by Laura Mercier, Executive Director Photo: Tule Elk by Ranger Patti Cole
Go ahead. Call it a comeback. You and your fellow open space supporters have earned it.
There were once six species of elk roaming our continent. Today, only four species remain including our local native Tule elk, which are so few in number they are under California Department of Fish and Wildlife protection. For more than a century, Tule elk have been a Focal Species for conservation not only in the state but for the whole continent. Tule elk range covers such a large part of California’s landscape that when we protect habitat for them we are also helping many other species.A Tule elk comeback is an indicator that your conservation efforts are succeeding! The Bay Area is a biodiversity hotspot, which means there are more threatened plant and animal species that need your help right here than just about anywhere else in the country. Since many other plants and animals benefit from the same resources that endangered species need, protecting land for Tule elk benefits the entire ecoregion. When a species that was on the brink of extinction begins to reappear, it’s a fantastic sign that we’re on the right track.
Weighing in between 375 to 700 pounds on average, Tule elk are the smallest ielk n North America. The young calves can even be mistaken for deer fawns with their light brown spotted coat. Once the males become yearlings, or “spikes”, they can be more easily recognized by their single thin antler. As adults, the male bulls drop their antlers each year and grow new sets, each more impressive in size and number of tines than the last.
ON THE BRINK OF BEING EXTINCT
These elk that used to inhabit most of California were nearly extinct following the Gold Rush. By 1870, the State’s Tule elk population had dropped from 500,000 to less than 10 according to the National Park Service. The severe decline of the elk was largely a consequence of simultaneous hits from heavy hunting and habitat loss as land was converted to agriculture and ranching. Four years passed without a single Tule elk sighting. When landowner Henry Miller’s ranch workers spotted a few elk while draining a marsh to plant fields, he decided to protect them. Fortunately these last few surviving elk included a mating pair, and by 1905 their numbers had risen to 140. Over time, the growing herds were reintroduced to protected areas across the state including the Mount Hamilton area just south of the Tri-Valley.
After the land linking Sycamore Grove Park, Camp Arroyo and Del Valle Regional Preserve was preserved with your help in 2009, Tule elk began to cautiously appear in Sycamore Grove Park. With the addition of those upper acres to Sycamore Grove Regional Park, thousands of acres of undeveloped land protected for watersheds and parks stretch all the way to Sunol Regional Wilderness, and allow us to see Tule elk in Livermore. As grazers and browsers, they will make their way across large open areas eating native grasses and plants. Stragglers from a new herd that branched off from Mount Hamiltion and established themselves in Sunol are sometimes seen early in the morning at Sycamore Grove Park. They have even left their tracks around Cattail Pond, where many of you have volunteered to help restore the pond area for wildlife such as these magnificent creatures.
TULE ELK POPULATIONS AND RANGES
A half million Tule elk inhabited California until the gold rush. By 1870, less than 10 Tule elk survived the hunting and habitat loss. Thanks to conservation efforts like yours over more than a century, Tule elk are making a comeback and have even been spotted in the Tri-Valley.
Tule elk roam across fairly large areas and have left tracks along Cattail pond in Livermore’s Sycamore grove park. You can look for evidence of their visits by checking for tracks like these.
Conservation efforts like yours are indeed paying off. With your continued support, we and our partners can help other threatened wildlife return to the Tri-Valley, like protecting habitat for burrowing owls in North Livermore. Sycamore Grove Park’s Chief Ranger, Pat Sotelho, hopes to see yellow-billed magpies return to their nests in the sycamore trees. The magpies declined and then disappeared over the last fifteen years. But thanks to supporters like you and great organizations like the Livermore Area Park and Recreation District, these stories can have a happy ending, just like the Tule elk.
You can make a donation to help preserve more land for threatened wildlife, like the burrowing owl, or volunteer to restore wildlife habitat like cattail pond at TriValleyConservancy.org