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These California Tule Elk Have A View to Share

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

The herd of Tule Elk located at Point Reyes north of the San Francisco Bay Area have a marvelous view of the majestic coastline. Visitors are welcome to hike Tomales Point to view these beautiful creatures and to share their view of the California coastline and pacific ocean.

History of Tule Elk The tule elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) is one of two subspecies of elk native to California. Its numbers were severely reduced in the mid-1800s, primarily due to uncontrolled market hunting and displacement by cattle. By some accounts, fewer than thirty remained in a single herd near Bakersfield in the mid-1870s. A conservation minded cattle rancher named Henry Miller had the foresight to preserve this last isolated group discovered on his ranch in 1874. Until this discovery, tule elk were thought to be extinct. All of the estimated 5,700 tule elk present in twenty-two herds across California (as of 2020) were derived from this small remnant herd, thanks to his initial efforts. Tule elk are endemic to California, meaning they are found only here. Roosevelt elk (C. canadensis roosevelti), our other native California elk, are found on forested slopes in the Pacific Northwest and in several other western states. Rocky Mountain elk (C. canadensis nelsoni), also found in California, are a non-native transplant and are found in the northeast corner of California.

Tule Elk at Point Reyes Tule elk once inhabited the grasslands of the Point Reyes peninsula and the Olema Valley, as well as other grasslands within Marin County. They were the dominant grazers on these lands until their local extirpation in the 1850s. State and Federal legislation in the early 1970s, authorized the California Department of Fish and Game, in cooperation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, to reintroduce the extirpated tule elk to Tomales Point. As a result, ten animals (eight females and two males) were transplanted from an existing reintroduced herd in the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge near Los Baños to a 2,600 acre fenced enclosure on Tomales Point in 1978. The site of this release was a decommissioned cattle ranching area, known as Pierce Point Ranch, which is now designated as wilderness. Further conservation efforts resulted in an additional free-ranging herd being established at Point Reyes. In 1998, twenty-eight animals taken from the Tomales Point preserve were released in the wilderness area south of Limantour Beach. Reintroduction of tule elk to the National Seashore and the further establishment of the free-ranging herd has been an important component of the restoration of the natural systems historically found in this unique and treasured place.

Tule Elk Populations at Tomales Point Following an initial period of slow growth, the tule elk herd at Tomales Point grew exponentially over several years. In the early 1990s, biologists theorized that tule elk might become too numerous within the Tule Elk Reserve. At that time, park staff attempted to prevent over-population and damage to the range through various means, including an experimental four-year effort to slow growth through the use of contraceptives. Since then, the elk population at Tomales Point has fluctuated up and down with changing environmental conditions, with a low census count of 283 individuals in 2015 to a high count of 585 individuals in 2007, and an average of approximately 420 individuals over the last 20 years from 1999 to 2019. The low census count of 283 individuals in 2015 was likely a result of overpopulation and poor forage conditions during the dry summer and fall months. The tule elk at Tomales Point had access to water throughout the 2012–2015 drought years. The 1998 Tule Elk Management Plan and Environmental Assessment (EA) (10,680 KB PDF) guides the management of elk at Tomales Point, and notes that the population of elk at this location may go through a series of modulated swings of population growth and decline, a process called natural- or self-regulation. The 2021 annual census of tule elk identified 221 individuals at Tomales Point.

Several Conservation and Environmental groups are working to protect the Point Reyes Tule Elk and include the following:

* Please note that For Their Future Photography in not associated with any of the above organizations and their mention and links provided are as a courtesy only. All organizations should be verified and researched before making any kind of a donation.

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