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Research
Cliff Feldheim, Chief
Environmental Planning and Information Branch
Suisun Marsh Program
3500 Industrial Blvd.
West Sacramento, CA 95691
(916) 376-9693
Email:cliff.feldheim@water.ca.gov
Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 942836
Sacramento, CA 94236-0001
Wildlife
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Tule Elk

waterfowl
Photo by Florence Low

The tule elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) is one of two subspecies of elk native to California. Tule elk are endemic to California (they occur nowhere else in the world) and the most specialized elk in North America. In its historic range, the tule elk once occupied much of the Central Valley and surrounding foothills (east to the Sierra Foothills, west to the Coast Range, and north-south from the headwaters of the Sacramento River to the Tehachapi Mountains). Accounts in journals and diaries of early explorers indicate that more than 500,000 tule elk inhabited the State in the early 1800’s. However, tule elk numbers were severely reduced in the mid-1800s, primarily due to uncontrolled market hunting and displacement by cattle. By some accounts in the mid-1870s, fewer than 30 remained in a single herd in the Buena Vista Lake area (near Bakersfield). DNA evidence suggests that tule Elk numbers could have been reduced to less than 10 closely related individuals. Although it was unclear if any even remained, in 1873, a law was passed to fully protect tule elk.

In 1874, Henry Miller, a conservation minded cattle rancher, had the foresight to preserve the last known tule elk discovered on his ranch. Until the discovery, tule elk were thought to be extinct. All of the estimated 3,900 Tule elk present in 22 herds across California today were derived from this small herd.

Within the Suisun Marsh, there are more than 300 Tule elk on the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area. They primarily occupy an 8,000 acre area within the Wildlife Area. Information gathered from the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s hunting program indicates that tule elk on Grizzly Island Wildlife Area are the some of the heaviest and healthiest elk in the state. Today, the tule elk reminds of California’s wildlife legacy and represents one of the oldest successful conservation partnerships between the government, academia, and private landowners.

widgeon sitting on water
Photo by Andrea Shepard