Wildfire impact: Water emergency for Tule Elk at Point Reyes, activists square off against U.S. Park Service

POINT REYES, Calif. (KGO) -- Exclusive video obtained by the ABC7 I-Team shows activists sneaking into a closed national park earlier this month to provide water to California's native Tule Elk, after half a dozen of the animals died during drought conditions.

Now, the controversy over the Tule Elk on Pt. Reyes National Seashore is heating up, with a demonstration Sunday. A serious drought five years ago killed half of the Tule Elk on Pt. Reyes. The activists don't want to see it happen again.

EXCLUSIVE: Dry wildfire conditions pose risk to CA's native tule elk found in Point Reyes
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The same dry conditions that are driving wildfires across Northern California are putting a special California species, the Tule Elk, at risk.

Fifty people gathered Sunday at the Tomales Point Reserve, calling for the Park Service to tear down the fence that runs from the bay to the ocean. It keeps the Tule Elk away from the cattle ranches that are allowed to operate on the national park land.

"What we really want to do is get this fence down," In Defense of Animals spokesperson Fleur Dawes told the I-Team. "Cows have no place in a national park. These burgers and cheese are not worth more than the lives of native wild animals."

The National Park Service says their mission is to preserve and protect the resources found within the boundaries of the Pt. Reyes National Seashore. That includes the Tule Elk and the cattle ranches.

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Pt. Reyes National Seashore spokesperson Christine Beekman said: "The natural resources in this case are Tule Elk and cultural resources being the historic ranching operations out here in the Pt. Reyes peninsula and it's a delicate management balance."

But, the fence also prevents the elk from searching for new sources of water. With severe drought conditions right now, most of the ponds here have dried up, and photographers have spotted seven elk that they believe died of thirst recently.

The park service tells us the elk still have water available to them in seeps and springs, and they took the I-Team's Dan Noyes in search of water.

Park spokesperson Christine Beekman pointed out this seep on the edge of a dry pond - tiny pools of water less an inch-deep or less, and said, "Up into the banks here, it's all wet.".

Dan Noyes: "What would happen if those higher elevation seeps and springs actually dry out?"

Christine Beekman: "It hasn't yet happened. But our plan is those were to dry up would be to bring in supplemental water sources, with troughs."

Just two weeks ago, Jack Gescheidt and other activists brought troughs and lugged 150 gallons of water into the park, but rangers have removed the troughs.

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We got a peek inside the Cow Palace which has been converted into a temporary animal shelter during the wildfires burning across the Bay Area. So far they've taken in nearly 300 evacuated animals - but organizers say there's room for more.

"So we don't trust them anymore," Gescheidt said. "Frankly, from the top. The rangers themselves on the ground are fine people, they really are. But the Park Service's stances, there's plenty of water taken If there's seep here, well not for hundreds of animals and not during a drought, and there's going to be less water."

We did see two female elk sipping from that one seep, after I cleared out. With more dry weeks ahead, that water supply should not last long.

The drought is also making it tougher for the Tule Elk to forage for food. Both sides in this controversy are posting new information online. You can find more information on all of their websites:

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