Tule Elk: Tomales Point Water Sources

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Updated: October 19, 2020
Park wildlife staff began monitoring of water sources within the Tomales Point Reserve in July 2020. Full surveys of the water sources were conducted on August 19 and 20 and September 1 through 3, 2020. Working from the elk fence at the reserve's southern boundary to the large pond adjacent to the Tomales Point Trail at the historic Lower Pierce Ranch, park staff identified many areas where water is available for the tule elk, including two man-made stock ponds (from the area's historic ranching era), five running streams, and over 35 seeps and springs. Elk sign, including tracks and trails, were observed at each of these water sources. At many of these locations, elk were seen during the surveys either using the water sources or bedded down nearby. While some of these seeps and springs may not seem to provide much water to the human eye, wildlife cameras demonstrate that elk and a diversity of other wildlife species readily frequent these areas to hydrate.

Water source surveys have continued through September and into the middle of October. Minimal change in water availability has been observed during this time. In addition, a heavy marine fog layer has blanketed the coastline for much of this past late summer and early fall, bringing significant fog drip and precipitation to the Tomales Point elk reserve. Despite current drought conditions throughout the region, water remains currently available for the tule elk at Tomales Point. Park staff will continue monitoring water availability at Tomales Point until the winter rains arrive.

This is a stressful time and several elk within the reserve have been recently identified as malnourished. During the water surveys, staff also documented mortalities in the reserve. Recent carcasses have been observed, but thirst has been ruled out as cause of death for any elk based on the abundance of available water. In September, two bull elk unfortunately became stuck in the mud of an unmaintained pond and subsequently perished. A female elk later found alive in the same mud hole was rescued by NPS staff but subsequently died. In late September, a fresh carcass of an adult female elk was identified and we were able to perform a necropsy in coordination with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. She was in poor nutritional condition with deficient levels of copper and selenium and an unidentified systemic infection. She did not test positive for Johne’s disease in subsequent laboratory analyses. With new elk calves born in 2020, it remains unknown at this time whether or not the current tule elk population at Tomales Point will see an increase or decrease from the 2019 population size. Population surveys will be conducted in November and December 2020.

 
 

Southwest Section

Water sources found in the area west of Pierce Point Road, north of the Elk Reserve fence, and south of the Tomales Point Trailhead parking lot and McClures Beach Trail.

 
 

Southeast Section

Water sources in the area east of Pierce Point Road, north of the Elk Reserve fence, and south of the Tomales Point Trailhead parking lot.

 
 

Middle-west Section

Water sources in the area west of Tomales Point Trail, north of McClures Beach Trail, and south of the old rock wall.

 
 

Middle-east Section

Water sources in the area east of Tomales Point Trail, north of McClures Beach Trail, and south of the old rock wall.

 
 

Northwest Section

Water sources in the area west of Tomales Point Trail and north of the old rock wall.

 
 

Northeast Section

Water sources in the area east of Tomales Point Trail and north of the old rock wall.

 
 

Wildlife Monitoring Cameras

While some of the seeps and springs shown in the photo galleries above may not seem to provide much water to the human eye, wildlife cameras demonstrate that elk and a diversity of other wildlife species readily frequent these areas to hydrate.

 
 

Last updated: October 19, 2020

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