Friday, August 21, 2020

Tule Elk

The tule elk is one of the four subspecies of elk found in North America. It is the smallest elk and it is found only in California. The name "tule," pronounced "too-lee," comes from a species of sedge found in freshwater marshes of central California where the tule elk feed. There used to be an estimated 500,000 of them when European settlers first arrived but by 1870 they were thought extinct. A little late, the state legislature banned hunting of them in 1873. A breeding pair was discovered near Buena Vista Lake in the southern San Joaquin Valley (part of the Central Valley) in 1874 on the 80,000 acre swampland cattle ranch of Henry Miller. Miller ordered his men to protect the elk. After he died his ranch was subdivided and the hunting of the elk resumed. The population was reduced to 72. By 1895 there were only 28 tule elk in existence. In 1932 the State of California established the Tule Elk State Natural Reserve on land that had previously been owned by Henry Miller and the elk were given protection there. Over the years elk have been pulled from the Reserve and transplanted into other areas of California. In 1933 a rancher named Walter Dow took some of the elk to his ranch in the Owens Valley, on the eastern side of  the Sierra Nevada. This was not native habitat, but they also thrived there and that is where I've seen them previously. Ultimately, in 1976 the U.S. Congress passed a resolution that 2,000 tule elk was a good goal and agreed to set aside federal land for them. Herds were established in several areas, including Point Reyes National Seashore, which is a good place to see them today. The wild population is now over 4,000. 
I've previously blogged on the tule elk in the Owens Valley. On our recent trip to northern California I saw signage for the Tule Elk State Natural Reserve and pulled off the I-5 freeway and drove about 3 miles to see it. It is about 20 miles west of Bakersfield in the vicinity of Buttonwillow. 
The Reserve is not much to see. The visitor area is a large roundish area with picnic tables, restrooms, a walk-up platform and a mobilehome administrative office. We saw a couple of tule elk just beyond the fence and heard a couple of others bugling behind some tules. There are 984 acres of fenced grassland with a herd that they try to keep at about 30 to 35 tule ellk. 
This tule elk is bugling in response to another elk bugling a 100 yards or so away behind some tules. 

That said, I believe the tule elk is the most beautiful elk and one of the most beautiful deer. It has a well-proportioned body and the bull has a set of regal antlers. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry for giving you a hard time for taking this detour. :) I really enjoyed hearing the bugling elk--a unique sound that brought back some good family memories.