Tule elk

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Tule elk
Tule Elk - Merced National Wildlife Refuge Bill Leikam 12-03-2010.jpg
Tule bull elk at San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, courtesy of Bill Leikam
Cervus canadensis nannodes at Tomales Point.jpg
Tule cow elk at Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
Subfamily: Cervinae
Genus: Cervus
Species:
Subspecies:
C. c. nannodes
Trinomial name
Cervus canadensis nannodes
(Merriam, 1905)
Making rutting call or "bugle" 2007-Tule-elk-rut.jpg
Making rutting call or "bugle"
Herd at Lake Pillsbury near Hull Mountain, Mendocino National Forest in Lake County, California TuleElkPillsbury1.jpg
Herd at Lake Pillsbury near Hull Mountain, Mendocino National Forest in Lake County, California

The tule elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) is a subspecies of elk found only in California, ranging from the grasslands and marshlands of the Central Valley to the grassy hills on the coast. [1] The subspecies name derives from the tule ( /ˈtl/ ), a species of sedge native to freshwater marshes on which the Tule elk feeds. When the Europeans first arrived, an estimated 500,000 tule elk roamed these regions, but by 1870 they were thought to be extirpated. [1] However, in 1874–1875 a single breeding pair was discovered in the tule marshes of Buena Vista Lake in the southern San Joaquin Valley. [2] Conservation measures were taken to protect the species in the 1970s. [3] Today, the wild population exceeds 4,000. [4] Tule elk can reliably be found in Carrizo Plain National Monument, Point Reyes National Seashore, portions of the Owens Valley from Lone Pine to Bishop, on Coyote Ridge in Santa Clara Valley, San Jose, California and in the Pacheco state park and areas surrounding San Luis reservoir near Los Banos, California.

Contents

Description

Considered the smallest of the wapiti in North America, the tule elk were the dominant large ungulate in California prior to the arrival of the Spanish. It is typically described as the smallest subspecies of all American elks, with the average weight of adult males only 450 to 550 lb (200 to 250 kg) and females average of 375 to 425 lb (170 to 193 kg). Although tule elk have been reported as half the size of the Roosevelt elk, and sometimes referred to as the dwarf elk, this moniker may be misleading as the smaller size of some tule elk may reflect poor nutrition of elk subsisting on marginal habitat such as the Owens River watershed. California Department of Fish and Wildlife records show recent bull elk on Grizzly Island in Suisun Bay weigh up to 900 pounds (410 kg). [5] This is a similar size to Roosevelt elk bulls which weigh between 700 pounds (320 kg) and 1,100 pounds (500 kg). [6] Wildlife biologist Dale McCullough described an elk transplanted from Buttonwillow in the San Joaquin Valley to a golf course in Monterey that grew to the size of a Rocky Mountain elk. [7] Also hunter H. C. Banta described the tule elk in the 1850s as "I found no difference in size between these elk and the Oregon, Washington, Wyoming and Colorado elk, and felt sure that the bulls would weight 700 to 800 pounds". [5]

The calves are similar to deer fawns, with brown coats and white spots.

Genetic studies based on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA confirm that Tule elk, Roosevelt elk and Rocky Mountain elk should be considered distinct subspecies. [8] The 2010 nuclear DNA study found five alleles at one locus, indicating that there has either been a mutation at this locus subsequent to the single breeding pair reported by Henry Miller and nineteenth century game warden A. C. Tibbet, or there were three surviving tule elk at the genetic bottleneck.[ citation needed ]

History

The first European explorer to see tule elk was likely Sir Francis Drake who landed in July 1579 probably in today's Drake's Bay, Marin County, California: "The inland we found to be far different from the shoare, a goodly country and fruitful soil, stored with many blessings fit for the use of man: infinite was the company of very large and fat deer, which there we saw by thousands as we supposed in a herd..." [7] A more definitive second encounter 16 years later was described by Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeño, who was shipwrecked in December 1595, and in Drake's Bay with certainty. Cermeño's account described "deer walking about, the largest ever found, as could be seen by the antlers, of which the Captain carried away a sample". On a trip inland they found "a great quantity of deer horns, one of which, measured before this witness, showed sixteen palmas [11 feet] from point to point." [9] Cermeno and his crew made a small boat from their wrecked Manila galleon and sailed back to Acapulco, Mexico with but a single trophy of their voyage to the Philippines, the set of large elk antlers. [10] Next, Sebastián Vizcaíno described seeing elk on his December 1602 exploration of the Monterey area, "Among the animals there are large, fierce bears, and other animals called elks, from which they make elk leather jackets." [11] When Richard Henry Dana Jr. visited San Francisco Bay in 1835, he wrote about vast elk herds near the Golden Gate on December 27: "...we came to anchor near the mouth of the bay, under a high and beautifully sloping hill, upon which herds of hundreds and hundreds of red deer [note: "red deer" is the European term for "elk"], and the stag, with his high branching antlers, were bounding about...", although it is not clear whether this was the Marin side or the San Francisco side. [12]

