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Point Reyes National Seashore providing drinking water to Tomales Point tule elk

Point Reyes National Seashore park managers have begun providing supplemental drinking water to more than 200 tule elk at the northernmost part of the park amid intensifying drought and ongoing scrutiny of the health of the enclosed herd.

Animal rights advocates have watched intently over recent periods of dry weather, fearing that the the Tomales Point herd, enclosed in a fenced preserve, might not have sufficient water to stay alive.

Park officials say the Tomales Point herd, one of three bands of wild tule elk at the 111-square-mile seashore, did lose some of its numbers last year, declining from 445 individuals to 293.

But they disputed dehydration as the cause. After assessment of the dead elk, observations of survivors and their environment, they credited the losses to overpopulation and poor forage quality due to the drought as underlying causes.

The water situation is worse this summer, however, and manmade stock ponds and natural reservoirs fed by winter rains have not been replenished, said Melanie Gunn, the seashore’s public affairs officer.

The winter brought 40% less rain to the area than usual, and natural seeps, springs and creeks also are drier than usual, she said.

The park on Friday placed three gravity-fed 250-gallon water troughs at the south end of the Tomales Point enclosure, putting them in areas known to be active elk gathering spots, adjacent to established water sources. They are fed by more than 2,000-gallon tanks on Pierce Point Road and are equipped with valves that allow them to maintain a constant level, as well as with escape ramps for smaller critters that may fall in.

The troughs and tanks are to remain in use until winter rain returns.

The national seashore has about 600 tule elk in all. Two of its herds are free-ranging.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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