POINT REYES (AP) — Dozens of tule elk at Point Reyes National Seashore have died from starvation and dehydration in the last year because the animals couldn’t get past a fence that the National Park Service placed to stop them from competing for food and water with cattle, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the federal government.

Three California residents and the Animal Legal Defense Fund sued the park service in federal court in San Francisco claiming it is being negligent and more animals will die if the agency is not ordered to provide food and water during the drought.

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“It’s the responsibility of The National Park Service to ensure tule elk are protected and not barred from access to water that would help them survive in conditions that are likely to worsen as a result of climate change,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells.

Point Reyes National Seashore spokeswoman Christine Beekman didn’t immediately return an email and voicemail from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Tule elk are a subspecies of elk native to California. The 700-pound (318-kilogram) animals, which were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s, were reintroduced to the park in 1978.

Tule Elk graze on grass in a field at Point Reyes National Seashore Elk Preserve on April 19, 2015 in Point Reyes Station, California.(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Tule Elk graze on grass in a field at Point Reyes National Seashore Elk Preserve on April 19, 2015 in Point Reyes Station, California.(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

According to the lawsuit, 152 elk — more than a third of the population — have died since last year and necropsies obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the emaciated elk died of starvation and/or dehydration.

The park service announced earlier this month that it had installed three large troughs after many of the stock ponds and other water sources began drying up earlier than expected due to lack of rain. But that water was only accessible to one of four herds at Tomales Point, the lawsuit said.

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“The Park Service still refuses to remove the fence or provide any supplemental forage,” the lawsuit said.

The fence was erected decades ago to prevent the elk from competing with the cattle that are permitted by the park service to graze on public land.

Some of the biggest names in the Bay Area’s organic meat and dairy industry lease land in Point Reyes, including Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman of BN Ranch LLC, and David Evans of Marin Sun Farms.

Plaintiff Jack Gescheidt, an environmentalist and artist, has been visiting Tomales Point in the Point Reyes National Seashore for at least 20 years. He said the park service cited him after he took troughs of water to the elk.

“The knowledge that approximately a third of the Tomales Point herd of tule elk has already died from a lack of adequate water and forage is absolutely chilling,” he said. “I see these beautiful animals and want them to experience a healthy, happy, safe life, but I know that so many of them will die—through no fault of their own.”

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This story has been correct to reflect that two independently owned dairy farms that supply the Straus Family Creamery lease land at the Point Reyes National Seashore.

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