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Drought prompts Point Reyes park officials to truck water to thirsty elk

San Francisco Chronicle 10/12/2022 By Kurtis Alexander

The scenic Point Reyes peninsula has gotten so dry that the National Park Service, for a second straight year, has begun trucking water to its famous elk population.

The tule elk that roam Tomales Point, a major draw for visitors at the Point Reyes National Seashore, normally get their water from creeks and old stock ponds in the rural Marin County park. But amid the three-year drought, those sources have run low, as they did last year before being replenished by fall and winter rain.

To satiate the elk, park officials are refilling tanks that supply seven water troughs placed last year in areas where the animals typically go to quench their thirst. Float valves affixed to the troughs ensure a steady supply of water. The water will be trucked to the tanks as long as the creeks and ponds remain dry.

The group of elk at Tomales Point, which is ringed by the Pacific Ocean, Tomales Bay and fencing put up to contain the animals, has historically been the largest of three herds in the national seashore. In December, though, there were 221 elk in the herd, the lowest count in recent memory and a substantial drop from the two-decade average of about 400.

The concern is that herd numbers could continue to decline because of the lack of water and sufficient forage. The herd’s previous low point was in 2015, about 280 elk, which was also an extraordinarily dry time.

Wildlife advocates sued the park last year for not doing more to assist the elk during the drought.

The two other herds in the park, around Limantour and Drakes beaches, are not as contained as the Tomales Point elk and don’t face the same water woes. In total, about 600 elk live in the national seashore.

Tule elk once lived across much of Central and Northern California before nearly plummeting to extinction. About 6,000 reside in the state today.

Kurtis Alexander is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @kurtisalexander

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