“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

What We Are Fighting For

Only a handful of America’s national parks permit cattle grazing. One-third of the Point Reyes National Seashore—some 18,000 acres—IS dedicated to the exclusive use of two dozen ranchers. There are 6,000 cattle in the Seashore, more than there are Tule elk on the planet. Cows outnumber elk in the park 10 to 1. But the problems at the Seashore extend far beyond elk. Restore Point Reyes Seashore is fighting to reform management failures that threaten the future of the park itself. We are raising awareness, inspiring public involvement, and taking appropriate action— including in the courts. We don’t engage in nor endorse anyone breaking the law—including the NPS. Our goal is to require the NPS to follow the law— managing our national parks and the wildlife and resources therein “unimpaired for future generations.”


Photograph courtesy of Matthew Polvorosa Kline

For Immediate Release, April 1, 2021

Deborah Moskowitz, President, Resource Renewal Institute (415-928-3774) 
Chance Cutrano, Director of Programs, Resource Renewal Institute (312-403-3702)
Laura Cunningham, Western Watersheds Project (775-513-1280)
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity (510-499-9185)

POINT REYES STATION, Calif. The National Park Service (NPS) has issued a press release revealing that 152 Tule elk, one-third of the Tomales Point herd, died at Point Reyes National Seashore.  The deaths occurred because elk were trapped behind an 8-foot fence that encloses the park’s Tule Elk Reserve, where the NPS confines the rare elk to keep them off parklands reserved for cattle.

The Seashore’s elk population declined from a year ago from 445 to 293, allegedly due to drought. No cows reportedly succumbed. The NPS declared the die-off a “natural” event, a population “fluctuation” in response to “available resources.” However, the presence of the fence is the only explanation for the Tomales Point elk die-off; the free-roaming elk in the park at Limantour declined only 5% and the Drakes Beach herd population remained stable during the past year.

“There’s nothing ‘natural’ about fencing in wild animals and denying them adequate food and water,” said Deb Moskowitz, president of Resource Renewal Institute in Mill Valley, California, one of three organizations that sued the NPS in 2016 after it was disclosed that 250 of the park’s Tule elk had died. “This isn’t an act of God. It’s NPS official policy.”

“The NPS provides grass and water for cattle, but wildlife must fend for itself. Tragically, we can expect more elk to suffer and die this summer if the Park Service continues to do nothing,” she added.

In October 2020, park visitors and wildlife advocates alerted the NPS at the Seashore that most of the water sources in the elk reserve had dried up, offering photos of several elk carcasses as evidence. The NPS dismissed the concerns and insisted there was sufficient water for the elk in seeps and springs within the elk enclosure. In its press release yesterday, the NPS did not indicate when the 152 elk deaths occurred, but attributed them to a lack of available forage.

“The Tomales Point elk fence blocks these wildlife herds from migrating out of a narrow spit of land to find better forage and fresh water,” noted Laura Cunningham, California Director at Western Watersheds Project. “During the ongoing drought, we have been advising the Seashore that the Tule elk cannot extract enough metabolic water from dry forage to make up for the lack of adequate free water in existing stock ponds and seeps. These rare California native elk deserve better care in a national park unit.”  

“The forced confinement of wild elk during a severe drought to a peninsula known to have inadequate food and water is reprehensible,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Park Service didn’t remove a single cow from Point Reyes’ overgrazed grasslands during this severe drought, so of course there is very little forage left for the free-roaming elk and other wildlife. The Tomales Point elk fence must immediately be torn down so these elk can survive.” 

In 2015 the NPS belatedly confessed that half the confined Tomales Point Tule elk herd—some 250 animals—had died during the 2012-2015 drought. Three nonprofit organizations—Resource Renewal Institute, Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project—sued the National Park Service over plans to shoot or remove Tule elk and failure to evaluate the environmental damage from cattle grazing.

“If you lock up wild animals, you replace Mother Nature in being responsible for their well-being,” said Jim Coda, a retired attorney for the National Park Service. “It becomes your responsibility to provide adequate food and water. It’s no different than operating a zoo. In fact, it is a zoo.”

For decades, the NPS and ranchers had negotiated cattle leases on parklands purchased by and for the public. The lawsuit was meant to give the public a voice—and a choice. Should ranching continue at the Seashore and, if so, under what conditions? The legal settlement committed the NPS to provide the first-ever Environmental Impact Statement for ranching in the park and to accept public comments to its plan.  

The preferred alternative in the General Management Plan Amendment (GMPA) that ranchers lobbied for, county officials endorsed and the Trump Administration fast-tracked, is under review by the California Coastal Commission and ultimately must be approved by the Department of Interior. The preferred alternative guarantees Seashore ranchers at least 20 more years in the park, more livestock, crops and other income streams to offset declines in beef and dairy consumption that portend hard times for the park’s ranchers.

Average rainfall at Point Reyes Seashore has decreased by ten inches since 2005. In late 2020, the NPS issued emergency permits allowing dairy farmers in the Seashore to pump water from creeks and wetlands. The permits, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, highlight potential impacts to wildlife and habitats from the extraction of 10,000-15,000 gallons of water per day for cattle operations.

Though the GMPA discusses additional wells to meet the demands of more livestock and commercial crops, there is no data on the status of groundwater at the park. The NPS has not analyzed the environmental impacts of the pumping from the wetlands.

