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50 Bay Area Locals Make a Dramatic Portrait to Save Dying Tule Elk


50 local activists took part in this dramatic demonstration to free the elk from a fenced enclosure at Point Reyes National Seashore where they are dying. CREDIT Jack Gescheidt, TreeSpiritProject.com

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.

KPIX 5, CBS San Franciscoreported on the dramatic demonstration of activists reaching through the 8ft fence which cuts off the elk and other wild animals from the main park area. Large parts of the National Seashore have been given over to industrial ranching operations which pollute the park and prevent wild animals from reaching water and other essential resources. Dozens of media outlets have reported on the controversy including ABC 7 News, the San Francisco Chronicleand the Los Angeles Times.

“The growing number of dead Tule elk has many local people extremely concerned,“ said Fleur Dawes, of In Defense of Animals. “As locals hear what’s happening to the elk at the Seashore, more and more people want to take part and stop a repeat of the mass deaths and address the ranching problem.”

254 Tule elk of a herd of 542 died from lack of access to adequate water and forage between 2012 and 2014.

She added, “It’s tragic that 58 years after the park was established to protect the elk, dairy and beef ranchers are getting away with their murder. Ranchers want fewer elk so they can expand their taxpayer-subsidised beef and cheese production in the park. The NPS, Congressman Jared Huffman and Senator Diane Feinstein are letting these rare animals die of thirst in a barbaric ‘cull,’ because of lobbying by the powerful animal agriculture industry. We’re calling on Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Adam Schiff to step in to free the elk and restore the National Seashore. We encourage concerned citizens to take action at www.idausa.org/elk.”

This event was held to mark the 58th anniversary of the September 13, 1962 signing of the original charter legislation establishing the Point Reyes Seashore within the National Parks system. The language of the charter is clear in stating that ranchers were supposed to be out of the park by 1987.

Numerous violations and breaches are ongoing in the national park. Ranchers are violating leases regulating the number of cattle. Park management is violating the 1916 NPS Organic Act and Point Reyes legislation by failing to give priority to elk and other natural resources over private, subsidized ranching.


Tule elk are dying at the Point Reyes National Seashore CREDIT: Matthew Polvorosa Kline www.polvorosakline.com

Water-borne bacterial pollution at the Point Reyes National Seashore has reached astonishing levels. A report by The Center for Biological Diversity’s The Revelator— “The Crappiest Places in America” — revealed Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the 10 most feces-contaminated locations monitored in California since 2012. The state’s highest reported E. coli level was on a Point Reyes cattle ranch.

Jeff Miller with the Center said “A national park like Point Reyes shouldn’t be home to some of the crappiest waterways in America. The Park Service is supposed to manage these public lands for protection of natural resources, but commercial dairies and cattle ranches continue to cause significant bacterial pollution of the park’s waterways.”

Jack Gescheidt of TreeSpirit Project adds, “Most of the public has no idea that those so-called ‘small, organic, ranches and dairies’ are by far the greatest sources of Point Reyes soil degradation, air pollution, water pollution, and Pacific Ocean pollution. Thousands of cows are simply incompatible with the mission and health of a National Park. There’s only one, simple, appropriate solution to this pollution… remove the livestock from Point Reyes National Seashore, the SF Bay Area’s only National Park.”

Sunday’s demonstration was sparked by the plight of 445 elk who are currently trapped and dying behind an 8-foot fence maintained by NPS to separate elk from leased dairy and meat ranch lands. Shockingly, the agency rejected emergency water aidoffered to save the world’s largest remaining Tule elk herd by In Defense of Animals, ForELK, and Rancho Compasión. The NPS continues to refuse to implement its contingency plan to provide water despite drought conditions — which is a repeat of its inaction in the 2013 and 2014 droughts which left over 250 elk dead.

Activists are left questioning the Park Service’s intent — especially since its stated future plans include “culling” the park’s public elk herd at the request of several for-profit ranches that operate in the park.

“The ranchers would prefer all the elk be removed from the park so they can exploit the natural park for profit,” said Fleur Dawes, of In Defense of Animals. “It’s inconceivable that this travesty is happening in California.”

