Conservation groups call for fence removal at Point Reyes

By Laura Bies

Drought conditions at Point Reyes National Seashore are causing some concern for elk populations.
Credit: Phoca2004

Fences in place for ranching operations are blocking tule elk from accessing water sources during a drought, the Center for Biological Diversity and Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Program argued in a recent letter to the National Park Service.

The groups are asking the National Park Service to remove fencing within Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco. They argue that the fences, designed to prevent tule elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) from moving off of the Tomales Point peninsula in order to provide areas for cattle grazing, also prevent the park’s iconic elk herd from reaching water during the current drought conditions. The groups note that six elk have died recently.

Between 2012 and 2014, a drought that reduced water levels to levels similar to current levels, according to the letter, led to the deaths of about 250 elk. That was nearly half the herd at that time.

Elk were reintroduced at Point Reyes in 1978 on Tomales Point, a peninsula on the north end of the park. Another herd was reintroduced, into a different area of the park in 1998. Currently, about 730 elk live in the park, including about 430 in the Tomales Point herd. The park has permitted cattle operations ever since its founding in 1962, a rarity among NPS properties. About a quarter of the park — or 18,000 acres — is set aside for ranching as part of the cultural and historical components of the seashore. Over the years, a number of conflicts have arisen between ranching operations and wildlife interests.

The Park Service has indicated that it is monitoring the drought conditions and the availability of water for elk. The letter asks the Service to remove fencing or truck in water if it is determined there is not sufficient water available for the elk. It also asks the agency to “begin a process to permanently remove the elk fence that unnaturally prevents Tomales Point elk from roaming to find adequate water sources.”

Point Reyes is in the process of finalizing an Environmental Impact Statement analyzing an amendment to the park’s General Management Plan. The park’s preferred alternative would allow cattle operations to continue and would manage elk herds at a level compatible with ranching. The fence on Tomales Point would remain in place.

Point Reyes National Seashore is currently closed to the public, due to a wildfire nine miles south of Tomales Point.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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