Daniel Dietrich | Experimenting With Elk

Experimenting With Elk

April 29, 2015  •  4 Comments

Tule Elk grazing on historic D Ranch

The controversy surrounding the elk in Point Reyes National Seashore gets more and more heated every day. Just about every topic that relates to them is in debate. The height of the fences, the grass they eat, the diseases they don't carry, their relocation, the water they don't have access to...the list goes on and on. But as things seem to get more and more complicated, things have suddenly become very clear to me. It is time to stop experimenting with the park's elk. ​

This sudden epiphany came to me a few weeks ago. I was out watching the herd of female elk at the historic D-Ranch. I simply couldn't understand what was going on. The entire herd was up. They were all very active. Half were running around in circles. Others were literally leaping off all 4 hooves at once. Females were boxing on their back legs. What the heck was going on!? Then I saw it. There was a brand new calf in the mix. It was the first born this year. 

The calf was running toward a dozen females. Then it darted back to its mother. 3 of the females ran at the baby and its mother. The baby darted out from her mother's safety and into an open field. It spun around and then chased the 3 females. They ran as if to let the calf chase them. Others joined in on the game. Others simply hopped up and down. What I was witnessing was a celebration. The entire herd of elk was celebrating the birth of this elk calf. It was something I had never witnessed before and my mind was blown. I was so mesmerized, I didn't even take a picture. It wasn't until the mom disappeared with her calf that I even took out my camera.

I now think about the 3 elk that were recently relocated to the Limantour herd. 2 swam the mouth of the estero and returned to D ranch in less than a week. The year old female is still there, hanging out right at the edge of the boundary. She probably wants to come back too. But we interfered. We took her from her family and placed her in a foreign place, with strangers, as an experiment. Was it her sister that was just born? We decided this experiment was more important than all else. She missed the entire celebration.

I attended the workshops held by the park in Point Reyes Station last year. I spent 2 days listening to all the possible solutions to the 'elk problem'. What were the proposed solutions? Contraception. Culling. Have a public hunt. Relocation. More fences. WHAT??? Seriously? How did some of these even make the list? Where was the possible solution, Do Nothing!? Where was the solution, Stop hazing the elk? Where was the solution, most people want free roaming elk in the park, how do we move in that direction? Everything I heard was another experiment with the elk. Every 'solution' I heard was another invasive experiment on the park's elk. 

In the past few weeks, over 3 dozen elk have breached the fence keeping them on Tomales Point. The park hazed the elk back behind the fence and are repairing the fence where they got through to prevent them from repeating their offence. Any thoughts given to the fact that half the elk up there have died in the past 2 years from possibly dehydration or lack of nutrition? Any thoughts that the 3 dozen elk might be thirsty or hungry?

It is more clear to me now than it ever has been in the past. It is time we stop experimenting with the elk. This is a national park. The animals are meant to be protected, free roaming, and unhazed. It is time to let elk move freely through the park to find the nutrients and water they need to prosper and survive.

It is time to consider THE ELK, and not what we should do with them.




Daniel Dietrich
Indeed Michelle. I agree with you 100%.

Aargh! This makes me so mad - I had no idea the park service was hazing the elk to keep them on Tomales Point. National parks are supposed to be places where we can go to have a respite from civilization in nature, and wildlife are a huge part of that. The elk need to be free roaming. The fence needs to go!
Chris Pincetich(non-registered)
What happens if the crazy elk walk out of the park? As an Inverness Park resident, I hope they find my front yard. They are welcome to eat our grass! Personally, I support more wilderness and wilderness aspects and wilderness vibe for the Point Reyes National Seashore. I hope it doesn't turn into a sad zoo vibe with wild animals corralled in various places for our viewing pleasure. That's not very wild or natural.
Jim Coda(non-registered)
"It is time to consider THE ELK, and not what we should do with them." You hit the nail on the head, Daniel. Park management cares nothing about the elk - or wildlife in general. When the park's Chief of Natural Resources left for another job a few years ago, park management didn't even bother to fill the position. Instead it added that responsibility to the Chief of Cultural Resources who is not a biologist. So now, there is no one in management who cares about wildlife or knows anything about wildlife. While the elk in the reserve were dying of thirst the park went to great lengths to provide extra water for elk near Drakes Beach to try to hold them there because the ranchers don't want the elk on their leased lands. No one in management stopped to think that maybe the park should make sure the elk locked up in the reserve had adequate water. It's no wonder elk over three dozen elk left the reserve recently when there was a break in the fence. It's a death trap.
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