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Elk Would Roam Free, Campers Would Not, Under Proposed Changes at Point Reyes National Seashore

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Brown and white elk with large antlers stand on green grass against a foggy backdrop.
Tule elks are seen at Point Reyes National Seashore of Inverness in California, United States on May 31, 2023.  (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The National Park Service is considering letting an elk herd roam free and ending boat-in dispersed camping to protect the environment and the health of the elk at the Tomales Point area of Point Reyes National Seashore, according to an NPS spokesperson.

Currently, the tule elk herd is contained within a fence and supported by mineral licks and drinking water stations installed during the last drought. The park’s preferred course of action would be to remove the fence and allow the elk free range with no artificial support. An alternative option would leave the support and fence in place but would sometimes require culling the herd to keep the population in check.

In the past, the culling of elk within the National Seashore has been intensely controversial. The park, in a new management plan adopted in 2021, has committed to keeping cattle ranching in place, extending ranching leases to up to 20-year terms. The agricultural community has generally opposed removing the fence.

Another major proposed change is the end of dispersed boat-in camping. Currently, visitors with a permit can boat or kayak into one of several beaches and camp more or less where they like, leading to trampled vegetation, spreading trash and improper disposal of human waste.

The park wants to develop a new system where boat-in campers would get reservations for specific locations at beaches and coves.


The changes to the management of the elk herd and the type of camping allowed in the area are part of the 85-page Tomales Point Area Plan and environmental assessment. The park has consulted the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria to incorporate tribal views and knowledge into the plan.

The park system released the proposed changes this week. There is now a monthlong public review and comment period, ending June 5. The public is invited to consider three options for the changes: the park’s preferred course of action, an alternative and doing nothing.

People who want to comment can submit their thoughts through the park’s website, attend an online meeting on May 22, or submit them by mail or hand delivery to 1 Bear Valley Road, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

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