With development surging in the San Francisco Bay Area, Congress established Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962

“In order to save and preserve, for purposes of public recreation, benefit, and inspiration, a portion of the diminishing seashore of the United States that remains undeveloped.”

Over the next decade, ranchers on the Point Reyes Peninsula sold their land to the National Park Service. They were paid  the equivalent of more than $380 million in today’s dollars and were allowed to lease back the land they sold for up to 25 years or the death of the leaseholder.

Nearly 60 years later some 5,000-6,000 beef and dairy cattle continue to occupy 18,000 acres–one-third of the national seashore and 10,000 acres at the nearby Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA).

Unlike ranchers outside the national park, Seashore ranchers pay no property taxes, receive below-market rents; discounted grazing fees, government-maintained roads, buildings and fencing.  In addition, the NPS provides “wildlife management”–confining, hazing and “removing” Tule elk—a species endemic to California that exists in no other national park. 

Tule elk had been erased from the Pt Reyes Peninsula in the 19th century as the land was converted to ranching. A long-planned and successful elk reintroduction in the 1970s proceeded the assumption that ranching in the park would be discontinued. Today, cattle outnumber Tule elk at the Seashore 10 to 1.

Under pressure from the cattle interests and their political allies,  the NPS has routinely granted grazing permits to ranchers despite management problems, wildlife conflicts and stark environmental impacts. NPS and ranchers negotiated behind closed doors without public input to the terms of leases, or whether ranching should continue at all.

Environmentalists brought a lawsuit in 2016 over the NPS’s failure to update its nearly 40-year management plan. A settlement agreement in 2017 required the NPS to undertake an Environmental Impact Statement on ranching—something Seashore ranchers long opposed. 

The local Board of Supervisors have long stood by the ranchers. They, Rep. Jared Huffman and the NPS have long asserted—without evidence— that the public overwhelming supports the ranches at the national seashore, and that the local economy depends on the 24 ranches operating inside the park.

In October 2017, the NPS began initial scoping for updating its General Management Plan for Point Reyes National Seashore and the GGNRA.

In September 2018, in an end run around the legal settlement,  Rep. Jared Huffman, the local Congressman who serves on the House Natural Resources Committee, took up the ranchers’ cause. Ranching at the Seashore has been at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior.  Huffman introduced, on suspension of the rules (without hearings or debate) a bill that instead would permanently instate ranching at the Seashore. The bill died in the Senate during the 2018 government shut down. 

In October 2018, ranches at the Seashore were added to the National Register of Historic Places,  though the designation does not require that the business of ranching continues.

In August 2019, the NPS released its draft plan and EIS for ranching, opening a 45-day public comment period, ending September 23, 2019 The NPS’s plan proposed 6 alternatives.  The NPS’s “preferred alternative” (Alternative B) reflects the ranchers’ expansive wish list. Alternative B would provide unprecedented 20-year leases; permit unauthorized livestock– chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats; and allow ranches to operate retail shops and “farm stays” in the park.  Particularly controversial is the NPS’s plan to kill any Tule elk that wander onto land reserved for cattle grazing. 

In February 2020, the NPS released the more than 7,600 public comments it received during the comment period.

Coordinated by the Resource Renewal Institute, a nonprofit organization in Marin County, a handful of volunteers in consultation with an agricultural data specialist, read every comment and sorted them into categories. 

In April 2020, final analysis, found that than 90 percent of the public comments to the draft plan and EIS opposed ranching at the Seashore.

Park and wildlife advocates are working to raise public awareness of the NPS’s plan to expand ranching at the Seashore, citing the public’s response to the NPS’s plan to expand ranching, and NPS  studies documenting overgrazing, water pollution, habitat loss and more.