Why no Elk in the San Gabriel Mountains?

Bull elk. (Stock photo)
Photo Credit: Courtesy of CDFW

by California Department of Fish & Wildlife

Question: Why aren’t there any elk in the San Gabriel Mountains? Has there ever been any discussion of starting a herd there? There is plenty of land, with 970 sq. miles of space. The San Gabriels are home to bighorn sheep, deer, bear and mountain lions. There are also elk in Tehachapi and the Tejon Ranch, which are not too far away. (Brent)

Answer: Elk are not native to the San Gabriel Mountains, likely because the climate and resources there cannot support large-bodied ungulates. The San Gabriel range tends to be both steep and dry — conditions that are better suited for desert bighorn sheep. Historically, tule elk (a subspecies of elk native only to California) ranged from Shasta County in the northern portion of the state down to the Tehachapi Mountains in Southern California, occupying the entire Central Valley from the Sierra Nevada foothills in the east to the coast in the west. Tule elk are uniquely adapted to the Mediterranean climate that the Central Valley and Coastal Mountain ranges provide. The elk population in the Tejon Hills and Tehachapis are the Rocky Mountain subspecies, introduced to Tejon Ranch from Yellowstone National Park in the 1960s. Though it is possible for the Rocky Mountain elk at Tejon to naturally expand into the San Gabriels in the future, man-made barriers like freeways, fencing and agriculture land-use have so far limited that migration. Additionally, climate change may further decrease the suitability of the San Gabriels to support elk in the future, even if elk found their way over.

CDFW currently does not have plans to start any new elk herds. Doing so would be a huge undertaking that would require a feasibility study, extensive public outreach and buy-in, and environmental documents. The good news about California elk is this: our elk populations are robust and we think most of them are stable or increasing in number and distribution

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