California wildfires and dwindling water supply threatening Tule elk

Wildlife advocates say dwindling water supply, heat and wildfire are threatening hundreds of Tule elk at the Point Reyes National Seashore.

The area is home to several herds of elk, a population that is currently estimated at 445.

"We're concerned that the elk are going to die. There are almost 500 in there and five years ago, 250 of the 500 died because of a lack of water," says Jim Coda, a wildlife photographer who frequents the area.

He and other advocates say four elk were found dead in the past week. 

They say they are concerned about the lack of water in ponds will kill elk and that the National Park Service is not doing enough to protect them.

But park officials say that's not true. 

"We've been monitoring the water situation at Tomales Point," says David Press, a wildlife ecologist with the National Park Service.  He says cameras in the area have shown that elk go to various sources of water including creeks. Press shared a photo that shows an elk by a seep, water that flows naturally from the ground.   

"There's plenty of water in the seeps and springs. We know that the elk go to. The ponds, some of them are dry. But that's not the only water source that's available to the elk there," says Press.

Advocates for the elk also say the park service should remove an eight-foot high fence that pens in the elk at the Tamales Bay Tule Elk Reserve. They say should the Woodward Fire burn this way, many elk will be trapped.

"If they aren't smart enough and stop and go down in a couple of places to water level, they will all perish," says Coda.

The park service says there are gates they can open to let out the elk, that the fence is necessary.

It allows elk and the dairy farms and ranches that have long been part of this area to co-exist.

"To find a balance between our natural resources and our cultural resources. It's important to remember these are multigenerational beef and dairy operations," says Press.

Wildlife advocates are calling on the park service to replenish the ponds now and say it should not wait until disaster hits.

"We're asking them to do what the National Park Service is supposed to do protect its resources, not ignore them," says Coda.

The park service says it is working on what it calls a general plan amendment that will include how it manages elk.

Amber Lee is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Amber at and follow her on Twitter @AmberKTVU