The National Park Service has unveiled its plan to extend the leases of ranchers in Point Reyes National Seashore, which will include killing some of the Drake’s Beach tule elk that roam the nearby area.
Point Reyes, 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 herds in California, and because they’ve taken up a home at residence of the grassy fields near Drakes Beach, they are competing with dairy cows for grass feeding. So when the National Park Service released its final plan to extend the leases of the ranches within the park from 5-years to 20-years, it included limiting the population of the competing tule elk.
The plan calls for reducing and limiting the tule elk population to 120. The herd currently sits at 138.
Environmentalists staunchly object the plan, 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.
“The plan would destroy wildlife habitat, harm endangered species, degrade water quality and lead to killing of some of the park’s most iconic wildlife, including tule elk,” said The Center for Biological Diversity Spokesman Jeff Miller in a written statement.
But the plan isn’t as simple as that. 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 for the designation of the park.
“What we would like to see is, put the elk, keep them separate from the working farms and ranches, keep them separate in the 70 percent of the wilderness area,” said longtime rancher Bob McClure. “They’re fine there! We do not dislike elk.”
The current 30-day waiting period to give final approval on the project will end on October 18. Environmental groups have stated that they’re prepared to fight the plan, which they say violates conservation law.