The arrival of the Spanish in the late 18th century introduced cattle and horses to the grasslands of the Central Valley, competing with the native elk. Unrestricted hunting further reduced the herds. By the time elk hunting was banned by the State Legislature in 1873, the tule elk was believed to be extinct. [13]

California cattle baron Henry Miller protected tule elk after a pair was discovered on his ranch in the tule marshes near Buena Vista Lake by game warden A. C. Tibbett in 1874. Miller ordered his men to protect the elk and is credited for the survival of the subspecies. [13] After his death, the huge Miller-Lux ranch was subdivided and the hunting of the elk resumed. The population was reduced to 72 head. By 1895, habitat loss and poaching had reduced the elk population to only 28. [4] In the years that followed, the elk were transplanted 21 times, with each attempt failing.[ citation needed ]

In 1933, rancher Walter Dow took a small group of penned elk to his ranch in Owens Valley, east of the Sierra Nevada. Although not native habitat for the elk, they thrived. In the same year, the state put a small herd at Cache Creek. This herd has not fared well due to poor range conditions. This herd may have interbred with the Rocky Mountain elk which were introduced near Mount Shasta.[ citation needed ]

In 1960, the state held a hearing in Owens Valley to determine how many elk should be allowed to live there. They decided the elk should be hunted to limit their numbers to under 500 animals. Through efforts of the California Department of Fish and Game, three permanent elk herds were established in California. By 1969, the Tupman State Reserve (32), Cache Creek (80) and Owens Valley, Inyo County (300 elk) were in place. [14] [ citation needed ]

A private citizen from Los Angeles, Beula Edmiston, formed a group to attempt a preservation program for the elk. After more than 10 years of lobbying both on the federal and state levels, in 1971, California passed legislation (the Behr bill) requiring the elk may not be hunted until their numbers surpass 2,000 head statewide or until it could be determined that suitable elk habitat no longer existed in the state, and mandated the California Department of Resources to reintroduce the elk into former habitats wherever possible.[ citation needed ]

In 1976, the US Congress passed a resolution which stated 2000 tule elk is an appropriate national goal, and directed federal agencies to make federal lands available for preservation of tule elk. [15] An Interagency Task Force [16] of representatives from the National Park Service, US Forest Service, the Armed Forces, Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Parks and Recreation, and the California Department of Fish and Game [17] selected sites for the reintroduction of tule elk within the state. A herd was established at the San Luis Wildlife Refuge in 1974, and elk were released at the Concord Naval Weapons Station in 1977. In 1978, herds were established at Mount Hamilton in Santa Clara County, Lake Pillsbury in Lake County, Jawbone Canyon in Kern County, Point Reyes National Seashore, Fort Hunter Liggett Military Reservation, and Camp Roberts. [18]

Historic range and current population

A Tule bull at Point Reyes National Seashore in 2018 Dominant tule elk bull, Point Reyes National Seashore.jpg
A Tule bull at Point Reyes National Seashore in 2018

McCullough identified nineteenth century tule elk antler specimens collected in three separate locations north of the San Francisco Bay: Sonoma in Sonoma County, as well as San Geronimo and Tomales both in Marin County. [7]

By 1986 numbers had increased to over 2,000 individuals distributed among 22 populations throughout California, largely due to successful reintroduction programs. [2] By 1998, California's tule elk population exceeded 3,200. [1] [19] In 2007, the statewide population was estimated at 3,800. [20] A 2014 report placed the statewide population at 4,200 in 22 herds. [21] As of 2019, the total Californian population was estimated to be 5,700. [22]