The NPS hasn’t tested water quality at the park ranches since 2005. Ranchers do the water testing themselves. They aren’t required to report the data to the NPS. An independent testing lab in January, 2021 found extremely high fecal coliform in waters draining the ranches, some showing 40 times the allowable limit for E. coli, which can cause intestinal distress and even life-threatening kidney failure, and up to 300 times the allowable limit for enterococci, which is also dangerous to human health.   

NPS has said it won’t intervene as the Tule elk die off was from what it considers “natural” causes. Its proposed plan calls for shooting healthy elk to alleviate grazing competition with commercial beef and dairy cattle, which outnumber elk in the park ten to one. 

Cattle roam and defecate at Drakes Estero—a federally designated wilderness area. Johnes’ Disease, a fatal wasting disease found in the cattle, has “jumped” species and infected the elk. 

Cattle are the largest source of greenhouse gases in the Seashore, where drought, wildfires and sea-level rise push struggling species toward extinction. Visitation to the park has risen as the demand for outdoor recreation mounts in response to Covid-19 restrictions.

“Public health and preserving the national park and wildlife “unimpaired” for the generations, as the mission of the NPS states, has taken a back seat to ranchers’ bottom line,” says Chance Cutrano, Director of Programs for the Resource Renewal Institute. “The Park Services’ dutiful negligence will not be forgotten. The Park Service will be held accountable.

Photograph courtesy of Jocelyn Knight
Photograph courtesy of Matthew Polvorosa Kline

Point Reyes: A Wilderness in Peril

Point Reyes Seashore is a national treasure in our own backyard. Every year more than 2 million people come to the Seashore to be in nature, hoping to glimpse rare wildlife like the migrating whales and majestic Tule elk. But too few know of the threats to this fragile coastal ecosystem from the 6,000 cattle that graze 24/7 on these public lands. How does a handful of Marin ranchers manage to remain in our park 60 years after the National Seashore was created? Why does the National Park Service permit these commercial dairies and beef operations to continue despite the damage to the land, water, wildlife and climate?

“Point Reyes: A Wilderness in Peril” explores the history and decades-long battle to reclaim and restore the park for the public. Watch the series starting April 8th 7pm | Sat. April 10 6:30 pm MarinTV, Channel 26 On Demand at cmcm.tv

Whose Park?

America’s national parks belong to all of us. But the National Park Service puts cattle first at Point Reyes National Seashore. The Public dollars purchased these lands 50 years ago but beef and dairy ranching on these national parklands continues. Despite strong public opposition, the NPS and elected officials insist that private ranching will continue on these lands for decades to come. WATCH THE 3 MINUTE FILM

Welcome to Point Reyes National Cattle Ranch

The decision to continue livestock production in Point Reyes National Seashore demonstrates once again why allowing any commercial resource use in our parklands compromises the primary goals of our park system—which is to manage public lands for public values, not private profit.

Unique elk in California may be killed under controversial plan

The calamity that befell the buffalo at the hands of pioneer settlers in the mid- and late 1800s is well known: Tens of millions of the animals were hunted almost to extinction. Less well known is what was happening at the same time in California, the only home of the continent’s smallest elk—the last of which are in the crosshairs at a national park. READ MORE

National Park Service allows for the killing of native elk to appease ranchers, angering conservationists

The struggle between conservationists and cattle ranchers, caught in a decades-long tug of war was just extended by the NPS: a newly announced management plan providing the ranchers with an extra line of rope in the form of a 20-year extension of their leases and a controversial policy that will see the culling of native elk.

Cover Story: Riding Herd

Rep. Huffman, who worked with right-wing members of Congress in an effort to permanently instate ranching at the national seashore, has called for killing Tule elk.

Point Reyes Seashore & Yellowstone allegedly managed for cows over native wildlife

Newly released documents tend to confirm conservationists’ suspicion that the National Park Service under the Trump administration is managing wildlife habitat in both iconic parks chiefly for the benefit of cattle ranchers. READ MORE

Reflections on the 58th Anniversary of Point Reyes National Seashore By Ken Brower

As a boy I was witness, a fly on the wall, to the creation of Point Reyes National Seashore. In the photograph above, surrounding President Kennedy as he signs the seashore into law, are a number of familiar faces. The tall, graying man on the far right is my father, David Brower, the first executive director of the Sierra Club. READ MORE

September 13, 1962. JFK signs the enabling legislation for Point Reyes National Seashore. 
Photo by White House photographer Abbie Rowe.

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

View the coded comments: https://restoreptreyesseashore.org/docs/Processed_Comments_Combined.docx
View the analysishttps://restoreptreyesseashore.org/docs/PRNS_GMP_Summary_Sheet.xlsx
Coding method explainedhttps://restoreptreyesseashore.org/docs/Analysis_Overview_final.docx

A Remnant of Wild California

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. The United Nations designated these parks as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1988. Millions of visitors arrive annually to experience the wild Pacific coast, wind-swept vistas, and rare native plants and wildlife –remnants of what California was 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

Just Add Water!

The dairies in the Seashore produce 86,227,600 pounds of manure every year. What to do with all that poop? Just add water and spread! The NPS permits the spreading of manure slurry as standard practice. No surprise that the park has the distinction of having some of the worst water pollution in California.

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. READ MORE

View the Live Stream Memorial Service in Remembrance of Huey Johnson from August 14, 2020

Watch and Share the film “The Killing of a Native Species.”

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