Tule elk face death by dehydration at Point Reyes. CREDIT: Unsplash.

Elk Emergency: NPS Under Fire for Denying Water to Trapped Tule Elk


Point Reyes, Calif. (August 26, 2020) — In Defense of Animals, ForELK and Rancho Compasión are urging theNational Park Service (NPS) to uphold its duty to supply water to hundreds of protected Tule elk being held captive at Point Reyes who are at risk of dying from dehydration. All but one of the stock ponds are dry or running dangerously low and several elk have died in recent days. The local animal and environmental organizations are calling on the NPS to implement its own contingency plan or accept emergency water aid for the elk. The thirsty elk are currently beset by drought and wildfire smoke, and caged into the preserve by a fence which prevents them from accessing alternative water sources.

This Tule elk emergency was the subject of an ABC 7 News report which aired yesterday: https://abc7news.com/pets-animals/exclusive-wildfire-conditions-pose-risk-to-cas-tule-elk/6388926

Four distinct herds of Tule elk currently live in the Tomales Point preserve in Point Reyes, where they are trapped behind an 8-foot high fence. Three of the four herds are at risk since ponds that usually provide them with fresh water are currently documentedas either completely dry, or at risk of drying out very soon. Previous drought conditions between 2011-2015 resulted in the deaths of an estimated 250 elk, who died directly because of a lack of water.

The Tule elk are also faced with billowing smoke from the 2,600 acre Woodward fire burning in Point Reyes and the 350,000 acre LNU Lighting Complex wildfires.

ForELK launched a petition that calls on the acting superintendent of Point Reyes to bring water to the besieged Tule elk which has gained over 19,000 signatures.

“Our hearts go out to the NPS which is dealing with some of the worst wildfires in history, including the Woodward fire which is raging in Point Reyes and affecting the Tule elk,” said Lisa Levinson, of In Defense of Animals. “Many of the Tule elk at Tomales Point are currently trapped without water. Half the herd died during the last drought and we can’t let that happen again.”

“We’ve already seen the devastating death toll drought has had for these elk, who are otherwise doomed without intervention. It’s beyond unacceptable that the National Park Service would let history repeat itself, and do nothing while hundreds more lives are senselessly, and cruelly, lost,” said Dawn Rogers, of Rancho Compasión. “The agency is obligated to provide water to animals it’s keeping captive, anything less is simply unthinkable.”

The North Herd, Plateau Herd, White Gulch Herd and South Herd all rely on eight ponds supposedly in the reserve. However, only six could recently be located. Aside from a pond which serves only one herd, the others are either dry, or are close to drying out. The only other water source in the reserve is a seep that can be accessed by two herds, but accessing it is dangerous. An elk carcass was found at the seep when local photographer Matthew Polvorosa Kline monitored it last week.

The NPS itself acknowledged that elk don’t use the seep during the day, likely because of hikers using trails. It’s now also believed to be low flowing, and could potentially run dry. The seep was clearly an insufficient source of water during the last drought when half the elk herd died. 

“It’s difficult to believe the NPS would do nothing, when we all know exactly what will happen if water isn’t brought in for these elk. Allowing them to die when we have a simple solution available would be wholly unforgivable,” said Lisa Levinson, of In Defense of Animals.

Following the last drought, NPS official Dave Press stated that “the seashore is developing a plan to truck water to an easily accessible pond if it runs dry again in the future.” However, images taken this month show the ponds it promised to fill are empty, and no water has ever been provided to date.

The NPS claims to be monitoring water levels via a camera, however just one camera is trained on one pool. At least four of the eight stock ponds must be filled to support the four elk herds trapped on the peninsula.

In Defense of Animals, ForELK, Rancho Compasión and their partners, including Save Point Reyes National Seashore,retired NPS attorney and wildlife photographer Jim Coda, and photographer Matthew Polvorosa Kline, are calling on the NPS to remove the fencing trapping these elk. 

“Confining the elk is contrary to the 1916 NPS Organic Act and Point Reyes legislation, which both require NPS to give priority to elk and other natural resources, not to private, subsidized ranching, which is the only reason why the fencing is there,” said Diane Elise Gentile, of Save Point Reyes National Seashore.

Gentile formed Save Point Reyes National Seashore, a volunteer group that hosts regular meetings to inform the public about threats to wildlife and biodiversity at the Point Reyes National Seashore. Group members include Rancho Compasión, which was founded by local entrepreneur, Miyoko Schinner, who produces “phenomenally vegan” products stocked by national grocery giants at her Sonoma-based Miyoko’s Creamery. 

“It’s sad that in this county where we pride ourselves on environmental stewardship that we value the cattle and dairy industries over the lives of a native species,” said Schinner. “As environmentalists and wildlife lovers, it’s time we realize that animal agriculture is a leading cause of species decimation, not just here in Point Reyes but all over the world. We need a new food system that honors the lives of wildlife, not destroys them.“

If the NPS fails to provide access to water for the trapped elk, dozens of Bay Area residents are prepared to step in.

“We have been working literally around the clock to do whatever we can and need to protect the Tule elk,” said Diana Oppenheim, of ForELK. “It’s trying times, and honestly, we are scared for the elk. If NPS won’t act or can’t act owing to the wildfires, we are prepared to step in. We have our own contingency plan ready to save the lives of the Tule elk and we hope that NPS will accept our aid.”

“This is an urgent emergency for the Tule elk,” said Lisa Levinson, of In Defense of Animals. “We hope the community will step forward to ensure the beloved and iconic Tule Elk do not suffer. Please make a call for the elk now, then make a lifesaving donation to the elk water fund at https://bit.ly/ElkWaterNOW.”

Concerned citizens can contact the Superintendent of the Seashore to ask that ponds be filled immediately to prevent elk from dying. The Superintendent can be reached at the following:

Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS)

Acting Superintendent Carey Feierabend

1 Bear Valley Road

Point Reyes Station, CA 94


415 464-5102

National Park Service (NPS)

Pacific Regional Director, Woody Smeck

333 Bush St., Suite 500

San Francisco, CA 94104-2828   

woody_smeck@nps.gov; cc: PORE_Info@nps.gov


You can donate to the elk water fund at https://bit.ly/ElkWaterNOW