Volunteers Carry Water for Miles To Save California Elk Herd Due to Drought

by Courtney Blackann

As droughts continue to plague the western United States, the wildlife population remains at risk. In California, the protected Tule elk are no exception.

While the animals have been thriving for years, their population reached almost 500,000. However, in more recent years, with hot, dry weather looming, their population has dwindled. This leaves it up to nearby residents and wildlife services to address the issue.

In the most recent plight with drought, with little water and barely any agriculture for the elk to graze on, volunteers are bounding together to supply the herd with water. Together, about 70 volunteers are walking 6 miles to supply the elk with 100 gallons of freshwater.

While this is no long-term solution, volunteers feel it’s necessary to keep the population alive.

In addition to their lack of water, officials are concerned with their lack of food as well.

“Poor forage quality is the underlying cause of these elk population declines. Although the National Park Service (NPS) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (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,” according to the National Park Service announcement.

Solutions to the Problem

They went on to add:

“Point Reyes National Seashore is providing supplemental water to the Tomales Point Tule Elk Reserve 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.”

While the remaining 5,000 tule elk have a fence surrounding the area, which prevents them from wandering too far, the animals are still at great risk.

Volunteers believe it is up to the park services to remedy the issue before it is too late.

Aggressive Elk in Yellowstone

While one group of California elk are at risk, another group are being a bit aggressive. Visitors of Yellowstone National Park are warned that male elk are particularly territorial this time of year as mating is in full swing.

“Bull elk can be unpredictable and dangerous during this time,” Yellowstone posted in a news release. “Stay alert. People have been severely injured by elk. Elk run quickly and may change direction without warning.”

“We normally put this (warning) out in advance of the rut each year to get the safety message out,” said Linda Veress of the Yellowstone National Park’s public affairs office. “We do the same for the spring calving season.”