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Water Troughs Set Up To Help Tule Elk Through Drought

Tule elk at Point Reyes
Jeffrey Gray
Tule elk at Point Reyes

Creeks and springs at Point Reyes National Seashore haven't completely dried up, but they're looking parched. Park staff started providing water last week to ensure tule elk get enough to make it through what could be an unprecedented drought.

The three 250-gallon troughs in the Tomales Point Tule Elk Reserve will stay in place at least until rains return next winter, according to National Park Service officials.

Some water sources are still available to the rare elk, since Tomales Point has seeps, springs, and creeks as well as man-made stock ponds. Many of those ponds are already dry, though, and other sources are drier than normal. Those are conditions usually expected at the end of summer, not the beginning.

Marin County recently declared a drought emergency, with a historically low 16-month rainfall. That's the lowest recorded by the Marin Municipal Water District in its 140 years.

There are nearly 600 tule elk in the park: two free-ranging herds in the Limantour and Drakes Beach areas, and a fenced herd at Tomales Point. During the 2013-2015 drought, almost half of thatfencedherd died. Necropsiesshowed this was due to poor nutritional quality of their limited forage.

Along with tule elk, migratory bird and fish populations are expected to fall this summer, as marshes and creeks dry up - and heat up.