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In response to reports of tule elk dying amid an ongoing drought, the Center for Biological Diversity and Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic recently demanded that the National Park Service remove a fence from Tomales Point in northern Point Reyes National Seashore that confines elk on a peninsula with inadequate water.

“Point Reyes is a national park, not a zoo. The park’s native wildlife shouldn’t be confined or prevented from finding water and food,” aid Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Park Service should tear down the Tomales Point fence so that all elk in Point Reyes National Seashore are able to thrive and find adequate water during a drought.”

Tomales Point elk are prevented from naturally migrating to reliable water sources by an eight-foot fence erected and maintained by the Park Service to benefit cattle ranchers with grazing leases in the park. Cattle directly south of the fence have access to plentiful water sources, including naturally flowing streams.

The location of the Tomales Point Tule Elk Reserve (upper left) is highlighted in this undated aerial photo. (Google image)

Tule elk in the fenced Tomales Point Elk Reserve depend largely on water in former cattle stock ponds to survive the dry summer and fall seasons. All but one of these ponds are dry or nearly dry. Conditions are similar to 2012-14, when more than 250 elk — nearly half of the Tomales Point elk population — died from a lack of water. It appears that at least six elk have recently died on Tomales Point, with the causes of death not yet disclosed.

While the Park Service posted a recent update stating that water is still available for elk in two seeps and springs on the peninsula, in a creek at McClures Beach and in a large pond, conservationists on Monday called for more information on whether adequate water exists to maintain the fenced elk throughout the remainder of the dry season.

The National Park Service Act and the California Tule Elk Preservation Act require the Park Service to conserve, protect and maintain the elk in the national park. The Park Service is close to finalizing a ranch-management plan that, at the request of ranchers, would allow the agency to regularly kill a portion of the free-roaming Drakes Beach elk herd to limit their population growth.