"It's one of the greatest wildlife success stories in California, " said Joe Hobbs, a Department of Fish and Game biologist and state elk coordinator. "We're pretty much running out of places to put extra elk." There are now about 3,900 tule elk statewide in 22 herds. Because its historic predators ˆ grizzly bear and wolf ˆ did go extinct in California, hunting is the only way to keep elk out of conflict with farms and cities that have crept into former habitat. Hunting remains tightly controlled, but the state is loosening up somewhat. This year, it will issue a total of about 350 permits, up from 330 last year, Hobbs said. Demand for these permits is huge: In 2009, about 26,000 hunters applied. This year, the state added new hunting zones in many areas, including Lake, Colusa, Mendocino, Alameda, Stanislaus and Merced counties. This means each area now has a stable elk population for the first time in perhaps a century.