Tule Elk State Natural Reserve
Location8653 Station Road, Buttonwillow, CA 93206
Nearest cityTupman, California
Coordinates35°19′17″N 119°21′51″W / 35.3214°N 119.3642°W / 35.3214; -119.3642
OperatorCalifornia State Parks

The Tule Elk State Natural Reserve, formerly the Tupman Reserve, is a protected area operated by California State Parks for the benefit of the general public and the at-risk tule elk subspecies of indigenous Cervus canadensis. There are usually about 30 to 35 tule elk in the conservation herd on the 953-acre (386 ha) reserve in Kern County, California, United States.

History and ecology

Once upon a time, tule elk were to California's Central Valley what American bison was to the Great Plains. As a Modesto Bee staff writer explained in 1976, "In less populated times grizzly bears roamed the Central Valley and tule elk and pronghorn antelope grazed on the perennial bunch grasses."[1] Under hunting and habitat pressure, the population of indigenous tule elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) in California collapsed to double digits by the late 1800s.[2] Rancher Henry Miller of the Miller and Lux Ranch, however, made a project out of sheltering the surviving individuals that lingered in the wetlands surrounding Kern County's Buena Vista Lake.[3][2] By 1914, the Kern County herd protected by Miller had grown to about 400 head.[2] The Tupman Reserve was established in 1932 with about 175 tule elk from the Miller and Lux Ranch herd.[4][5] The state of California took over the site in 1953.[5][4] Tule Elk State Reserve has constructed ponds, and supplemental food is provided for the animals,[6] without which the population could not survive.[7] The ponds are necessary since local rivers no longer flood the land each winter, which historically created the tule bog habitats preferred by the elk.[8] Native plant species found at the reserve include tule and goldfields.[9]

Other herds in the state, such as those in the Owens Valley and near San Luis Obispo, were established using individuals from the Tule Elk State Reserve.[2] The Owens Valley herd was established in 1972 with two males and three females from Tule Elk.[10] Five bulls and 23 cows from the reserve founded the SLO herd in 1989.[11] As of 2023, there were approximately 5,700 tule elk in the state.[4]


Access to the site is off Stockdale Road.[5] Admission is $8 per car.[12] Amenities include a visitor center,[13] a walk-up platform,[12] and a "small viewing and picnicking section".[13] The site has some limitations on accessibility for the disabled.[5]

Most of the reserve's 953 acres are considered ecologically sensitive and are closed to the public.[13] Ranger-led tours are typically offered the fourth Sunday of the month, except in December; call ahead to confirm.[12][14]

Circa 1993 about 30,000 people visited the park annually.[13] The reserve abuts the Elk Hills Oil Field, formerly the Naval Petroleum Reserve.[15] Nearby protected areas include Kern National Wildlife Refuge and Fort Tejon State Historic Park.[16]

See also


  1. ^ Neher, Nancy (October 10, 1976). "Valley farms, industry take heavy toll on nature". The Modesto Bee. p. 8. Retrieved 2023-09-23.
  2. ^ a b c d Thomas, Pete (February 23, 1994). "No Horns of a Dilemma". The Los Angeles Times. p. 44. Retrieved 2023-09-23.
  3. ^ Historic spots in California. Stanford University Press. 1990. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-8047-1734-2.
  4. ^ a b c "Tule Elk SNR". CA State Parks. Retrieved 2023-09-23.
  5. ^ a b c d Off the Beaten Path: A Travel Guide to More Than 1,000 Scenic and Interesting Places Still Uncrowded and Inviting. Reader's Digest. 2003. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-7621-0424-6.
  6. ^ National Audubon Society (1998). National Audubon Society Field Guide to California: Regional Guide: Birds, Animals, Trees, Wildflowers, Insects, Weather, Nature Pre serves, and More. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 416. ISBN 978-0-679-44678-1.
  7. ^ Environment, United States Congress House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and the (1974). Tule Elk Refuge: Hearings, Ninety-third Congress, First Session. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 233.
  8. ^ Perry, Charles (July 3, 1988). "Back to the Gold Rush In Which the Author Retraces the Steps of His Great-Grandfather in 1849, When Things Looked Mighty Different in California". Los Angeles Times Magazine. Los Angeles Times. p. 14. Retrieved 2023-09-23 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ Castleman, Terry (April 10, 2023). "SoCal's Superbloom". The Los Angeles Times. pp. B2. Retrieved 2023-09-23.
  10. ^ "Near Lone Pine and Independence". Times-Press-Recorder. April 20, 1972. p. 34. Retrieved 2023-09-23.
  11. ^ "Herd of tule elk is transplanted here". The Tribune. October 4, 1989. p. 5. Retrieved 2023-09-23.
  12. ^ a b c Stienstra, Tom; Brown, Ann Marie (April 21, 2020). Moon California Hiking: The Complete Guide to 1,000 of the Best Hikes in the Golden State. Avalon Publishing. ISBN 978-1-64049-896-9.
  13. ^ a b c d Elk Hills Naval Petroleum Reserve No.1: Environmental Impact Statement. 1993. pp. 3.7–7.
  14. ^ "Tule Elk State Natural Reserve Auto Safari". The Sentinel. February 19, 2020. pp. A4. Retrieved 2023-09-23.
  15. ^ "Trip of the Week". Anaheim Bulletin. March 6, 1970. p. 51. Retrieved 2023-09-23.
  16. ^ "State parks beckon along I-5". The News and Observer. December 14, 2008. p. 76. Retrieved 2023-09-23.