Sightseeing — Tinemaha Wildlife Viewpoint

About seven miles south of Big Pine in the Poverty Hills is a turnoff road to the Tinemaha Wildlife Viewpoint which overlooks a refuge area frequented by the Owens Valley herd of Tule Elk.

Native only to Califomia, The Tule Elk once roamed free in the coastal and central areas of Califomia from Kern County in the south to Shasta County in the north. Once numbering in excess of 500,000 in the early 1800's, the invasion of ranchers with thousands of range cattle began the erosion of the natural bunch grass on which the elk thrived. Eventually, trappers, adventurers, gold seekers and farm conversions presented devastation to the herds and the Tule Elk was in danger of extinction.

Legislation was enacted in 1873, giving Tule Elk complete protection, but it was nearly too late. In 1895, there were only 28 Tule Elk in the entire state. By 1920 approximately 400 were making their presence felt through crop depredation, prompting numerous attempts at relocation. One of these relocations was to the Owens Valley on the eastern slope of the Sierra.

This latter herd thrived in its new home. Inevitably, conflicts developed between those who wanted elk in the Owens Valley and ranchers who had to endure crop and fence damage from the animals. To keep this herd at a manageable size, controlled hunting was allowed. This was eventually discontinued because of public opinion. In 1971, the California Legislature passed laws limiting the number of elk in the Owens Valley to 490. In 1977, when the herd was determined to be in excess of that amount, 92 were successfully moved to other reserves and new herds developed in suitable habitats throughout the state.

The Elk herd can most often be seen from the Tinemaha Viewpoint, but may also be sighted roaming either north or south of Big Pine, usually not too distant from the Owens River. They can also be spotted in the alfalfa fields north of the wildlife viewpoint on Highway 395.

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