Point Reyes National Seashore. Should Wild Elk Be Fenced In on National Park Lands?

I.  INTRODUCTION

As if we didn’t already have enough signs in west Marin about oyster farming in the Seashore, there are new signs popping up about elk and putting them behind a fence.  The new signs say:  “Let’s protect / both elk and cow / time to build / elk fences now.”

Photo of a row of signs favoring fencing elk.

“Elk Fences Now”

What’s it all about?  In a nutshell, there are some ranchers and dairy farmers (hereafter, “ranchers”) in the Point Reyes National Seashore who use park land for ranching and dairying under leases and permits (hereafter “authorizations”) from the Park Service.  Tule elk also exist on some of those park lands.  Some or all of the ranchers want the Park Service get them off those lands because elk eat grass, as part of their diet, and they drink water.  The ranchers believe they own all the grass and water.  Their solution is for the Park Service to build a fence in the park’s wilderness area and put the elk behind the fence.  I should add that the Park Service has initiated a planning process to develop a new ranch management plan for the Seashore and elk will be addressed in the plan.  In that sense, the signs are timely and the ranchers are lobbying the public for the fencing idea.  But the signs raise some serious questions.  Would a fence work?  Would it be a good idea?  Are there legal issues?  Policy issues?

II. BACKGROUND

To assess the merits of fencing, some background information is helpful as to the ranching area, the wilderness and the elk.  Once those items are covered we can better assess the fencing idea.

A.  The Ranching Area

The park itself is about 71,000 acres in size.  The area where the ranching occurs is about 18,000 acres, or, about 25% of the park.  It’s referred to as the “pastoral zone.”  When the Park Service bought the ranches a long time ago the ranchers were given the option of reserving a right of “use and occupancy” to continue ranching for a number of years.  The purchase price was reduced to reflect the value of the term reserved.  Those reservations have run out and the ranchers now occupy the ranches under authorizations from the Park Service.  Under the park’s statute, ranching is only allowable where “appropriate” and it’s “discretionary” with the Park Service.  A rancher’s rights begin and end with the authorizations they receive from the Park Service.  Resource protection, including wildlife, is the Park Service’s highest priority under its Organic Act and the park’s authorizing statute.  When the ranch management plan is completed and the Park Service deals with the expiration of authorizations, it will have to determine how much forage there is, determine how much of it can be consumed (you have to leave some), and, finally, determine how much to allocate to wildlife for food (and cover) and how much is then available for livestock.

B.  The Wilderness

As stated above, the park is about 71,000 acres and the pastoral zone is 18,000 acres.  The wilderness is about 27,315 acres in size, including the most recent addition.  It is named the Phillip Burton Wilderness in honor of Congressman Phil Burton, deceased, for all he did for national parks.  It consists of three units.

The north unit is the 2,600 acre Tule Elk Reserve at the north end of the Tomales Peninsula.  The unit includes a 1/4 mile strip of tide and submerged lands on the ocean side of the peninsula.  My descriptions and discussions of the three units are based on the park’s “Point Reyes” map/brochure given to visitors.

The central unit, according to the park’s wilderness legislation, is bounded by Limantour Road on its south side at the easterly half of the road and then it runs roughly parallel to the road, but somewhat away from it (because of past development), until it reaches a point  1/4 mile beyond the high tide line at the beach.  At its north end it begins near the intersection of Mount Vision road and Sir Francis Drake Blvd. and runs south along the east shore of Estero de Limantour until it ends at a point (again as I understand it) 1/4 mile beyond the high tide line at the beach.  It protects the crest of Limantour Ridge, the east shore of the Estero de Limantour and the Limantour Spit.  I don’t have an acreage figure for it.

The southeast unit is the largest.  It is separated from the central unit by Limantour Road and some non-wilderness lands on either side of a section of the road.  That unit protects the Inverness Ridge down to a long coastline out to a line 1/4 mile off the beach from the high tide line.  In it are forests, coastal foothills, beaches and several small inland lakes as well as Mt. Wittenberg.  I don’t have an acreage figure for it either.

While I don’t have an acreage figure for the central or southeast units, we know the entire wilderness is 27,315 acres and we know the north unit is 2,600 acres.  So, I assume the other two units are about 24,715 acres.  Looking at the Point Reyes visitor’s map, it looks like the central unit is about 1/3 the size of the southeast unit.  It would be nice to be able to say at this point that the central unit is 1/4 of the 25,715 acres and the southeast unit is 3/4 of the 24,715 acres, but I can’t. The reason is that, according to the Point Reyes map,  Drakes Estero and Estero de Limantour are part of the wilderness as well.  I called the park to see if I could get some information on how the water areas fit into the statutory description of the two units, but didn’t get a call back.  If I ever find out how those water areas relate to the statutory descriptions of the central and southeast wilderness units, I’ll update this blog.

