Point Reyes National Seashore, sitting north of San Francisco on the California coast, is home to a flourishing wildlife population, including elephant seals, black-tailed deer, great blue herons and bobcats. But the species that has flourished the most are the tule elk, and it’s becoming a big problem for dairy farmers.
The Point Reyes elk is one of the largest herd in California, and because they have taken up a home at residence of the grassy fields near Drakes Beach, they are competing with dairy cows for grass feeding. And now, after a bi-partisan bill passed through The House of Representatives in September, officials may kill some of the elk to provide relief for the cows.
The new legislation from U.S. Representative Jared Huffman, a Democrat from San Rafael, gives the park service authority to manage the elk populations in the area. Park officials are still deciding what to do, but it’s looking likely they will soon issue a plan that will call for killing some of the Drakes Beach herd, which grew from 76 animals in 2014 to 112 last year.
Environmentalists staunchly object the bill, saying it would sabotage a decade-long successful reintroduction of the elk to the region. Tule elk, once sitting at populations near 500,000, were hunted to near extinction during the Gold Rush. Now the population sits around 3,800.
At the center of the thinning sits the dairy farmers, who pay rent to raise cattle on the land and have existed at Point Reyes since the 1860’s. In fact, when President John F. Kennedy signed the bill that acquired the land as a national park, part of the deal was allowing the dairy farmers to stay in the area. The government bought the land from the farmers and they have been paying rent ever since, a deal that was critical to designating the park.
Currently, two dozen dairy and ranching families have leases on the national seashore and on the adjacent Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The bill doesn’t require officials kill the elk and scientists are studying the elk to determine how many could coexist with the cattle. Environmentalists argue there are other options like fencing or contraception. Officials claim that non-lethal tactics may not work and could simply waste money.
There are many options on the table, but it seems like officials a leaning towards thinning the herd with lethal tactics. And even though the elk aren’t considered endangered, activists have taken to the park headquarters to protest the act.
So the argument remains who deserves the land – the dairy cows or tule elk? It seems that politicians and park officials have made their decision.