January 05, 2022Park Service’s Plans Too Slow to Save Tule Elk, Stop Further Unnecessary Suffering and Death 

For immediate release: 5 January, 2022

Today (Wednesday, January 5), the Animal Law & Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School file its final brief on behalf of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and several California residents in its ongoing lawsuit against the National Park Service for its failure to protect the tule elk at Tomales Point.

In mid-December, the National Park Service told the Court that it would finally begin the process of revising the General Management Plan for Tomales Point – something that it was supposed to do “in a timely manner,” but has failed to accomplish for over 41-years. This delay, which has led to the horrific deaths of hundreds of elk by starvation and dehydration, prompted the Clinic to file suit against the agency for its failure to properly manage this national parkland and the wildlife who live there. Now the agency says it needs more than three more years to update the management plan.

The Clinic’s latest brief asks the Court to order the Park Service to dramatically expedite its proposed timeline for revising its General Management Plan and requests the opportunity to argue that the Court can and should require that the Park Service provide relief for the elk in the interim because they cannot get access to food and water south of a 3-mile long fence that the agency erected on the southern border of Tomales Point in 1980. The Park Service’s timeline would not provide for a new management plan until March 2025 at the earliest.

“While we are heartened that the National Park Service has finally agreed to update its General Management Plan, its proposed timeline is completely unacceptable given that a staggering 72 elk—more than a quarter of the remaining herd—died over the last year from dehydration and hunger in addition to the 152 who died the year prior and the 257 who died during the previous drought of 2013-2015,” says Kate Barnekow, Clinical Fellow with Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic, who is lead attorney for the Plaintiffs.

She added: “Without relief, tule elk will continue to suffer and die horrific deaths at alarming rates, and the genetic viability of the entire herd will continue to be at risk—meaning that at the end of the General Management Plan revision process there may be no elk population left to protect. Over half of the already seriously genetically impaired population has been eviscerated in only two years. If the Park Service cannot compel itself to respond more quickly to the current needs of the tule elk, then we hope that the Court will order them to do so.”

According to the Park Service’s own reports the numbers of tule elk at Tomales Point haven’t been as low as they are at present since 1993, and the agency already was worried about the viability of the herd in 1998. Thank you for any coverage you can give. This continues to be an incredibly dire situation for the tule elk and the residents on the ground who have fought tirelessly to ensure that no more animals suffer slow, painful, preventable deaths.

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Media Contacts:

To speak with lawyer Kate Barnekow or Plaintiffs Jack Gescheidt, Laura Chariton, or Skyler Thomas, contact Sarah Pickering at [email protected], 617 852-6484.

To speak with Plaintiff ALDF, contact Mike Andrade-Heymsfield at [email protected], 707 364-8387.


Notes to Editors:

Read the filed brief and attached exhibit. Videos and images also are available.

The Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School is committed to analyzing and improving the treatment of animals through the legal system. In 2019, it launched the Animal Law & Policy Clinic to provide students with direct hands-on experience in animal advocacy on behalf of both captive animals and wildlife, including litigation, legislation, administrative practice, and policymaking.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, the Animal Legal Defense Fund files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit aldf.org.