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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Pests and Politics: Managing Free-Ranging Tule Elk in Point Reyes National Seashore

  • Author(s): Black, Randi A.;
  • Larson, Stephanie
  • et al.

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In 1978, Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) reintroduced Tule elk, which is the only National Park unit where Tule elk can be found. The State of California provided the initial elk Tomales Point in PRNS. State wildlife biologists were members of the team that managed the re-introduction and subsequent monitoring. Tomales Point is a fenced area; however, one goal of the 1998 Tule Elk Management Plan was to establish a free-ranging Tule elk herd to the seashore. That plan stated the forage is unaffected by the number of elk occupying the range and elk do not have a strictly negative effect on vegetation. However, in 1999, PRNS moved a free-range herd of 28 elk from Tomales Point to the wilderness area near Limantour Beach. Within weeks, a few elk unexpectedly migrated to ranches in the designated pastoral zone. Currently, Drakes Beach (D Ranch) herd includes approximately 150 Tule elk. Designated pastoral zone, where livestock and dairy producer operations may be permitted, are charged an annual lease based on the lands’ carrying capacity. In 2004, beef and dairy producers began to express concerns about the impacts elk were having on forage, organic certifications, and overall economic viability. In 2014, PRNS initiated the Ranch Comprehensive Management Plan to assess growing concerns of beef and dairy producers related to the free-ranging elk impacts to the pastoral zone. PRNS staff have not implemented any of their 1998 control methods, and are currently only hazing elk away from permitted operations. The efficacy of hazing elk away from the pastoral zone is in question; and PRNS has stated an inability to do more control due to recent litigation. Efforts should focus on non-lethal effective elk management options, such as contraception, which abide by current litigation constraints while mitigating producer burden and concern. The objective of this paper is to develop a case for potential multi-species management (i.e., elk plus cattle) at PRNS while protecting its historical, biodiversity, and economic value.

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