As of March, 2023: Point Reyes National Seashore wildlife staff completed the annual tule elk census for the Tomales Point and Drakes Beach herds in late 2022. At Tomales Point, the minimum population size is 262 elk, a 18.5% increase from 221 elk in 2021, with 138 cows, 55 calves, and 69 males. The minimum population estimate for the Drakes Beach herd is 170 elk, a 12.6% increase from 151 elk in 2021, with 90 cows, 25 calves, and 55 males. After multiple attempts in early 2023, and due to weather setbacks and staffing limitations, a 2022 census of the Limantour tule elk herd will not be possible. National Park Service wildlife staff are instead tracking elk numbers from the Limantour herd within active ranching areas of the park for comparison to prior years and checking cow groups in the Phillip Burton Wilderness for a qualitative sense of calf production in 2022.
As of the first week of September, 2022: The park is providing supplemental water and mineral licks for tule elk at seven locations throughout Tomales Point, similar to last year. These supplemental water systems will be maintained until sufficient rains return this fall and winter. Please help support conditions for tule elk to use water troughs and mineral licks by not approaching these areas when visiting or hiking at Tomales Point. Continue to check this page for updated information.
As of June 30, 2022: The systems established to provide supplemental water for the tule elk at Tomales Point have not been maintained since winter rains began in the fall of 2021. Point Reyes wildlife staff are actively monitoring the conditions at Tomales Point and there are currently natural sources of water available. If/when this changes, the park will refill the water storage tanks, provide supplemental water for the elk by filling the troughs, and regularly maintain the systems until winter rains arrive and conditions improve. Mineral licks will also be supplied at this time.
As of October 4, 2021: The park installed a new supplemental water system and mineral lick on the north end of the Tomales Point Tule Elk Preserve at Avalis Beach, for a total of seven supplemental water systems at Tomales Point. The water trough at Avalis Beach is gravity fed by a pair of water tanks smaller than the others in the preserve because it is resupplied by boat on Tomales Bay.
As of September 24, 2021:The park installed three new supplemental water systems at the north end of the Tomales Point Tule Elk Preserve, in addition to the three established at the south end of the preserve earlier this year. This plan was developed in coordination with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.
Point Reyes National Seashore and Marin County are in unprecedented drought conditions not observed in more than 140 years. The new water troughs are located at White Gulch, the Plateau, and Lower Pierce Ranch. Installation of an additional fourth new water source is anticipated near Avalis Beach. All water systems will remain in place until it is determined that the systems will not be needed in the summer of 2022 based on rainfall levels in the winter of 2021–2022. Water systems are being installed now based on monitoring of available water sources during the summer months, and has taken into consideration the impacts to wilderness and other resources impacted by these actions. Additionally, licks containing key supplemental minerals and nutrients have been placed near each water source to address copper and selenium deficiencies well documented throughout the Point Reyes peninsula. Short-term supplementation of trace minerals may improve conditions for tule elk during this particularly nutrient-stressed time.
Please help maintain conditions for the tule elk to use water troughs and mineral licks by not approaching these areas when visiting or hiking at Tomales Point. Continue to check this page for updated information.
As of June 11, 2021: Point Reyes National Seashore is providing supplemental water to the Tomales Point Tule Elk Reserve at Point Reyes National Seashore in response to unprecedented drought conditions. Although some natural water sources continue to be available, these sources may dry if this year becomes the worst drought on record for Marin County as expected. Marin County declared a drought emergency mid-May with the lowest recorded rainfall during the last 16 months in more than 140 years recorded by the Marin Municipal Water District.
As of March 30, 2021: The population of the three herds at the park stabilized or declined in 2020. Investigations of dead elk, observations of living elk, and range assessments conducted by park staff in coordination and consultation with wildlife managers and veterinarians from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) suggest poor forage quality is the underlying cause of these population changes. Although the National Park Service (NPS) and CDFW believe the elk population declines are drought-related, there is no evidence that the population decline is due to dehydration or a lack of water. Annual elk census counts were completed in March 2021.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are the tule elk at Tomales Point dying of thirst due to a lack of access to adequate water?
What water sources are available to the elk at Tomales Point?
During normal water years, ponds, seeps, springs, and seasonal streams make up the available water sources at Tomales Point. Six manmade stock ponds, or impoundments, developed during Tomales Point's historic ranching era, occur on the peninsula. Seeps and springs are scattered across the landscape and may be accessed by tule elk. Streams typically flow during the wet season and into spring or summer, depending on the year. In addition, the reserve receives significant moisture in the form of summer fog and condensation during the dry season. In 2021, however, during this unprecedented drought, many reliable seeps and springs have gone dry. Here is a timeline of the actions the NPS has taken:
As of September 24, 2021: The park has placed three additional gravity-fed 250-gallon water troughs at the north end of the Tomales Point. This brings the total number of water troughs to six in the area. All water troughs will remain in place at least until rains return next winter, but perhaps for longer based on 2021–2022 rainfall levels. Please see the June update below for details on the water troughs, tanks, and water sources.
June 2021: The park placed three gravity-fed 250-gallon water troughs at the south end of the Tomales Point reserve based on areas of elk activity and adjacent to established water sources. The water troughs are fed by 2000+-gallon tanks located along Pierce Point Road, and will stay in place at least until rains return next winter. Water troughs have float valves to maintain constant water levels and escape ramps to prevent accidental drowning of smaller wildlife. Water will be supplied from water systems within and possibly outside of the park.
March 2021: Park staff mapped water sources and monitored water conditions at Tomales Point on a regular basis during drought conditions in 2020, confirming adequate water supplies were available to the elk in the many creeks, seeps, and springs distributed throughout the reserve at the time. There is evidence that elk were aware of these water sources and visit them frequently. (Download the Tomales Point Water Sources Map. [1.8 MB PDF])
Did the NPS provide supplemental water to the tule elk at Tomales Point before June 2021?
Why is the NPS providing supplemental water to the Tomales Point Tule Elk Reserve now?
Why were supplemental water sources placed by elk advocates at Tomales Point removed by the NPS?
Does the NPS anticipate providing supplemental forage to prevent elk population declines?
How many tule elk herds are there at Point Reyes National Seashore?
What are the population trends over the last year in the three herds of tule elk?
Did the number of tule elk in the Tomales Point herd decline in 2020?
What about the Limantour and Drakes Beach herds?
What is the predicted population carrying capacity of tule elk at Tomales Point?
Is there a management plan for the tule elk herd at Tomales Point?
Why does the NPS & California Department of Fish and Wildlife believe the herd decline at Tomales Point is due to poor nutrition?
Has the herd at Tomales Point had similar populations declines in the herd in the past?
Did the tule elk at Tomales Point die of thirst in the previous 2013–2015 drought?
Do the cattle stock ponds at Tomales Point dry out every year in the summer?
How does the National Park Service monitor tule elk population levels at the park?
Is the National Park Service considering removing the fence at Tomales Point?
Is tule elk management at Tomales Point a topic of the General Management Plan Amendment for Point Reyes National Seashore, completed in September 2021?
Is the population decline at Tomales Point due to herd mortality or a reduced number of new calves?
Were necropsies conducted on tule elk from these herds?
What primary findings are documented in these recent elk necropsy reports?
Are there population declines of other park wildlife due to drought conditions & reduced forage?
Last updated: March 16, 2023