they want the park to cull the wild elk herd because Tule Elk “eat too much grass.”
One of the most successful stories in local conservation has been the recovery of the Tule Elk. Once thought to be extinct, a small herd of 25 was found in the 80s and conservationists have done wonders to get their population up. Currently there are around 4000 state wide and just under 500 in Point Reyes. Point Reyes National Seashore is the only National Park where you can view these animals. In fact, they are known as the number one attraction in the park!
There are 3 herds of elk in Point Reyes. The largest is fenced in to a 2000 acre peninsula at Pierce Point. There are two smaller free-roaming herds near Limantour Beach and Drakes Beach.
in 2016, during the height of the California drought, HALF of the Pierce Point herd died. The reason for death is due to nutrient loss. Because there was no water, vegetation died and the elk simply did not have enough to eat or drink. The soil has been degraded and certain minerals are lacking. Yet at the same time, the free-roaming herds were fine. Local ranchers have been pressuring the park to “better manage” the free roaming elk, including the possibility of killing them. The reason is because elk eat grass, and so do their cows. Ranchers think that elk have no business eating the grass since they “lease” it. However, they are on public land. They do not own anything.
The 2016 incident sparked environmental groups to sue the park for mismanagement. By a court order, the park is in process of an Environmental Impact Statement to redo their land management practices taking into account the cattle and dairy industry. They are looking at multiple alternatives and exploring their impact-- including options where the Tule Elk will be killed and including options where they wont. This process is at least a year-long and by the end one person at the park will sign off on what action will be taken.
ForELK recognizes that politics and industry should not get in the way of protecting animals and wildlife. We are here to educate the masses about this critical issue and ensure a healthy habitat, including free roaming Tule Elk herds for generations to come. We are here to ensure that the park makes the right decision.
Our friends at Restore Point Reyes Seashore have more information on all aspects of the issue. If you want an in depth look into specific studies, research and a log of publicity, press releases and articles, please go HERE