“To conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Organic Act of 1916 establishing the National Park Service

Environmental Titan Huey D. Johnson Dies at 87

Mill Valley, Calif.—For six decades Huey D. Johnson was a steadfast force for nature, protecting wild rivers and securing millions of acres of land as Western Regional Director of the Nature Conservancy, and later as its president; as founder of the Trust for Public Land and as California’s Secretary of Resources, where he spearheaded “Investment for Prosperity,” a 100-year plan that became a blueprint for sustainability programs worldwide.

Johnson died on July 12 at his home in Corte Madera, Calif., of injuries suffered in a fall.

In 2001 Johnson received the United Nations Environment Sasakawa Prize for his contributions to the protection of the environment and the promotion of sustainable development, which included establishing the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), through which he began a long friendship and collaboration with Dr.Wangari Maathai, founder of Kenya’s Greenbelt Movement and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Johnson set up the Greenbelt Movement International to advance Maathai’s reforestation efforts globally.

Until his accident, Mr. Johnson continued to keep regular office hours at his environmental think tank in Mill Valley, California. The Resource Renewal Institute (RRI), which he founded in 1982, pursues innovative solutions to some of the world’s weightiest problems. RRI’s nine projects and fiscal sponsorship for several conservation initiatives, are among nearly one hundred organizations Johnson founded, headed and furthered during his long career. 

“Fish in the Fields,” a pilot project founded in 2012 has evolved as a model for sustainably raising fish in California rice fields, providing both a source of protein and reducing methane emissions linked to climate change.

In recent years, Johnson campaigned vigorously to protect public lands and wildlife at Point Reyes National Seashore from the impacts of commercial cattle grazing. Through Restore Point Reyes Seashore, a project of RRI, he mobilized public opposition to the expansion of private beef and dairy operations in the Seashore, and the culling of native Tule elk herds that compete for forage and water with the thousands of domestic cattle in the national park.

Johnson’s penchant for activism can be heard in conversations he recorded with more than 150 environmental elders, for “Forces of Nature,” an online archive offering inspiration and advice to future generations of advocates. 

Johnson’s environmentalism was inspired by Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac,” published in 1949.  Upon reading Leopold’s essay on the “land ethic,” Johnson said he had found his life’s purpose, which he later described as “finding my drum.” From that time forward, he would press copies of the Almanac into the hands of family, friends and colleagues, to make them aware of “. . . the vast landscapes they own and the need to protect them.”  Throughout his career, Johnson’s first question to potential employees, or even adversaries, was often, “Have you read Leopold’s book?”

Environmental icon David Brower praised his environmental colleague in the foreword to Johnson’s landmark 1995 book, “Green Plans: Greenprint for Sustainability,” saying, “Huey Johnson is an artesian well in a world where that kind of well is increasingly hard to find.”

Signature conservation achievements while Johnson worked at Nature Conservancy (1963-1972) included the protection of the Seven Sacred Pools in Maui’s Haleakala National Park. An acquisition in the Marin Headlands Johnson crafted in 1972 was the genesis for the 82,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Saving that land from a planned development for 30,000 homes is the subject of the 2012 award-winning documentary, “Rebels with a Cause.” 

Johnson graduated from Western Michigan University in 1957 with a degree in biology, and accepted a job with Union Carbide. He abruptly quit when he realized he needed to be in nature. He traveled the world for two years before taking a seasonal job with the California Fish and Game Department, worked in Alaska, and returned to Utah State University for a Master’s in wildlife management.

In 1963, he saw a job listing on a bulletin board that the Nature Conservancy was seeking to hire its first Western Director. He told his wife, Sue, that this was the job he was meant to have. They drove to California and to save money camped near Muir Beach on land that in 1971 became Johnson’s first acquisition for the Nature Conservancy. 

In 1972, Mr. Johnson went to Stockholm, Sweden to attend the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, and joined some of the earliest efforts to recognize a healthy planet as a human right. That same year, Johnson founded the Trust for Public Land with attorney Greg Archbald to develop novel strategies to acquire land for urban parks. The Trust for Public Land is today the nation’s fifth largest environmental organization.

