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Finding Space for Tule Elk

by Michael Fay
Winter 2008

30 January 2008 - Point Reyes, California

Movement turned my eye down the gulch to the right. Out of the
coyote brush rose a burly bull elk in full battle regalia. It was almost February and he was now solitary, waiting only for his giant rack to fall. His gaze was fixed on mine, looking for a sign that would tell him if I was friend or foe. One bipedal step was all it took to send him on his way. The winter wind was coming off the coast, and it looked like it was fixing to storm. I continued my walk northward through coastal scrub high above the Pacific Ocean.

Finding Space for Tule Elk

Meadowlarks flushed as I advanced up the slope. A harrier hawk
cleared the lip of a small crest just above me, snatching a sparrow
as its flock fled for cover. Over the next rise, I saw more elk, a herd this time. More than 20 strong, they trotted down the hill and
simultaneously stopped to have a look. They were all medium-sized
bulls, relegated to a bachelor herd.

Skirting around the flank of the hill and then ascending to the top,
I sent elk does and yearling bulls running in a tight herd like sheep,
glancing back, eyes popping out of their heads as if to say, “Which
one of us is he going to take?” I continued on large trails that the elk use to get down to the marshes on the bay below. There was a slight rain. Every few minutes the sun would break through bringing the first glimpses of spring to the ground. The hills had a scattered cover of bushy lupines and irises in the wetter spots of the deep loam soil. Not only were the elk abundant here, the bay was home to hundreds of waterfowl: buffleheads, scaup and goldeneyes. Further out were surf scoters and brant. Deep piles of shells at the water’s edge told me that this had been great human habitat too. Miwok Indians sustained themselves here for thousands of years.

About the Author

Michael is a conservationist for the Wildlife Conservation Society and explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society. Currently, he is walking the entire range of the redwood tree. Every step of the way, Michael and his colleague collect observations on trees, wildlife, human activities and streams. At every opportunity, they talk to people about redwood trees and what they think about the future of resource management. To learn more, visit redwoodtransect.org.

Illustration: Jeremy Collins. Map resources: California Dept. of Fish and Game & San Francisco State University.