This is evident when you go to the park where the NPS is in terms of breeding. Interpretive signs tell you that ranching is “historic”, and we are told how much milk or meat is produced to “feed the nation” and other “facts” intended to put the use of lands in a positive light.
But cattle grazing in the park significantly degrades Point Reyes’ natural values. It damages streams, pollutes streams and lagoons, and harms native flora and fauna, including the native Tule elk, a rare elk subspecies found only in California that has been set aside in its natural habitat to make room for domestic cows. The controversy surrounding private ranching in a national park illustrates the problems created when personal profit and “cultural” preservation trump other values that national parks are meant to preserve.
On April 22, Earth Day, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) voted 5-4 to issue interim approval of an NPS plan to extend cattle grazing leases in the park for 20 years under the guise of preserve the “cultural heritage of the region. This new management plan by the NPS also calls for an expansion of agricultural crops growing on native grasslands, killing Tule elk, installing more fences on our public land to separate elk from domestic livestock and increase the number of livestock allowed to graze in the park.
Point Reyes is one of the few places where native Tule elks are found in California. In 2020, approximately 300 elk are fenced at Tomales Point, with approximately 300 more concentrated in the Drakes Beach and Limantour-Muddy Hollow-Glenbrook areas.
But there are over 5,700 cows in Point Reyes. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture when domestic animals outnumber native wildlife by almost 10 to 1 in a national park?
The controversy over cattle grazing at Point Reyes has been around since the park’s inception. In 1951, NPS director Conrad Wirth conducted a survey of the peninsula to assess its potential as a national park unit. At that time, the entire Point Reyes Peninsula was private farmland. But Wirth’s investigation also revealed a wealth of biodiversity, which led him to recommend the area to be protected as a national coastline.
In 1962, after years of lobbying and environmental efforts, Point Reyes National Seashore was established. The federal government acquired the private lands that occupied the peninsula to protect the region’s 460 bird species, 876 plant species, and many rare marine and land mammals. In 1988, UNESCO designated the National Coastline as part of its Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve. California has also designated much of the adjacent marine environment as a series of conservation areas: Point Reyes State Marine Reserve and Point Reyes State Marine Conservation Area, Estero State of Limantour and Drakes Estero State Marine Conservation Area and Duxbury Reef State Marine Conservation. Area.
As might be expected, ranchers and supervisors in Marin County opposed the creation of the national coastline. Nonetheless, ranchers received a substantial sum for their properties, often millions of dollars through ranching.
In a generous concession, the occupants of these buildings and the ranchers were not required to leave the park immediately. Beginning in 1962, ranchers were granted a 25-year reprieve or the death of the primary owners (whichever came first), which allowed them to continue to graze and reside on public property. The intention was to suspend agricultural production at the end of this period, but towards the end of their leases, entrenched ranchers managed to lobby to stay on the seashore. Since then, the grace period of 25 years has been extended twice.
Ironically, most of the support for continued cattle grazing in the park comes from liberal Marin County residents who seem to believe there is no other place in California to produce dairy or beef except in a national park. But when you get to Point Reyes, you almost continually pass dairy and beef farms. There is no shortage of livestock in California, or even in Marin County beyond the park boundaries. California has the fourth highest cattle count in the country, with more than 5 million cows. Why should we allow individuals to graze domestic cattle, an abundant commodity on private state and nation lands, in a national park unit?
About one-third of the 71,000-acre national coastline is designated a “pastoral zone,” where 24 ranches graze cattle on 28,000 acres of the park, as well as 10,000 acres in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
In addition, buildings, houses and other structures used by pastoralists – but owned by the public – are found on the national coastline. We, the taxpayers, pay for the maintenance of the fences and roads on these properties. The NPS (meaning the taxpayers) receives about $ 500,000 in income from ranch leases – less than half of what it spends on maintaining them. When you consider the cost of housing in Marin County, the 24 ranchers receive a substantial government subsidy.
This rental problem with ranchers came to a head when drought conditions from 2012 to 2014 killed half of the elk population that was trapped behind a fence built to keep the elk confined to a small patch. 2000-acre waterless waterfront. Another 150 moose died last year, and environmental activists fear the 2021 drought will again endanger the fenced herd. Tule’s native elk are sequestered over 2,000 acres, while domestic livestock are free on a total of 38,000 acres.