In 1978, Gov. Jerry Brown asked Johnson to head California’s Resources agency. Johnson initially refused, saying that he could not see himself getting along with the politicians. However, he reconsidered, “I realized that as an individual environmentalist I can save one tree by stopping one bulldozer, but as the head of an agency I can stop 10,000 bulldozers.” As Secretary, Johnson introduced the groundbreaking 100-year plan integrating the management of the state’s energy, forests, agriculture, water, rivers and fisheries. Johnson claimed he must have been doing something right when state legislators from both parties demanded that the governor fire him, but Brown supported him throughout his tenure.  

When the Brown administration ended, Johnson founded the nonprofit “New Renaissance Center,” which was renamed and incorporated as the Resource Renewal Institute (RRI) in 1987. He continued to launch environmental and conservation organizations including the Grand Canyon Trust, Water Heritage Trust, CalUWild, Public Trust Alliance, Defense of Place, Restore Point Reyes Seashore and the Nigiri Project, a salmon restoration program now under CalTrout.

By 1991, when RRI launched its Green Plan program based on his work as Resources Secretary, Johnson’s impact reached global audiences. He was invited to attend the U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro to monitor the advances in Green Plan countries such as Norway, The Netherlands, New Zealand and Canada. 

Johnson’s awards include, the President’s Sustainability Award in 1992; the Fredrick Law Olmsted Award in 2005; and the 2009 Pugsley Medal from the American Academy of Park and Recreation. Mr. Johnson also received honorary doctoral degrees from Dominican University (2008) in California and Utah State University (2009).

Those who knew him personally describe Johnson as “authentic,” “uncompromising,” “principled and “visionary.” Deborah Moskowitz, RRI’s president said, “Those who worked with him describe him as an environmental giant. He understood that the survival and well being of humanity hinges on the health of the planet. Yet, in the face of all the challenges, his was a message of optimism and a rallying cry that we must persevere.” “Huey’s courage and commitment led hundreds of young environmentalists to pick up the sword. He would celebrate even small victories, bringing us together to inspire us to keep up the good fight,” said Susan Ives, who met Huey in 1984 and formed a decades-long friendship and working relationship.

RRI staff and visitors prized “lunch with Huey,” which had a dual purpose—Johnson would put people through their paces, hoping to find skilled communicators with enough passion to move an idea. He also frequently admonished staff not to give up. “You’ve got to plug along and do what you can do, and if you persist long enough, you do some good. And if you should lose, lose honorably.”

Mr. Johnson is survived by his wife, Sue, of 58 years; his daughter Megan; son Tyler and his wife, Jill; grandsons Miles and Bay; and nephew, Zack.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Resource Renewal Institute, to continue Huey Johnson’s important work.

90 Percent of Public Comments to NPS Plan for Point Reyes National Seashore Opposed to Ranching 

POINT REYES, CALIFORNIA: While the Bay Area has been quarantined over the coronavirus, activists in Northern California have been analyzing thousands of public comments sent to the National Park Service (NPS) in response to its controversial draft plan for cattle grazing at Point Reyes National Seashore. Their analysis reveals that more than 90 percent of the 7,627 comments submitted to the NPS oppose ranching in the national seashore. The final NPS plan—expected out this spring—will determine the future of ranching and wildlife in this national park for decades to come. The NPS appears to have dismissed the public’s overwhelming opposition to its proposed plan. “The number of comments received on an alternative is not a determination of its merit for consideration,” said Seashore Outreach Coordinator Melanie Gunn.

All 7,627 coded comments can be viewed in full,  along with an analysis and description of the methods used.

PUBLIC COMMENTS IN FULL  https://restoreptreyesseashore.org/docs/Processed_Comments_Combined.docx

ANALYSIS OVERVIEW  https://restoreptreyesseashore.org/docs/PRNS_GMP_Summary_Sheet.xlsx

COMMENT CODING METHOD EXPLAINED  https://restoreptreyesseashore.org/docs/Analysis_Overview_final.docx

The NPS’s six proposed management alternatives in the Draft Plan and EIS:

Alternative A – no change in the NPS’s current ranch management

Alternative B (NPS’s “preferred alternative”)–expand ranching; allow diversification, including row crops and more livestock; extend grazing leases to 20 years, and manage elk through lethal methods

Alternative C – like B but remove the Drakes Beach tule elk herd  (124 elk) through lethal means 

Alternative D – like B but phase out ranching on 7,500 acres and issue grazing leases for 19,000 acres with 20-year terms, and allow some diversification.

