top of page

Elktivists fight for the rights of Nature at Point Reyes National Seashore

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

A group of Elk stands in the Reserve to the backdrop of Tomales Bay. ©Matthew Polvorosa Kline

In our oversaturated, fast paced world, finding those things that are truly wild in life becomes a rare and special experience. Sometimes it feels like the only wilderness left is those little reminders, like the cold bite of wind while lying in the morning grass or the soft crunch of snow underneath a heavy boot. Regardless of the distractions of modern life, wilderness is often only a short drive away; a quick escape. There are few places that I enjoy more than the untouched areas left in Point Reyes National Seashore. The park is home to many unique species: from the small California Red-legged Frog to the large Northern Elephant Seal. Point Reyes teems with energy and irresistible wild creatures. Despite the presence of thousands of species, there is no symbol that captures the indelible essence of Point Reyes better than Tule Elk. Watching this impressive figure dominate the horizon, is one of those rare glimpses of true wilderness.

Point Reyes is the only National Park in the world with this rare subspecies. Since its establishment, the traditional narrative of the park has painted Point Reyes as a great experiment, one in which a sustainable balance has been met between the agriculture industry and environmental health; where wildlife thrives. This fairytale view is not just historical fiction, but propaganda that has influenced park policy for far too long.

©Matthew Polvorosa Kline

With the reintroduction of the native Tule Elk in the late 70s, the park was praised for progressive conservation efforts. Despite this, the park has actually struggled to find a way for the agriculture industry and native species to coexist. As the elk population grew, the park became more concerned with ranching than wildlife.

Flash forward to today, the park has come to an unimaginably short sighted conclusion: giving away a third of the Seashore to private interest groups with the sterling endorsement of Representative Jared Huffman. This “great compromise” includes extending ranch leases from 5 to 20 years, allowing the ranches to diversify operations, and finally culling the herd of Tule Elk, to make more room for cows.

While I love cows, being an Aggie myself, I hate seeing a National Seashore - our public land given away to private industry.

Ranching at Point Reyes. ©Matthew Polvorosa Kline

It’s especially troubling in the context of the worldwide Mass Extinction.

Did you know that there are already more cows in Point Reyes National Seashore than there are Tule Elk left in the entire world?

It takes more than willful ignorance to draft and implement a plan like this in the only National Seashore on the west coast. During the public comment period, the park received over 7,600 comments. According to the Resource Renewal Institute, 91% of those were fundamentally against the Park’s preferred plan. Despite the overwhelmingly negative response, the park has pushed through with the plan anyways.

The Park Service has set a precedent in recent years of ignoring public outcry. For instance, between 2012 and 2014 the Park Service failed to bring water into the Elk Reserve during a period of extreme drought. The elk were unable to leave the area, which has no perennial streams, due to 8 foot high fences installed by the Park Service. Because of this, over 250 elk (roughly half the herd) died of dehydration and a lack of adequate forage. This species is already less than 1% recovered from its historical population.

The Save the Uglies Team mobilizes for Sunday's Protest.

Right now, similar circumstances are unfolding. A local wildlife photographer has recently documented 15 dead Tule Elk in the past few weeks alone, several dried up ponds, and completely inadequate water sources. This has led to calls by activists and environmental groups for the National Park Service to bring in water. The Park Service has vehemently refused, and repeatedly restated its official stance which is that there is still plenty of water and that they will proceed with their contingency plan “when appropriate.”

The bottom line is that the National Park Service has deliberately ignored facts that don’t line up with their convenient narrative, and pushed forward an agenda that is blatantly against the entire mission of the Park in the first place. Killing native wildlife on public lands to satisfy private industry is not only unethical, but a completely unacceptable use of taxpayer funds. Conservation is now COWS-SERVATION, get it?

Ultimately, the fight at Point Reyes is indicative of a greater national problem. The Trump Administration is notorious for repeated aggressive attacks on basic environmental legislation, like NEPA. Longstanding legislation that is critically important is under threat. The Park Service’s blatant disregard for the environment in Point Reyes has been emboldened by the federal prerogative to push through environmental impact statements and special interest agendas as quickly as possible. Having a fossil fuel lobbyist in charge of the organization that is intended to protect the environment presents an unquestionable conflict of interest.

So what can you do? How can you save the wild places and species that are left? First, there is a free documentary called “The Shame of Point Reyes” (Linked here!) which you can find with a simple google search. You can also sign the petition on “Save the Tule Elk” (Linked here!) and write to your local representatives asking them to oppose the plan. You can also donate directly to the campaign at or buy a Tule Elk Sticker on our site under shop! Every effort by every individual can collectively bring about the change we hope to see in this world.

Special thanks to Matthew Polvorosa Kline ( for allowing us to use his photographs.

Written by — Joe Sweeney

The opinions and views expressed belong to the author of this post alone and do not necessarily reflect the views those of Save the Uglies.


Template Letter to Governor Newsom (Submitted by Camille Calegari)

Dear Governor Newsom,

My name is Camille Calegari, and I'm a young student activist from Oakland. I'm reaching out in concern and frustration regarding the National Park's ranching plan for Point Reyes National Park, which shockingly involves slaughtering native wildlife, polluting the national seashore, contaminating the water with e-coli, and expanding private farms on public land.

I'm sure you've heard of Point Reyes and the controversy between private dairy farms that profit off of the abundance of the national park, and the environmentalists and scientists that discourage ranching on such a delicate and beloved ecosystem. I didn't email to explain the issue, because I know that as the governor of California, you're aware that extremely rare species are being destroyed in favor of private industry.

Although I love and support local farms, this issue is much more than "cow farms = bad, saving cute animals = good". This is about private businesses ignoring public disapproval and profiting off of public land. This is about local politicians refusing to listen to the common people they're supposed to support, and instead caving in to corporate greed. This isn't just an animal rights issue: it's a water issue, a public health issue, an agriculture issue, and an issue that everyone should know and care about.

We have only until October 18th before the ranches expand, build slaughterhouses, start farming more animals, and start culling herds of insanely rare tule elk. They'll trample more local wildlife and dump more and more tons of untreated feces into the ocean (which tourists SWIM IN).

I'm begging you to stand with the people of Point Reyes, with scientists, activists, and with the delicate natural life of California that makes our state truly beautiful and valuable.

Help us reject the ranching plan.

Thank you,

Camille Calegari


Learn More - Education is the First Step.

44 views0 comments


bottom of page