DFG Announces Tule Elk Capture Set for Concord Naval Weapons Station

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The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) will begin relocating a 30-year-old Concord-area tule elk herd to free-range public lands Feb. 13. DFG established the herd at Concord Naval Weapons Station in the mid-1970s to supply animals for new or existing herds throughout the state. The four-day operation will move approximately 46 animals to herds in Lake, Colusa, and Solano counties.

“The Department of Fish and Game’s efforts have helped bring back the tule elk from the brink of extinction to sustainable numbers,” said DFG Elk Program coordinator Joe Hobbs. “The herd at the Concord site is no longer needed for surplus animals, so the department has decided to remove the elk and set them free on public lands.”

Wildlife experts believe the herd holds as many as five 2-year old bulls, up to 25 adult bulls, and as many as 16 cows and calves on the 3,000-acre site, located at the south edge of Suisun Bay in Contra Costa County. The capture has been timed to allow the bulls to drop their antlers but before the 2006 calving season.

Capture methods may involve the use of a net gun or a tranquilizer dart shot from a helicopter, ground darting, baiting into a corral trap, or herding the elk into a corral trap with the use of a helicopter or ground teams. Ten ground teams made up of DFG wildlife biologists and volunteers from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will conduct the operation using all-terrain vehicles with attached sleds.

Once an animal is netted, ground crews will move in to subdue it before transporting it to the base camp. The physical restraint techniques are designed to protect both the animals and the crew from injury. A large bull can weigh up to 900 pounds. At the base camp, a veterinary team will check the animal’s overall health, take biological samples and then vaccinate it with a broad range of appropriate antibiotics. After the exam, the elk will then be loaded into stock trailers and driven to the release sites.

DFG will move the herd to open ranges in the Cache Creek area in Lake and Colusa counties. A small group of young bulls will move to the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area in Solano County.

“We believe it’s in the best interest of the elk to allow them to thrive in a free range environment,” said Hobbs. “At the current site we don’t have personnel to monitor the elk in case they get caught in fences, fall into the canal, or have other problems associated with confined herds.”

The Concord Naval Weapons Station, officially known as Detachment Concord, has closed the Inland Area of the base under the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process. Ownership of the Tidal Area of the property has transferred to the U.S. Army. Due to workload and budget reductions, the military placed the area into a reduced operational status in 1999.

Tule elk’s recovery has been enormously successful. Its numbers have grown from only one small herd at the turn of the 20th century to more than 3,800 animals in 22 different herds today. This subspecies of elk is endemic to California. Tule elk population growth has been so impressive that DFG no longer has space to establish new herds and must remove animals in confined herds every few years to keep the population from exceeding the carrying capacity.