Alternative E – phase out dairies but leave cattle ranches, allowing existing dairies to convert to beef.  20-year grazing leases on 26,000 acres.  No diversification.  No action on Tule Elk.

Alternative F – phase out all dairies and ranches over 5 years. Once ranching is gone, remove the fence that confines the Pierce Point tule elk herd. New elk herds allowed to establish in the park.

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In the midst of an urban population of more than 7 million people, Point Reyes National Seashore and its neighboring park, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, are unique fragments of wild California. Rare bunch grasses and wildflowers, Tule elk and spawning salmon are among more than 1,500 plant and animal species that depend on these national parks. Of these, more than 50 animal species and 50 plant species at Point Reyes Seashore are listed as rare, threatened, or endangered. Millions of visitors arrive annually to experience the wild Pacific coast, wind-swept grassy vistas, and landscapes that still hold remnants of what California looked like before European Contact. These national parks are at the center of a tug-of-war between public and private interests that soon will determine the future of these parks.

Ranching by the Numbers at Point Reyes National Seashore


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Parks in Peril

Political forces, climate change, pollution, and accelerating rates of extinction have converged to threaten the places we all own in common. The pressure is on to allow oil and gas development, mining, hunting, logging, and grazing in some of our most beautiful, biologically diverse, and historic places—national parks, monuments, wilderness, and recreation areas. Although we all support public lands through our taxes, private interests are increasingly emboldened to exploit them for private profit. To make matters worse, federal budget cuts have led to crippling staff reductions at a time when demand for outdoor recreation and visits to our national parks are at an all time high. How do we defend America’s heritage and ensure that national parks will be “unimpaired” for generations to come?

Read more about Threats to Parks and Public Lands


Why Restore Point Reyes?

Urbanization, livestock grazing, logging, and agriculture have fragmented California’s native landscapes. Less than one percent of California’s grassland is still intact today. Remnants of once-vast coastal prairies still exist at Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, with the potential to recover the rich biodiversity that has been lost to decades of cattle operations. To provide refuge for wildlife; restore habitats for threatened and endangered species; improve water quality; provide educational and volunteer opportunities; sustain cultural traditions of native peoples; preserve America’s natural heritage—is this not what our national parks were created for?

Read more about the Benefits of Restoration

Overgrazed pasture at Point Reyes Seashore
Speak Up for Your Park

Does ranching further the purposes of the national seashore? Are park ranchers who sold their land entitled to permanently profit from it? Who benefits from ranching? Do those benefits outweigh impacts to the climate, land, wildlife, and public enjoyment of the national park?

We all are have a stake in the future of our public lands. Polls show that the public favors greater protection for national parks and monuments. But agricultural interests have opposed the scientific analyses and management planning that the Seashore needs and the public deserves. They are working behind the scenes to change the law rather than risk that a concerned public will derail their plans for the Seashore. That’s why it’s crucial to stay informed and to take part in the planning process.

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Tule Elk
What and Who are Parks For?

Private ranching on 28,000 acres at Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Impacts from the 6,000 beef and dairy cows at these parks are well documented: soil erosion, water pollution, invasive plants, declines in fish and bird populations, conflicts with wildlife, loss of public access to public land. Native Tule elk, the iconic symbol of Point Reyes Seashore, are found in no other national park. Most of the elk are confined behind an 8-foot-high fence to keep them off parkland leased for cattle grazing. Now, ranchers at the national seashore are pushing to “diversify” their operations. They want to add more livestock like sheep, goats, and chickens, and grow row crops. This calls into question the purpose of our national parks.

What—and who—are our parks for?

Take Action

Under a 2016 court ruling, the Park Service must analyze the impacts of cattle to natural resources, wildlife, and recreation at Point Reyes Seashore and the adjacent Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The Park Service is required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and update the Seashore’s 40-year-old General Management Plan (GMPA). The planning process gives the public a voice in deciding the future of these national parks. The articles, studies, and historical record assembled on this website are intended to inform and empower you to take action. Your comments are crucial to regaining the ecological balance and abundance of our national parks that are every Americans rightful heritage.

Join the NPS’s mailing list to be notified of public meetings and opportunities to comment.

Read more about the General Management Plan and view Public Comments to the initial scoping document.

Young naturalist