Small numbers of tule elk in Point Reyes have tested positive for Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis or "MAP", a wasting disease known as Johne's Disease. The bacteria was apparently transmitted by dairy cattle or spraying of cattle manure on pasturelands. In 2016 more tule elk tested positive after being euthanized so that their gut tissue could be analyzed. Cattle transmitted the disease to the Tomales Point elk herd shortly after they were first established there in 1978. [23]

Diet and impact on native grasslands

Tule elk at Point Reyes Tupeelkpointreyes.jpg
Tule elk at Point Reyes

Two male and eight female elk were translocated from Merced County, California to Tomales Point on Point Reyes National Seashore in March 1978. The elk showed signs of nutritional stress including copper deficiency and antler anomalies by summer 1979 and two elk died. One explanation was molybdenum which expresses as copper deficiency. A former molybdenum mine existed in that area of the Point Reyes National Seashore. Other possible explanations include failure to remove cattle until 1979 and the fact that 1977 and 1978 were drought years. Birth rates remained negligible until 1981, when they began reproducing at predicted maximum rates. Studies of fecal material documented that the tule elk preferred grasses and forbs with little use of shrubs such as willow. [24] These results are consistent with findings on the Diablo Range, Santa Clara County elk herd where more than 50% of the tule elk diet were grasses. [25]

A 2007 study at the Tomales Point Elk Reserve showed that tule elk appear to play a critical role in preventing succession of open grasslands to less diverse, shrub-dominated ecosystems. Elk grazing had a positive impact on native grassland species abundance and diversity, and seemed to increase the richness and abundance of some exotic taxa while reducing Holcus lanatus — a highly invasive exotic grass which is a major problem in mesic perennial grasslands. [26]

Education

The Environmental Science Department at De Anza College, in Cupertino, California offers a twice-yearly course that focuses on field observation of the tule elk found in Santa Clara County, California. This class provides an overview on the history of tule elk reintroduction, habitat use, home range characteristics, behaviors and other natural history insights. It also discusses the underlying social, economic and political issues associated with the near extinction and restoration of this subspecies of North American elk. It involves off-campus field trips to visit existing tule elk herds.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

Inverness, California census-designated place in California, United States

Inverness is an unincorporated community and census-designated place (CDP) located in western Marin County, California. Inverness is located on the southwest shore of Tomales Bay 3.5 miles northwest of Point Reyes Station, at an elevation of 43 feet. In the 2010 census, the population was 1,304. The community is named after Inverness, Scotland and was named by a Scottish landowner.

Point Reyes Station, California Census-designated place in California, United States

Point Reyes Station is a small unincorporated town located in western Marin County, California. Point Reyes Station is located 13 miles (21 km) south-southeast of Tomales, at an elevation of 39 feet (12 m). Point Reyes Station is located along State Route 1 and is a gateway to the Point Reyes National Seashore, an extremely popular national preserve. About 350 people live in the town. It is also the name of a census-designated place (CDP) in northern California covering the unincorporated town and surrounding countryside, with a total CDP population of 848.

Point Reyes National Seashore Park preserve in California, United States

Point Reyes National Seashore is a 71,028-acre (287.44 km2) park preserve located on the Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin County, California. As a national seashore, it is maintained by the US National Park Service as an important nature preserve. Some existing agricultural uses are allowed to continue within the park. Clem Miller, a US Congressman from Marin County wrote and introduced the bill for the establishment of Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962 to protect the peninsula from development which was proposed at the time for the slopes above Drake's Bay. All of the park's beaches were listed as the cleanest in the state in 2010.

Point Reyes

Point Reyes (re-ʝes) is a prominent cape and popular Northern California tourist destination on the Pacific coast. It is located in Marin County, and approximately 30 miles (50 km) west-northwest of San Francisco. The term is often applied to the Point Reyes Peninsula, the region bounded by Tomales Bay on the northeast and Bolinas Lagoon on the southeast. The headland is protected as part of Point Reyes National Seashore.

Tomales Bay

Tomales Bay is a long, narrow inlet of the Pacific Ocean in Marin County in northern California in the United States. It is approximately 15 mi (24 km) long and averages nearly 1.0 mi (1.6 km) wide, effectively separating the Point Reyes Peninsula from the mainland of Marin County. It is located approximately 30 mi (48 km) northwest of San Francisco. The bay forms the eastern boundary of Point Reyes National Seashore. Tomales Bay is recognized for protection by the California Bays and Estuaries Policy. On its northern end, it opens out onto Bodega Bay, which shelters it from the direct current of the Pacific. The bay is formed along a submerged portion of the San Andreas Fault.