C.  The Elk

It’s been estimated that there were about 500,000 tule elk in California around 1850.  The last report of one in the Point Reyes area was in 1860 when one was seen swimming across Tomales Bay.  By 1870 it looked like the tule elk herds had been wiped out by early settlers, market hunters and ranchers.  Then a rancher, Henry Miller, found a few on his land and, rather than shoot them like all the previous ranchers, he worked to bring the herd back from near extinction.  Over the years, others joined in the effort to save them.  In 1976 Congress joined in the effort by passing a Joint Resolution providing that certain federal lands in California, including Point Reyes National Seashore, should be made available as new locations for the tule elk.  Public law 94-389 (Aug 14, 1976).  The State of California obliged by delivering some tule elk to Point Reyes a couple of years later.  They were released at the north end of the Tomales Peninsula after the Park Service built an enclosure fence across the peninsula which ran from the ocean to Tomales Bay.  The fence is a woven wire fence 8 feet high, including the smooth top wire.   The area is called the Tule Elk Reserve.   It is 2,600 acres in size and contains not only elk, but also blacktail deer and many of the other animal species that exist in the park, such as badgers, bobcats, coyotes and gray foxes.  Here is a photo of the fence.

Photo of the elk containment fence at Tomales Point.

Elk Enclosure Fence

The fence has, for the most part, prevented any elk (and most other animals) from getting outside the fenced area.  On the ocean side the fence ends at a cliff.  The bay side has some pretty steep areas and sections where the vegetation looks impenetrable.  Nevertheless, some elk, almost exclusively bulls, have gotten out in the past and they continue to do so.  The fence sometimes breaks and that may provide escape opportunities.  However, they don’t have to follow the fence to get out. They may just get down to water level anywhere in the Reserve where the elevation changes are not severe and walk/swim their way out of the Reserve.  From what I’ve observed, they tend to stay at the north end of the J Ranch.  I have never heard of the J Ranch complaining about them.  To the best of my knowledge, this is the only time a national park has ever locked up wildlife inside an enclosure fence, and in a wilderness no less.

The elk population in the reserve increased over the years and in 1998, pursuant to a just-completed Elk Management Plan, the Park Service captured some elk in the 2,600 acre Tule Elk Reserve and released them in the northwest portion of the southeast unit of the Phillip Burton Wilderness.

While most elk stayed in the wilderness, some moved west into the central unit and some of them went through the central unit until they exited the wilderness.  Today, some of them (to the extent any are still alive) and their descendents live primarily on the defunct D Ranch which is now grazed by the C and E Ranches and those elk are seen often on the east and west sides of Drakes Beach Road which bisects the D Ranch.  They also spend some time on the adjacent C and E Ranches and may go even beyond the C Ranch to the B Ranch or even the A Ranch which is the westernmost of all the ranches.  Others (mainly, if not exclusively, bulls) spend time on the Home Ranch, which is adjacent to the central unit of the wilderness lands.  Many remain in the wilderness.  And, as mentioned earlier, some elk exist at times on the J Ranch, which is adjacent to the Tule Elk Reserve.

All the tule elk today started from those last few elk on Henry Millers’s land.  Because there were only a few tule elk remaining, they have genetic issues.  Those at Point Reyes are the worst.  According to the park’s 1998 Tule Elk Management Plan, “[t]he population of tule elk at Point Reyes has been estimated to contain the lowest level of genetic variation … of all the herds in the state.”  p. 39.  The plan also states that experts have recommended the regular import of female tule elk from other locations to help reduce founder effects and the loss of genetic diversity that occurs in isolated herds.  Id.  I don’t know if this has been done.

III.  Discussion Regarding Fencing the Elk (and Other Wildlife)

Before discussing where to put the fence, we need to first determine what kind of fence to use.  I think the only type of fence that would contain elk would be a woven wire fence at least 8 feet high like the one used at the Tule Elk Reserve.  See photo above.

Conceptually, I can think of only two ways to try to fence the elk so they no longer go onto the pastoral lands.  The first option would be to build a boundary fence between the wilderness and the ranches as was done to separate the elk reserve from the J Ranch and the rest of the park.  The second option would be to build an enclosure fence in or around all or part of the central and/or southeast units of the wilderness.

