Alameda Creek Alliance


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Protect Sunol Tule Elk

Ensuring that new elk hunting regulations in Alameda County are based on sound management and are adequately protective of the declining Sunol tule elk herd

Should Sunol's tule elk herd be hunted? The California Department of Fish and Wildlife thinks so, but has no scientific basis for allowing the hunt and has little information about the population trend of tule elk in Alameda County. In 2010 the California Fish and Game Commission approved several new hunt zones for tule elk, including an Alameda-San Joaquin hunt zone. Tule elk have rebounded from near-extinction in California, but are still at low numbers in Alameda County. The Commission authorized an annual tag for hunting small numbers of bull elk in Alameda County, even though it estimated there are less than 100 elk in the hunt zone, and the only regularly surveyed herd has been declining. More than 50 bull elk were shot in the Alameda–San Joaquin Management Unit from 1998-2017.

Tule elk from a herd reintroduced to Santa Clara County moved to Mt. Hamilton and San Antonio Reservoir by 1980. The Sunol herd had 21 elk in 1984 and the population peaked at about 70 elk in 1995. Poaching of the Sunol herd has been a problem. The Sunol herd has declined since the 1990s and was surveyed at only 58 elk in 2005. The state's new Alameda hunt zone currently permits (if authorized each year) one bull elk tag for hunting on public lands, plus several bull elk on private lands, targeting the Sunol herd and elk in Corral Hollow.

Questions about impacts on the Sunol herd population dynamics were not asked or answered in the state's shoddy environmental review for the new hunting regulations. Local conservation groups and the non-hunting public in Alameda County were not notified or engaged about the new hunt nor did Fish and Game make public any elk population numbers for Alameda County, despite our requests. There is no evidence the Sunol herd has adequate numbers to support regular "harvest" of primary bulls, which are responsible for more than 80% of the herd’s breeding. The hunt occurs during the elk mating season, which could disrupt breeding success.

The Alameda Creek Alliance is not an anti-hunting organization, nor do we have an anti-hunting agenda; but we are opposed to trophy hunting, misguided predator control programs and hunting of native wildlife with low population numbers. Our concern is with maintaining a healthy population of tule elk in the watershed. The declining Sunol elk herd is a public resource for everyone to enjoy, not just a few hunters to get the "thrill" of shooting a large bull elk or a few landowners to enrich themselves. We've asked the Fish & Game Commission to suspend the Alameda elk hunt until the local elk population is stable and increasing, but they've refused to respond.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife finalized a severely flawed statewide elk management plan in 2018. The elk plan focuses entirely on expanding elk hunting without first having basic information on elk abundance and distribution. The plan is weak on elk recovery and short on science, particulary the numbers needed to inform sustainable hunting quotas. The plan risks population declines or even loss for already-struggling small herds. The plan relies on hunting to deal with elk and human conflicts when other methods such as hazing, fencing and relocation are likely more effective.