California Central Valley grasslands

The California Central Valley grasslands is a temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands ecoregion in California's Central Valley. It a diverse ecoregion containing areas of desert grassland, prairie, savanna, riparian forest, marsh, several types of seasonal vernal pools, and large lakes such as now-dry Tulare Lake, Buena Vista Lake, and Kern Lake.

Eastern elk Extinct subspecies of elk native to eastern North America

The eastern elk is an extinct subspecies or distinct population of elk that inhabited the northern and eastern United States, and southern Canada. The last eastern elk was shot in Pennsylvania on September 1, 1877. The subspecies was declared extinct by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 1880. Another subspecies of elk, the Merriam's elk, also became extinct at roughly the same time.

Diablo Range

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Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve

The Golden Gate Biosphere is a biosphere reserve in Northern California. It was created by UNESCO in 1988 and encompasses 13 protected areas in the San Francisco Bay Area. It extends through the central California coastal region from the Bodega Marine Reserve in the north to Jasper Ridge in the south and includes the Farallon Islands, Angel Island, and Alcatraz within the San Francisco Bay. The biosphere reserve is situated on both sides of the San Andreas Fault. Each side has a completely different type of bedrock, and the western side of the rift is moving northward. It encompasses a diverse range of marine, coastal, and upland habitats of the California chaparral and woodlands and Northern California coastal forests ecoregions, including mixed evergreen forests, Coast Redwood forests, Douglas-fir forests, Bishop pine forests, oak forests, woodlands and savannas, northern coastal scrub, chaparral, coastal dune, coastal strand, tidepools, kelp forests, coastal grasslands, and marshes. The associated fauna is also rich with cougars, Tule elk, California sea lions, elephant seals, and many shorebirds.

San Antonio Valley, California Unincorporated community in California, United States

The community of San Antonio Valley, also called San Antonio or San Antone, is located along the Diablo Range in eastern Santa Clara County, California. The locale is bordered by Alameda County to the north and Stanislaus County to the east. The sparsely populated area is located at the junction of San Antonio Valley Road, Mines Road, and Del Puerto Canyon Road. The area includes the San Antonio Valley Ecological Reserve, a 3,282 acre nature preserve created by a Nature Conservancy purchase of land from local rancher, Keith Hurner, and known for its herd of tule elk.

Pacheco State Park

Pacheco State Park is a California State Park to the south of Pacheco Pass in the Diablo Range, located mostly in western Merced County, California but extending into southeastern Santa Clara County and near Hollister in San Benito County. Located 24 miles (39 km) west of Los Banos, California and 20 miles (32 km) east of Gilroy, the park entrance is on Dinosaur Point Road, a short distance from California State Route 152 near Pacheco Pass. The park contains 6,890 acres (2,790 ha), though only the western 2,600 acres (1,100 ha) to the west are open to the public. The eastern two-thirds of the park are closed due to an underdeveloped trail system and safety concerns over the numerous wind turbines that are located in the Gonzaga Wind Farm that occupies the area. In 2018, it was announced that the 1980s-era turbines would be replaced with more efficient models, which would increase power production capacity from the original 16.5 megawatts (MW) to as much as 80 MW.

Tomales Bay State Park

Tomales Bay State Park is a California state park in Marin County, California. It consists of approximately 2,000 acres (8 km²) divided between two areas, one on the west side of Tomales Bay and the other on the east side. The main area, on the west, is part of the Point Reyes peninsula, and adjacent to Point Reyes National Seashore, which is operated by the U.S. National Park Service. The park is approximately 40 miles (64 km) north of San Francisco.

Elk Large antlered species of deer from North America and east Asia

The elk, also known as the wapiti, is one of the largest species within the deer family, Cervidae, and one of the largest terrestrial mammals in North America, as well as Central and East Asia. It is often confused with the larger Alces alces, which is called moose in North America, but called elk in British English, and related names in other European languages. The name "wapiti" is used in Europe for Cervus canadensis. It originates from the Shawnee and Cree word waapiti, meaning "white rump".

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References

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