A.  A Boundary Fence

Looking at the Point Reyes visitor’s map, there seem to be two basic routes for a boundary fence.

1.  The Northern Route

The first route, which I’ll call the northern route, would separate the pastoral zone from the central unit of the wilderness, thereby giving the elk access to all of the central and southeast wilderness units.  The northern tip of the central unit ends near Mount Vision Road and not far from where it intersects with Sir Francis Drake Blvd.  The northern end of the fence could begin at Mount Vision Road near or at that intersection.  It would follow a southerly route outside the wilderness boundary and terminate at the northernmost shore of Estero de Limantour.  Because the line separating the wilderness from the Home Ranch is an “S” curve, a decision would have to be made as to whether to follow the S curve or build the fence on a straight line.  It would be simpler and cheaper to build the fence in as straight a line as possible.  However, this would bisect the Home Ranch to some degree.  I should add here that I’m going to assume for this wilderness discussion that the Park Service would not run the fence through any part of the wilderness because the Wilderness Act may preclude it.  Based upon the Point Reyes visitors’ map and mileage scale, this route seems to be about 3.3 miles long as the crow flies.  If the S curve were followed the length would probably be closer to 4 miles.

2.  The Southern Route

The other route, which I’ll call the southern route, would run along the basic alignment of Limantour Road starting at the ocean and following the road all the way to Bear Valley Road.  Another southern route option would be to begin, again, at the ocean and run along the road until you get to the Bayview Trailhead and then take the shortest and/or easiest route straight to Sir Francis Drake Blvd.   The length of the southern route with its two options would be roughly 6.5 miles and 4.5 miles respectively.

Changes in elevation and deviations around impassable terrain where not following Limantour Road may increase the length of the fence substantially.

i.  Wildlife Impacts

The first obvious difference between the northern and southern routes is that with the southern route you exclude the elk from a large portion of the wilderness.  Otherwise, the wildlife impacts would seem to be basically the same.  However, regardless of which option is chosen, the boundary fence would cause wildlife problems to the extent it cuts some animals off from parts of their normal home ranges or territories.  That would force an unknown number of wild animals to establish new home ranges.  This may cause some conflicts and possible mortality, at least in the short term, and, possibly, reduced carrying capacities.

ii.  Visitor Experience/Aesthetics

It would not be very aesthetic to have an 8 foot woven wire fence running along the landscape, either running from Mount Vision Road near where it intersects with Sir Francis Drake Blvd. and then south to the northern end of Estero de Limantour, or from the ocean and then along Limantour Road until it ends at Bear Valley Road or Sir Francis Drake Blvd.  Photo opportunities would be reduced or even precluded, especially at the beach.  Gates would have to be installed where appropriate.  If a gate isn’t located within a reasonable distance from where a person wanted to travel, that person may attempt to climb the fence and possibly get injured.

iii.  Cost

I don’t know the cost, but it would be much, much more per mile than a barbed wire fence.  As between the two options, the cost of the first option would probably be higher than the second option because there is no road associated with the first option.  Running the fence from Bayview Trailhead to Sir Francis Drake Blvd. would increase the cost of the southern route because there is no road for that route.  One question that arises here is who should pay the cost of the fence.  Since the fence is something only the ranchers want, I think most people would say the ranchers should pay for it.

iv.  Ranching Impacts

The first route option might bisect the Home Ranch to some degree.  If some or all of the ranchers have to pay for the fence that would be an additional impact.

v.  Other Considerations

The most important one is that the boundary fence wouldn’t work.  It would prevent many wildlife species from moving in their normal, needed ways, but it wouldn’t stop elk from going around it.  Unlike the fence at the Elk Reserve, neither boundary fence would have the benefit of cliffs or very steep terrain.  The northern route wouldn’t even extend far enough south to have any effect on the southern 25% of the central wilderness unit.  The southern route would just require the elk to walk/swim around the fence at the ocean.  They’d then walk Limantour Spit and then walk/swim across Drakes Estero or Limantour Estero to the Home Ranch and D Ranch.  Those imprinted on those areas would go right away.  They could also go around the northern ends of the fences.  Another consideration is whether construction of a fence along a wilderness boundary designed to interfere with wildlife movement would run afoul of any laws or policies concerning the management of wildlife or wilderness areas.

vi.  Summary

It would prevent many wildlife species from moving in their normal, needed ways, but it wouldn’t stop elk from going around it.  Thus, it would be the worst of all worlds in terms of expense, harm to wildlife and results.

