Tule elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) is a subspecies of the large deer endemic to California. By the mid 1800s, the Tule elk was thought to be extinct. The subspecies was only saved by a rancher who found them on his land and preserved the remaining population of possibly less than 30 animals.
Ironically, there is now a struggle over the coexistence of ranchers and Tule elk; which have grown in number to a population of 5,700 animals in 22 herds. Starting in the 1970s, the elk were reintroduced to the Point Reyes National Seashore; where historically they were the dominant grazer.
Today, the population of Tule elk has grown and the National Park Service (NPS) plans on culling their number against the outcry from activists. Not only is the NPS planning on culling the elks’ population, but a three-mile long, eight-foot high fence prevents their free ranging. The fence is for the benefit of dairy and cattle ranchers who also use Point Reyes for grazing.
Due to the limiting impact of the fence on movement, activists have been providing water troughs for elk unable to reach the vital resource. NPS employees have been accused of dumping out the water left for the animals.
Many elk are said to have died without access to water for months. Now, the NPS has reversed its decision and is instead providing new water troughs and mineral supplements. In Defense of Animals, ForELK and the TreeSpirit Project have hailed the decision as a step in the right direction.
However, the management of tule elk is still controversial, with the NPS recently revising its management plan involving culling elk for the grazing of thousands of cows after it was contested in court.
Miyoko Schinner, founder and owner of California-based Miyoko’s Creamery, has an animal sanctuary at her home in Nicasio where she keeps hundreds of rescued animals.
“At some point we have to decide: what is the legacy we want to leave? Do we want to be the species that exterminated every other species on this planet, which does not belong to just the human species? It belongs to all species, including the Tule elk, and every single species deserves to live,” said Schinner.
“What we are doing today may or may not make a difference tomorrow, sadly, but we are a microcosm of a movement that is going to ripple across America that will change how we treat all wild animals. We must tell the story to all non-believers, to non-vegans that if they are wildlife and animal lovers they must stop consuming animal products.”