Why Elk Need Fences
After the park introduced tule elk to the area near Limantour, by summer 2000, at least two elk had turned up across Drakes Estero on the former Horick (D) Ranch, which had just been decommissioned the previous year when the heirs were not offered a lease renewal by the NPS. These elk eventually grew into an established herd, which currently is affecting ranches in that area of the Seashore, as the elk cross into leased pastures, not only eating the cattle’s forage (which needed to be replaced with expensive hay), but also damaging fences and irrigation systems. Holes in the fencing left by the elk allow dairy cows to stray from their proper pastures, and potentially to be bred at the wrong time or by the wrong bull. Similarly, tule elk from the Limantour herd are regularly seen on ranches north of that area, causing similar problems. One rancher found three dead heifers who had suffered goring by a rutting bull elk.
The PRNS Annual Report for 2001 stated, “Since their release, the new herd [at Limantour] has been carefully monitored to ensure animals remain within Seashore boundaries, do not interfere with cattle ranches within the park and are not shedding the organism that causes Johne’s disease.” Yet the tule elk have been interfering with ranches for years now, with little response. Furthermore, like the original population at Tomales Point, the free-ranging herds at both Limantour and the Horick Ranch have continued to increase; by early 2014, the herd sizes were 71 and 76, respectively, and a 2010 study of their population dynamics estimates that, without intervention, both herds will likely increase to approximately 400 individuals by 2018.
The Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association has requested that PRNS take action as soon as possible to relocate the tule elk away from the pastoral zone, or several ranches could be in danger of going out of business entirely from the impacts.
PRNS has responded with the initiation of a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process which the park estimates will take until August of 2015 to conclude. Elk encroachment is an urgent problem and the Park needs to take action now. The solution is as simple as this: Elk Fences Now.
Adapted from: "Point Reyes National Seashore and the Tule Elk: an Historical Background," Dr. Laura A. Watt - based on the presentation at the West Marin Chamber of Commerce’s Elk Forum in May 2014.
Dr. Laura A. Watt is an Associate Professor and Chair of Environmental Studies and Planning at Sonoma State University, and is currently completing a book on the history of management at PRNS, to be published by the UC Press.