by Matthew Fingerett
The small, mostly isolated population of Tule elk are in danger due to the National Park Service’s (NPS) commitment to cattle ranching at Point Reyes National Seashore. Point Reyes is currently the only national park in the country that hosts this subspecies of elk. Today, there are around 4,000 Tule elk in total, all residing in California; this is a stark contrast to the population of 500,000 that existed in California in 1880.
According to the NPS, in 2017 the number of Tule elk at Point Reyes was roughly 660, split between Tomales Point, Drakes Beach, and areas around Limantour Road.
The National Park Service’s mission statement  includes the claim that it “cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.” However, the preferred plan of the NPS regarding the Tule elk in no way benefits natural and cultural resource conservation. The preferred plan of the NPS includes culling the already low population by encouraging shooting Tule elk that cross into areas specifically designated for ranching.
In this case, it appears the only partners to the NPS are those in the dairy or cattle grazing business. In 2017 the NPS settled a lawsuit  whereby it became a requirement for the NPS to plan for any impacts as a result of cattle ranching, which includes over 26,000 acres of land at Point Reyes. It does not appear that the NPS is honoring this requirement.
The plan would allow for grazing of 2,400 beef cattle and 3,130 dairy animals. This is at a time when both beef and dairy consumption are in decline. In addition to the reduction of public access to recreation – another commitment claimed by the NPS in its mission statement – the impact from cattle ranching leads to soil erosion, water pollution, invasive plants, declines in fish and bird populations, conflicts with wildlife, and even more greenhouse gas emissions.
We are at a point where the climate crisis is a top priority and should be particularly so for a federal agency like the National Park Service that is widely relied upon to maintain healthy environments and natural resources. Disappointingly, the priority of this agency appears to be profit over the protection of the Tule elk, and therefore other wildlife populations as part of the cascading effect of using lethal means to decrease the already small number of Tule elk we have left.
Comment Letter Talking Points:
NPS will not be accepting bulk or identical comments, so you must create your own unique letter. Below is a list of talking points that were created from our colleagues at the Center for Biological Diversity. Please personalize your letter and include some of the following talking points:
- Discuss how wildlife and natural scenery motivate you to visit Point Reyes and other national parks.
- Point Reyes National Seashore is supposed to be managed under the Point Reyes Act for “maximum protection, restoration, and preservation of the natural environment.” There’s no mandate for prioritizing commercial agricultural leases on these public lands.
- Natural values, native wildlife, public access and enjoyment should take priority over commercial activities at Point Reyes.
- Tule elk are an important part of the landscape at Point Reyes. Their recovery is a result of successful native ecosystem restoration, which is a key element of the Park Service’s mission. It’s taken a lot of time, money and effort to restore tule elk to Point Reyes, the only national park where they live. Tule elk should be allowed to roam free and forage in the park — not shot, removed, fenced or treated as problem animals.
- Right now the Point Reyes ranches enjoy not only subsidized grazing fees and housing, but also taxpayer-funded infrastructure and road improvements, and publicly funded projects. But commercial activities at Point Reyes should be required to accommodate native wildlife — not the other way around.
- The Park Service shouldn’t allow any new agricultural activities at Point Reyes. Planting artichokes or other row crops will attract birds. And introducing sheep, goats, pigs or chickens will attract native predators such as coyotes, bobcats and foxes. Expanded ranching would only create new wildlife conflicts.
- Cattle ranching should only be allowed if it’s consistent with preserving the natural environment. And agricultural activities such as mowing shouldn’t be allowed in park areas where they harm endangered species or wildlife habitat, impair water quality, cause excessive erosion or spread invasive plants/diseases.
- Cattle are the seashore’s primary source of greenhouse gases. So the Park Service’s preferred alternative is inconsistent with its own “Climate Friendly Parks” plan.