B.  An Enclosure Fence

The other option would be to build an enclosure fence around the central wilderness unit, the southeast wilderness unit, or both units.

As I look at these two units of the wilderness I realize I’m going to have to get into a discussion of the Wilderness Act because there is no way to build a fence without putting it on wilderness land on the Drakes Bay and Estero de Limantour sides of the central unit and the bay/ocean side of the southeast unit.  I could discuss it here, but I think I’ll do it at the end so I can keep the boundary fence and enclosure fence discussions together.

1.  An Enclosure Fence Around the Central Unit of the Wilderness

I gave mileage figures for the boundary fence idea and I’ll try to do the same here, but it’s more difficult because the shape of the central unit is so irregular.   Using a ruler and the mileage scale at the bottom of the Point Reyes map I come up with about 14 miles of fencing to encircle that unit.  This is a rough figure.

2.  An Enclosure Fence Around the Southeast Unit of the Wilderness

The second option here would be to fence the southeast unit.  Given its irregular shape this is difficult to do.  Using a ruler and the mileage scale on the map I get about 26 miles of fencing.  Again, this is a rough figure.

3.  An Enclosure Fence Around Both Units of Wilderness

The last option would be to fence both units as one fenced area.  Again, this is an irregular shape.  Using the ruler and map I get about 38 miles of fencing.  As before, this is a rough figure.

All three of these mileage figures assume straight-line fence construction.  In reality, if the fence were built it would be much longer due to topography, wilderness boundary lines and private property adjacent to the wilderness which may require acquiring easement rights across private property.       

i.  Wildlife Impacts from All the Enclosure Fence Options

The impact on wildlife would be enormous under any of the above three  scenarios.  No elk, deer, coyote, fox, badger or bobcat could get through it.  The fenced area would essentially become a zoo or prison.  To the extent the fencing bisected an animal’s living space or territory, it would need to seek out and defend new territory.  For example, let’s assume the fence bisects a male bobcat’s territory.  Let’s further assume when the fence gets built the bobcat is left outside.  He is in an area that won’t adequately support him.  So, by necessity, he ventures into the territory of a neighboring male bobcat.  A fight follows and one is injured or killed or is forced to move on to find a territory that the loser can take over and defend against other males.  This is one of the things that happens when a predator finds itself in the territory of another of the same species.  The need to travel to find territory to possess and defend is a reason mountain lions keep traveling until they wind up in people’s yards.  The enclosure fence would also prevent the travel of wildlife living outside the enclosure.  Many would never go around it, especially if they hit the long side of the fenced areas.   Inside the fence, inbreeding might occur to some extent.  The fenced-in area could become an “island” from a genetic point of view.  Since wild animal numbers depend on habitat, animal numbers would seem likely to decline to the extent the fencing divided home ranges and reduced the carrying capacity of the lands along the fence lines.

Another problem with the fence idea is Park Service policy.  The Park Service has a policy to the effect that it will not maintain captive herds of wildlife for the enjoyment of the public, but that it instead maintains wild populations within natural habitats.  This policy is referenced in the 1998 Elk Management Plan at 54.  This policy would seem to prohibit the construction of any enclosure fence.  Consistent with the policy, the Park Service stated, in describing the alternative which was chosen in the 1998 Elk Management Plan, that “[t]he Seashore will not attempt to establish new herds that require permanently fenced, restricted ranges.”  Id., at 46.  I would add here that building the fence would likely violate the Park Service Organic Act and the Point Reyes legislation.

About the only plus I can see from any enclosure fence would be that it would offer the opportunity of introducing a natural predator of elk, such as the black bear.  In Yellowstone, bears (black and grizzly) kill 50% of the elk calf crop each year before they reach one year of age.

ii.  Visitor Experience/Aesthetics from All Enclosure Fence Options

To hike the beach or the wilderness trails and have to look at 8 foot tall woven wire fences and to have to go through 8 foot tall gates would lessen, if not destroy, the wilderness experience.   The fences would be impossible to avoid in some areas that provide photographic opportunities.  People may also be tempted to climb a fence rather than hike to the nearest gate which might involve some injuries.

iii.  Cost of All the Enclosure Fence Options

I have no idea what fencing the wilderness in would cost, but it would be much more expensive than the boundary fence idea.  Again, the big question is who should pay for it. Given that the ranchers are the beneficiaries, I think most people would think they ought to pay for it.

