Point Reyes Plan a Giveaway to Ranchers
Your Comments Needed by September 23
The National Park Service (NPS) has released its Draft General Management Plan (GMPA) and Environmental Impacts Statement (EIS) for ranching at Point Reyes National Seashore. This is the first time in the park’s history that ranching has been subjected to a full review of its environmental impacts, and the first time the public has had an opportunity to submit comments to the park’s ranching policy. The public has until September 23 to send comments.
The NPS’s preferred plan—Alternative B— one of six alternatives the NPS considered for managing 28,000 acres of the Seashore and GGNRA it leases for cattle grazing. Alternative B prioritizes ranching over other park purposes, including preserving wildlife and the park’s natural values.
Alternative B mirrors a letter submitted by the Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association
The Point Reyes Seashore Ranching Association—a group of cattle and dairy ranchers—submitted their letter to the Seashore’s Superintendent in 2014.
Acquired under the Freedom of Information Act, the letter is a wish list that includes 20-year ranch leases and “diversification” to “improve the economics and profitability” of seashore ranchers. It called on the NPS to “incentivize” (aka pay) the ranchers to conduct their operations more responsibly.
The NPS Draft Plan reflects these demands and more. Alternative B commits one-third of the national seashore and 7,000 acres of the GGNRA to private ranching for decades to come; it permits ranchers to grow crops, and add goats, pigs, sheep, and chickens to their operations, despite impacts to the environment. It calls for shooting Tule elk that “trespass” on “public” ranchlands reserved for cattle. There is no mention of restoring park resources degraded by decades of continuous cattle grazing
Before the Gold Rush, a half million Tule elk roamed Northern California, but were driven to near extinction by hunting and habitat loss as land was taken over for domestic cattle. A surviving elk herd was discovered in the Central Valley in the 1870s. In an effort to save the species, the NPS reintroduced ten from this herd to Point Reyes Seashore in 1978.
Today, 500 native elk live at the Seashore, the only national park where the public can view Tule elk. Cattle at the seashore outnumber Tule elk 10 to 1.
The majority of elk are confined in the northern end of the park, Pierce Point. About 124 “free roaming” elk live near Drakes Beach, adjacent to the ranches. Every day, the NPS hazes these elk to keep them off land leased for cattle. The NPS’s preferred plan calls for shooting 10 to 15 of the elk annually. A contagious cattle disease spread through cow manure has infected some elk so relocating them outside the park isn’t an option.
Congress enacted, and President Kennedy signed, the Point Reyes Act establishing the Seashore in 1962. Ranchers had resisted the creation of the Seashore but ultimately accepted more than $57 million (more than $380 million in 2019 dollars) for their land, which they were permitted lease back for 25 years or the death of the previous landowner, whichever came first.
As these agreements began to expire, NPS gave ranchers the option to continue to lease parkland for cattle “at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior.” No law states nor implies permanence for the ranches, yet ranchers and their supporters maintain that Congress meant ranching to continue in the Seashore forever.
Last year, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), in partnership with House Republicans bent on privatizing public lands, revised the Point Reyes enabling legislation to make ranching permanent at the Seashore. Huffman claims he knows what Congress intended when it created the national seashore 57 years ago. The bill died in the Senate. At last week’s Town Hall meeting in Point Reyes Station, Huffman dismissed questioners concerned about the impacts of intensive ranching at the Seashore.
Beef and dairy ranching at the Seashore has grown to an industrial scale even as consumption declines. More than five thousand domestic cattle graze year round in the Seashore. Huge, modern infrastructure has been added to so-called “historic ranches.” Native plants and animals—including endangered species—that depend on the Seashore are at risk, including Snowy plovers. Flocks of crows and ravens that congregate at the ranches predate on these small shorebirds, pushing them to the brink. Manure run off threatens freshwater, bay and marine life. Methane and other greenhouse gases—a byproduct of ranching—contribute to the climate crisis. Yet, ranching not only persists at this national park, it is enshrined by the Park Service and subsidized by the public.
We who love national parks and believe they were meant to be places of refuge for wildlife and people have our work cut out for us. As the owners of America’s public lands, we have to let the Park Service know our concerns about their plan for the Seashore and tell them what we want instead. Our efforts shape the future of this national treasure for generations to come.
Read the NPS draft plan and EIS:
Send your comments before September 23, 2019
For more information and suggested comments: please visit: https://restoreptreyesseashore.org
Read San Francisco Chronicle—Point Reyes Management Plan Riles up Environmentalists—Comments Sought