“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.”
Nearly driven extinction, northern elephant seals made a remarkable comeback— from as few as 100 in the 1920s to about 124,000 in California today. The seals give birth at Point Reyes National Seashore beaches, where the National Park Service is going to great lengths to protect them from human disturbance. If only the Park Service would show such concern for the Seashore’s other rare, wildlife, like the park’s iconic Tule Elk.
Feedlot on L Ranch at Point Reyes National Seashore © Laura Cunningham
Tule elk once roamed these lands by the thousands but were extirpated by the mid-1800s as the land was converted to cattle ranches. Ten surviving elk were reintroduced to Point Reyes in the 1970s. Today there are 500 elk in the Seashore, the only national park where Tule elk exist. This should be hailed as a success in species recovery, but for the Tule elk and more than 100 rare, threatened and endangered species at the Seashore, the future is bleak.
When the Tule elk were being reintroduced to the park, beef and dairy ranching were being phased out. Seashore ranchers had been paid upwards of $300 million in today’s dollars to sell their land for a national park and were permitted to lease back the land for 25 years. But through political wringing, the ranchers never left. Nearly 60 years since the park was created, nearly 6,000 cattle still graze on fully one-third of the national seashore—outnumbering elk by more than 10 to 1.
By the NPS’s own analysis, barbed-wire fences that trap wildlife; tons of cow manure the ranchers spread on pastures, polluting the Seashore’s waterways; soil erosion; and methane gas emissions from cattle are among the impacts of commercial grazing on the Seashore. Nonetheless, in their draft plan, the NPS calls for more ranching at the Seashore, not less, and killing elk that encroach on lands leased for cattle.
Imagine if ranching at the Seashore were to end and the NPS were to uphold its mission to preserve our national parks “unimpaired” for future generations.
Restoring habitats for Coho and Chinook salmon, snowy plover, northern spotted owl, red-legged frog, Point Reyes mountain beaver and more than 50 struggling animal species would be a priority instead of a casualty of Park Service policy.
Thousands of acres committed to cattle would instead be repurposed for wildlife and public recreation.
Runoff from cattle manure pollutes creeks, ponds, Tomales Bay and the Pacific. Removing cattle from the park would vastly improve water quality overall.
It is ironic that at a national Seashore imperiled by drought and sea-level rise, cattle are the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions. Removing the cattle would be equivalent to taking 6,000 cars off Marin roads ever year.
As dairy prices fall to all-time lows and beef consumption declines, Seashore ranchers are demanding that the Park Service keep them afloat. They want to raise sheep, goats, chickens and row crops and offer Airbnb-style guest stays. Though underfunded and straining to fulfill its mission to preserve the Seashore “unimpaired” for future generations, the Park Service is expected to give the ranchers what they want when its management plan is released this spring, ensuring that 28,000 acres of our national Seashore remains virtually off limits to the public and precarious for wildlife.
Cow pasture, cattle grazing on former Pt Reyes coastal prairie © Laura Cunningham
Note: Rep. Jared Huffman represents the north coast of California from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border. He serves on the Natural Resources Committee and a number of caucuses including national parks, safe climate and wild salmon, but has dismissed concerns about the impacts of cattle to the Seashore and supports removing the Tule elk from this national park. Reach Rep. Huffman’s office at 415 258-9657.
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.
RESTORE POINT REYES INDEX
Ranching by the Numbers at Point Reyes National Seashore
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?
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?
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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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.
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.
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