iv.  Ranching Impacts from All Enclosure Fence Options

I can’t think of any adverse impacts to ranching in fencing the wilderness except to the extent some or all of the ranchers would be responsible for the cost of the fence.

v.  Other Considerations

Another consideration is whether the Wilderness Act or any other law would prevent the construction of the enclosure fence.  More on that below.

vi.  Summary

The impact to wildlife would be tremendous.  All wildlife mammals over the size of a weasel would become prisoners.  The wilderness would become a zoo for all practical purposes.  Park Service policy seems to prohibit enclosure fencing for wildlife.  The visitor experience for hiking, photography etc. in a wilderness would be significantly affected.   The cost, especially for the southwest unit or a combination of the two units would be very high and I think most park visitors would say it should be borne by the ranchers because they are the only ones who want it or would benefit by it.  

IV.  THE WILDERNESS ACT

As I stated earlier, I need to address the Wilderness Act, at least on a basic level.  The Wilderness Act provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

(c) “Wilderness” defined

A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.  An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this chapter an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which

(1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable;

(2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation

****

16 U.S.C. § 1131 (c) (Emphasis added.)

(c)  Prohibited provisions …

… [T]here shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area … and … no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats … no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.

16 U.S.C. § 1133 (Emphasis added.)

Okay, let’s picture a fence built around the central unit, the southeast unit, or both, where the fence is outside the wilderness except where the unit or units front on Drakes Bay, Drakes Estero and/or Estero de Limantour.  Along any shore the fence has to be built on wilderness lands.   How does that square with the definition of a wilderness?

Would the coastal side of the wilderness with an 8 foot woven wire fence still be an area where “the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man”?  I read “untrammeled” as meaning unaffected or showing no signs of man’s work or “footprint.”   I don’t think it would continue to meet the definition.  The fence affects the earth by its very presence.  It affects the “community of life” because it significantly affects the wildlife enclosed in the fence and the wildlife outside the fence, both of which are constrained by the fence.

What about the phrase “undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence”?  If you build an 8 foot woven wire fence would the land still be considered as undeveloped and would it still retain its primeval character?  I don’t think so.  “Primeval” means ancient or primitive.  If you build an 8 foot woven wire fence on wilderness land it is not retaining its ancient or primitive character; it’s losing it.

What about the phrase “without permanent improvements”?  I think of a fence, especially one that is 8 feet tall and made of woven wire and 4×4 inch posts that are 12 feet long and stick out of the ground for 8 feet, as a permanent improvement.

What about the phrase “managed so as to preserve its natural conditions”?   Would constructing an 8 foot woven wire fence designed to lock up elk and other wildlife be an act of management to preserve its natural conditions?  I don’t think so.  It would be just the opposite.

What about subparagraph (1) which says the area generally appears to have been “affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable”?  I think the fence would be in conflict with both of those clauses.  How can an 8 foot woven wire fence be unnoticeable?  Subparagraph (2) is also a problem.  Having an 8 foot woven wire fence is not consistent with “a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.”  A fence seems to be the antithesis of the phrase “unconfined recreation.”

The Act also has specific prohibitions which make it virtually impossible to build the fence, at least along the water side.  Temporary roads are prohibited in wilderness.  Motor vehicles are prohibited.  Motorized equipment, like a post hole auger, is prohibited.    “[N]o other form of mechanical transport is allowed.”  Finally, no structure or installation is allowed.  The only way you could transport the posts and woven wire would be on the backs of men and/or horses.  The post holes would have to be dug by hand.  Is there a fence company with the manpower and horses to even bid on this?  I don’t think so.

There’s another way to look at this.  Rather than just looking at the effects of the line of fence on wilderness land, what we really have is a large holding area, with elk and other wildlife inside, that encompasses one or more of the wilderness units plus some land outside the wilderness.  Run that mental picture by all the words and phrases that define a wilderness.  Plus, the whole fenced area is really  a large “structure or installation” for the containment of wildlife.  Structures and installations are prohibited.  While three sides are outside the wilderness, one side is inside, and all sides, together with the locked up wildlife, affect the wilderness.

What about not fencing the water side?  In that case the enclosure fence becomes a big border fence.  Elk would just go around it.  It would be a big waste of time and money.  Plus, I think it still fails the definition of wilderness.  It would no longer be an area “where the earth and its community of life” would be untrammeled or unaffected by man.  The elk and other wildlife would still be fenced in on three sides and that community of life would be affected by man.  It wouldn’t be “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence” any longer because it would be a man-made animal prison.  And, at that point, it wouldn’t be “managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”   It would be managed so as to be a zoo.  A zoo is not a natural condition.    Furthermore, it wouldn’t meet subparagraph 1.   Would a wilderness area, encircled by a fence with the wildlife locked up inside the fence and standing on wilderness land, be one “affected primarily by the forces of nature, with man’s work substantially unnoticeable”?  No.  It would be a man-made containment area regardless of where the fence is located.

