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National Park Service Allowing Tule Elk to Die of Thirst in Point Reyes

An activist carries water to a trough for the elk. They installed two troughs carrying a total of 150 gallons of water.


By Tammye McDuff & Brian Hews • September 9, 2020

In Defense of Animals, ForELK and Rancho Compasión have commended the local activists who are delivering water to Tule elk dying of thirst at Point Reyes National Seashore. 445 elk are trapped and dying behind an eight foot fence maintained by the National Park Service, who are “protecting” grazing leases for dairy and meat ranchers.

Shockingly, the NPS rejected the help and continues to refuse to implement its own contingency plan to provide water.

Point Reyes National Seashore in California, where the Tule elk live, has been hit by extreme drought conditions. Most of the elk at the Seashore are kept in Tomales Point reserve. They cannot roam free, and their water supply is dangerously low. Six elk have been found dead in the past weeks, and there are likely others. The elk are dying of thirst.

Local animal activists stepped in over the weekend and bravely risked their freedom to supply emergency water to the Tule elk. Under constant fear of discovery by park rangers, animal activists installed two water troughs carrying a total of 150 gallons of water.

Wrapped up warmly against the night fog, activists hauled 40 pound bottles by hand over rough terrain to the troughs where the elk can now access them. Some activists carried one or two heavy bottles at a time, while others worked to quickly refill bottles as they returned.

“Thirsty mother elk and babies came to investigate as we installed the troughs,” said one activist who participated in providing the water aid. “I think the elk smelled the water and were waiting for us to finish so they could be first to enjoy a drink. They desperately needed it. We found another recently-deceased elk body. It’s just so sad and the park is doing nothing to help these trapped animals.”

Although this water will save some elk, it’s only a stop-gap solution. It won’t save all elk that are trapped behind the fence. Additionally, the troughs will require constant monitoring and refilling.

“This effort is only necessary because the Tule elk are purposely trapped behind a fence,” said Fleur Dawes, of In Defense of Animals. “NPS is actively preventing them from searching for water and foraging for food because the park’s cattle and dairy ranchers don’t want the few hundred wild elk competing with their thousands of for-profit cows, even though they are inside a national park.”

Dawes adds, “There are more cows on the Point Reyes National Seashore than there are Tule elk left in the entire world.”

NPS uses one camera to monitor water over eight stock ponds. Most ponds are bone-dry. The others are dangerously low. The agency points to tiny mud puddles and a single trickling seep as an adequate water source, yet these cannot possibly support all 445 elk. And the largest water seep is treacherous for the elk to access. Sadly, one female who apparently tried to access it was found dead on August 19th.


dead tule elk point reyes

Elk carcas found by activist behind the fence.



“NPS says it will supply water when the seep runs dry,” said Diana Oppenheim, of ForELK. “But by then, it’s too late. We’ve seen this situation before. Some 250 elk died during the last drought in 2014 while the seep was flowing and the NPS failed to provide additional water. The seep is dangerous for elk to access and an inadequate measurement of adequate water. “

“This species is barely clinging on,” said Dawn Rogers, of Rancho Compasión. “We cannot risk another mass die-off. The NPS is supporting continued ranching of cows in the park at the expense of Tule elk, and its statement and actions show they favor letting the elk die while a public poll revealed 90% of the public favor supporting elk instead of ranchers’ cows.”

September is only the beginning of the dry season. Drought has hit early at a time where there are many baby elk, who are the most vulnerable to succumb to the brutal negligence of the NPS.

In Defense of Animals, ForELK, Rancho Compasión and numerous organizations and individuals are calling on the NPS to remove the fencing trapping the elk. They include Western Watersheds Project, Resource Renewal Institute, The TreeSpirit Project, The Center for Biological Diversity, and Save Point Reyes National Seashore.

Concerned citizens are being urged to donate to the elk water fund at ElkWaterNOW and contact the Superintendent of the Seashore at 415-464-5100 to demand that water be provided immediately to prevent more elk from dying.

The Marin Independent Journal reported in November 2019 that the NPS appointed the seashore’s superintendent, Cicely Muldoon, to serve as acting superintendent for Yosemite National Park.

Muldoon was quoted saying she didn’t expect any hiccups in the elk management plan update while she’s away.

“Life will go on without me,” Muldoon said. “They wouldn’t have asked me to go to Yosemite if Point Reyes didn’t have a really good team in place because we have such critical issues going on.”

“This is public land,” Diana Oppenheim, founder of ForElk told the MIJ, “the National Park Service, which is supposed to protect and defend wildlife, is allowing private industry to destroy wildlife — even kill these elk — just to appease ranchers.”

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  • Peggy says:

    This headline is a flat out lie. The park officials are not allowing the elk to die of thirst. The average life of an elk is 20 years so we’d expect a herd of 400 to have @20 die a year so anyone can go out there and photograph a carcass. To take jugs of water out for a publicity stunt is plum foolish.

    Death is part of life.

    I’ve lived next to the park for fifty years and have seen the natural springs that provide water to the elk. The elk are not thirsty.

    Anyone can write a sensational headline.

  • […] Point Reyes, Calif. (Sept. 14, 2020) — In Defense of Animals, ForELK, TreeSpirit Project, Rancho Compasión and fifty concerned local citizens produced an eye-catching artwork at Point Reyes National Seashore on Sunday, September 13, in an effort to free trapped Tule elk. The world’s largest remaining herd of the rare native animals are fenced and dying in a compound amid drought conditions and nearby wildfires which have created a choking haze of smoke across the entire West Coast. The National Park Service (NPS) has repeatedly refused to intervene to ensure more lives are not lost, prompting local activists to deliver water to the elk. […]