'They are threatened': Protests continue in Pt. Reyes as tule elk controversy heads to federal court

The park service has been ordered to attend an emergency hearing on the issue in federal court.
POINT REYES, Calif. (KGO) -- The National Park Service has been ordered to an emergency meeting in federal court Monday morning, to defend its handling of tule elk at the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Dozens upon dozens have died from thirst and malnutrition, and the elk are supposed to be federally protected.

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About 100 people turned out at Point Reyes Station to protest the deaths of 152 tule elk last year (more than a third of the herd) from lack of water and malnutrition. The activists are worried about the impact of this year's drought.

Activist Miyoko Schinner told the crowd, "They are threatened, and that is why we are here today."

Tule elk are native to California, and Point Reyes is the only national park where they can be found.

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"Everybody knows that California is enduring a record-breaking drought right now, and this is only June," Environmentalist Jack Gescheidt told the I-Team's Dan Noyes.

"It's not even July yet. We have July, August, September, October, November. All that's drought, and there are elk dying right now for lack of food and water."

Gescheidt is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the Harvard Animal Law and Policy Clinic against the National Park Service, asking the judge to order "immediate measures" to supply "adequate food and water".

Kate Barnekow is lead counsel for the lawsuit and for a temporary restraining order, which is the subject of that conference in federal court tomorrow morning.

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Barnekow told the I-Team, "The TRO would require the park system to act now in some way to make sure more elk don't die either from starvation or dehydration while the lawsuit is litigated in front of the district court judge."

One big issue is an eight-foot-high fence that runs from Tomales Bay all the way to the ocean. It keeps the Tule Elk away from the cattle ranches operating on federal land. It also keeps the elk confined to an area that's been ravaged by drought.

With the lack of nutritious vegetation, autopsies show that some of the elk resorted to eating poisonous hemlock; the veterinarian writing, "Dying by starvation and dehydration is inhumane. I can think of no worse way for an animal to die. It is prolonged agony."

The Park Service had plenty of warning. When Dan Noyes first reported on this issue last August, activists had spotted only seven dead elk, and at the time, park spokesperson Christine Beekman insisted water seeps should be enough.

Dan Noyes asked at the time, "What would happen if those higher elevation seeps and springs actually dry out?"

Christine Beekman, spokesperson for Pt. Reyes National Seashore, responded, "It hasn't yet happened. But our plan if those were to dry up would be to bring in supplemental water sources, with troughs."

But, the park service did not take action to give the elk water last year, and even removed troughs that activists had dropped off in the dark of the night. The Park Service declined to comment for this report citing the pending lawsuit, and finally in recent weeks, the park installed three tanks with troughs; we spotted several elk at one watering area today.

Jack Gescheidt added, "There are actually four sub-herds within the reserve and the three other herds can't access that water. So, it's not enough to stop elk from dying right now."

The park service has taken no steps to provide additional food for the Tule Elk. We'll monitor tomorrow's meeting in federal court and report back to you.
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