In summary, I think the Wilderness Act alone kills this whole fence idea.  The Park Service needs to determine for itself if  the Wilderness Act precludes building any fencing in the wilderness or any fencing here that affects the wilderness.  It may have done so already.  If not, it should do so soon because it would be a waste of time to consider fencing the wilderness as a proposal or alternative in the ranch management planning process if it isn’t a legal option.  Do other Park Service laws come into play here?  I think so.

V.  THE ORGANIC ACT AND SEASHORE ACT

The Park Service’s Organic Act states that the Park Service must “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life [sic] therein ….” 16 U.S.C. Section 1.  Such a fence doesn’t conserve the scenery or the wildlife.  It hurts both.  The Point Reyes statute states that the Secretary shall administer the property “without impairment of its natural values.” 16 U.S.C. § 459c-6. Wildlife is clearly one of its natural values.  The fence would clearly impair necessary wildlife movement.  That’s the very purpose of it.

VI.  OVERALL CONCLUSION

There are several problems with this whole idea of fencing the elk (and other wildlife).   Wild animals don’t belong inside enclosure fencing.  That’s basically what defines a zoo.  Doing so in a national park is twice as bad.  Doing so in a wilderness area of a national park is twice as bad again.

Boundary Fence.   Building an 8-foot boundary fence designed to prevent the movement of wildlife within a national park seems a contradiction.  I think it would raise serious questions under the Park Service’s Organic Act and the Point Reyes legislation for the reasons discussed above.  To the extent the boundary fence might affect the wilderness and its resources (wildlife etc.), it may violate the Wilderness Act as well.  The boundary fence would also be a waste of time and money because the elk would walk around one end or the other.  Smaller animals, however, may be more affected to the extent they don’t travel as far as elk do.  Those animals would suffer the impacts  discussed in the boundary fence section.  The fence would also be an eyesore, especially if it crosses the beach at Limantour.  If it were built, I think most people would say that the people benefiting from the fence should bear the cost.  All of this also calls into question the fence at the Elk Reserve.

Enclosure Fence.  Having wildlife inside a large fenced enclosure makes the park seem like a zoo.  If an enclosure fence is built, Point Reyes National Seashore will become the Point Reyes National Zoo.  The likelihood of a containment fence violating the Park Service Organic Act and the Point Reyes legislation is even greater than the boundary fence option.   Furthermore, based on the discussion above, it seems like a containment fence would violate the Wilderness Act.  Even if the law doesn’t preclude building and maintaining an enclosure fence in the wilderness, there are all the negative impacts discussed above such as impacts on wildlife, impacts on visitor experiences, cost, etc.  Finally, there is the National Park Service policy mentioned above to the effect that it will not maintain captive herds of wildlife for the enjoyment of the public, but that it instead maintains wild populations within natural habitats.

Given all the above, I think that the chance that the Park Service will build a fence to contain its wild tule elk in the wilderness is essentially zero.  I don’t think it even has a choice.  The ranchers who want the elk rounded up and put in an enclosure in the wilderness need to come up with a new idea.

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About Jim Coda

I am a nature photographer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I specialize in photos of birds, mammals, and landscapes.
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4 Responses to Point Reyes National Seashore. Should Wild Elk Be Fenced In on National Park Lands?

  1. John Wall says:

    Jim, I usually arrive at Pt. Reyes from the Lucas Valley/Nicasio side, but I finally saw the elk fence signs this weekend when I went in via SFD. Hopefully the elk fence idea won’t get any serious traction. Hard to imagine the NPS going along with such a lame idea. You didn’t discuss why at least some ranchers want a fence, but in any event it’s hard to see why the onus should be on wildlife to steer clear of cattle in a national park.

    • Jim Coda says:

      Hi John. They want a fence because they don’t want any elk on the lands they graze cattle on. Elk (and deer) eat grass as part of their diet and they drink water. The ranchers think the grass and water are owned by them exclusively.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the elk fences, Jim. I agree that the fences are not a good idea for the park, if not illegal. I hope a solution can be found that all are happy with, without further discussion on jailing the park’s wildlife.

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