Point Reyes National Seashore, where the Tule elk live, is, again, suffering drought conditions. The majority of the Seashore’s elk are kept in the Tomales Point Preserve. The elk 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. 250 elk previously perished under similar conditions. Common sense and past experience suggest that the elk are dying of thirst and/or malnutrition since they are unable to leave their fenced confinement.


Seven dead elk have been discovered by locals at the Tule elk reserve in recent weeks and the NPS has necropsied two more. CREDIT: In Defense of Animals.

Local animal activists recently stepped in and bravely risked their own freedom to supply emergency water to the Tule elk. They installed two troughs holding a total of 150 gallons of water.

“It’s wrong to purposely trap native wild animals behind a fence to allow dairy and beef ranchers preference to natural resources at a national park,” said Fleur Dawes, of In Defense of Animals. “There are more cows on the Point Reyes National Seashore than there are Tule elk left in the entire world. Point Reyes National Seashore should be prioritizing the elk, not private ranching interests.”


One of the dried ponds at Point Reyes elk reserve. CREDIT: Jim Coda.

NPS uses just 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 elk to access. Sadly, one female who apparently tried to access it was found dead on August 19th.

“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 treacherous for elk to access and an inadequate measurement of necessary water.“


A female elk was recently found dead in a ravine seep. CREDIT: Matthew Polvorosa Kline.

“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. Its statement and actions show they favor letting the elk die — even while a poll of 7,000 respondents revealed 90% of the public favor supporting elk instead of ranchers’ cows.”

August-September is only the beginning of California’s dry season. Drought has hit early at a time where there are many baby elk, who are the most vulnerable to succumbing to the Park Service’s brutal negligence.

“We can’t afford to lose the most precious herd out of the world’s few remaining Tule elk,” said Diana Oppenheim, of ForELK. “As the negative effects of climate catastrophe worsen, and ecosystems are collapsing, it is imperative to protect wildlife and all biodiversity on this planet. If wild animals cannot be safe in a National Park, supposedly the most protected land in the world, the future for Earth’s wild animals is dark.”

“Waiting for another 250 elk to die before acting is unacceptable,” said Fleur Dawes, of In Defense of Animals. “The only viable long-term answer to this terrible situation is to take down the fence and get the polluting, environmentally degrading cows out of the national park. In the meantime, the NPS has a duty to immediately provide water to the trapped Tule elk.”

In Defense of Animals, ForELK, TreeSpirit Project, 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, Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Program, The Center for Biological Diversity, and Save Point Reyes National Seashore.

Concerned citizens are urged to find out how to help the Tule elk here: www.idausa.org/elk.


  • In Defense of Animals, Lisa Levinson, lisa, 215-620-2130

  • ForELK, Diana Oppenheim, action, 248-840-5684,

  • Rancho Compasión, Dawn Rogers, dawn, 510-990-6443

  • The TreeSpirit Project, Jack Gescheidt, jack, 415-488-4200

Watch film: The Shame of Point Reyes: https://youtu.be/z9OEQOy3v0E

Detailed documentation of current conditions: http://bit.ly/ElkConditions

Documentation of activists delivering water aid: https://www.idausa.org/campaign/wild-animals-and-habitats/latest-news/media-release-brave-activists-defy-nps-to-save-rare-tule-elk

Take action to free the Tule elk: www.idausa.org/elk

In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization with over 250,000 supporters and a 37-year history of protecting animals’ rights, welfare, and habitats through education, campaigns, and hands-on rescue facilities in India, South Korea, and rural Mississippi. www.idausa.org

ForELK is a grassroots organization of people who fight for the protection of the Tule elk and their habitat within Point Reyes National Seashore. They work toward public engagement through education, direct outreach, network building, political demonstrations and protests. www.forelk.org

Rancho Compasión is a non-profit sanctuary founded in west Marin in 2015 that provides a safe haven to over 70 rescued farmed animals. Its mission is to provide shelter and care for rescued farm animals for their entire natural lifespans, and to educate visitors and students to help them rethink how they view animals typically categorized as “food”. www.ranchocompasion.org

The TreeSpirit Project is a celebration of our interdependence with nature. Thousands of people have taken part in fine art photographs that raise awareness of the critical role of trees and wild spaces in our lives.https://treespiritproject.com