The National Park Service is being sued by three California residents and the Animal Legal Defense Fund for allegedly causing the deaths of dozens of elk at Point Reyes National Seashore.
The lawsuit accuses the park service of being negligent and claims more animals will perish if the agency is not ordered to provide food and water during the current heatwave.
152 tule elk, a subspecies of elk native to California, have died from starvation and/or dehydration in the last year due to a fence erected by the NPS to stop them from competing with cattle for food and water. The cattle, belonging to some of the biggest names in the San Francisco meat and dairy industry, are permitted by the park service to graze on public land.
“The National Park Service has a responsibility to protect and preserve these beautiful animals. The idea that depriving them of food and water somehow fulfills that responsibility isn’t just absurd, it’s undeniably inhumane.”
Kate Barnekow, Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic
The park service recently installed three large troughs when water sources began drying up, but water was only accessible to one of four herds at Tomales Point, the lawsuit said.
A drought emergency was declared in California last month after a dry winter and unseasonably warm spring.
The tule elk (Cervus Canadensis Nannodes) is a subspecies of elk found only in California, ranging from the grasslands and marshlands of the Central Valley to the grassy hills on the coast. The subspecies name derives from the tule, a species of sedge native to freshwater marshes on which the Tule elk feed. When the Europeans first arrived, an estimated 500,000 tule elk roamed these regions, but by 1870 they were thought to be extirpated. However, in 1874–1875 a single breeding pair was discovered in the tule marshes of Buena Vista Lake in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Conservation measures were taken to protect the species in the 1970s. Today, the wild population exceeds 4,000. Tule elk can reliably be found in Carrizo Plain National Monument, Point Reyes National Seashore, portions of the Owens Valley from Lone Pine to Bishop, on Coyote Ridge in Santa Clara Valley, San Jose, California, and in the Pacheco state park and areas surrounding San Luis reservoir near Los Banos, California.