Janice Mackey, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908
Joe Hobbs, CDFW Wildlife Branch, (916) 445-9992
Jack Sparks, USFWS, (209) 826-3508
Wildlife Management Practices Help Native Elk Return From Brink of Extinction and Thrive
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) along with partners have successfully completed the capture of 36 tule elk from the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge in the San Joaquin Valley, relocating them throughout the state.
The collaborative effort included the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation as well as volunteers from federal and state agencies who provided time, expertise and other needed resources to help this capture go smoothly.
“Seventy years ago, tule elk were on the brink of extinction and down to just a handful of animals,” said Senior Environmental Scientist Joe Hobbs. “Through CDFW’s wildlife management protocols and collaborative efforts with other wildlife organizations, we now have healthy and thriving herds across the state. It’s one the greatest wildlife success stories of our time.”
Tule elk are one of three sub-species of elk and are found only in California. Bulls (males) can weigh up to a thousand pounds and cows (females) can weigh up to 450 pounds. Capturing and transporting tule elk is a huge endeavor but the effort is critical for their long-term survival.
“Tule elk are one of California’s unique wildlife treasures,” said Kim Forrest, Refuge Manager at the San Luis NWR Complex. “We are pleased to partner with CDFW in relocating a portion of the San Luis herd so that other herds throughout the state can prosper.”
Since 1975, CDFW personnel have safely captured and relocated more than 1,500 tule elk using a variety of capture techniques, including chemical immobilization, trapping, baiting and physical restraint methods. As a result, California’s tule elk population has increased from three herds totaling 500 elk in the 1970s, to 22 herds with approximately 4,200 elk today.
A total of 15 bulls, 16 cows and five calves were captured using helicopters with net guns at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge and released at the Carrizo Plains Ecological Reserve in San Luis Obispo County, Wind Wolves Preserve in Kern County and the San Antonio Valley Ecological Reserve in Santa Clara County. Hair, measurements, blood and other samples were taken to evaluate the health of the herd. Fourteen cows were also radio-collared to track their movements once they’ve been released.
Tule elk are native to California, live in open country and prefer grassland and marsh habitats. In their historic range, the elk once occupied much of the Central Valley until habitat loss and commercial harvest to feed the Gold Rush nearly drove them to extinction in the late 1800s.
The San Luis National Wildlife Refuge in Los Banos is open year-round and has an easy access auto tour route for unique elk viewing opportunities. Tule elk can also be viewed at CDFW’s Grizzly Island Wildlife Area, the Tupman Tule Elk State Preserve, and Point Reyes National Seashore.