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Have Your Say about Ranching in Our Point Reyes National Seashore

The issue of ranching in Point Reyes National Seashore is a microcosm of what is wrong with special interest politics and the misguided policies that help prop up the few at an enormous cost to the rest of us—the owners of this unique National Park.  The proposal put forth undermines the long-held principle, and law that supports it, that our National Parks shall be managed for the protection of their natural wonders for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.

We need to send a strong message to the Park Service and our representatives in Congress that Point Reyes National Seashore belongs to all of us and should be managed for the greater public good and not a few commercial ranching interests.

To say nothing about the plan to start removing or even killing Tule elk because they eat grass and may compete with commercial ranching, or the fact that the cattle and dairy operations continue to pollute Drake’s Estero and degrade essential wildlife habitat for threatened and endangered species, these ranching operations also make little economic sense.

The Park Service has found only about 100 jobs in Marin tied to ranching operations at Point Reyes,[1] whereas 2.5 million yearly visitors contribute over $100 million to the local economy and provide long-term sustainable employment to roughly 1,244 people, representing $54 million in labor income in 2017.[2]

Dairy operations have the largest environmental impact.  But Marin’s dairy industry continues to slump due to milk overproduction and changes in public consumption habits, as we adopt healthier and more environmentally-sustainable lifestyles, which could result in the dairies’ demise.[3]

The current proposal forces us to continue subsidizing dairy operations on public lands as ranchers are charged significantly lower grazing fees in Point Reyes than on nearby private lands.  So we are propping up an industry in a National Park that dumps more milk into a slumping market to the detriment of nearby private dairy operations.  This makes no sense.

To make matters worse, Congressman Huffman is pushing revisionist legislation, asserting “Congress’ long-standing intent that working dairies and ranches continue to be authorized to operate.”[4]  Huffman’s legislation shamefully misleads the public.  When Congress authorized buying the ranchers’ lands in 1978, it made clear that ranchers could only reserve “a right of use and occupancy for a definite term of not more than twenty-five years, or, in lieu thereof, for a term ending at the death of the owner or the death of his or her spouse, whichever is later.”[5] Congress never expressed the intent that dairies and ranches continue operating indefinitely, which would be inconsistent with the Park Service’s mission and the Act that created the Point Reyes.

Even if there is a desire to preserve the historical aspects of ranching at Point Reyes, it should be based on historical terms rather than the modern industrial operations the ranches have become.  Current operations hardly resemble the 19th century ranches that earned cultural and historical designations.  Rather, these operations have become a modern unsightly industrial blight, blocking the public’s access and use, degrading lands and waters, and limiting our management options.

The Act that created the National Seashore envisioned that these lands—our lands—would eventually be restored and become part of America’s natural legacy; a unique coastal ecosystem found only at Point Reyes.

Please weigh in by November 30 on the current misguided proposals and ask that commercial ranching operations in our Point Reyes National Seashore be phased out.  Submit comments at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/POREGMPA, and copies to Rep. Huffman, Sen. Feinstein, and Sen. Harris.

Notes.

[1] Economic Impacts Study, Point Reyes National Seashore, FINAL REPORT, National Park Service (available at https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/management/upload/planning_economicimpacts_final_061211.pdf).

[2] See https://headwaterseconomics.org/dataviz/national-park-service-units/, then select “Point Reyes NS” from “Filter by National Park Service Unit”; data from 2017; see also: https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/news/newsreleases_20140303_pore_tourism_economic_benefits_2012.htm

[3] See http://tinyurl.com/y8jlluea(Sept. 7, 2018, North Bay Business Journal); http://tinyurl.com/y8me7lg3(June 22, 2018, Marin IJ).

[4]H.R. 6687.

[5]16 U.S.C. § 459c-5(a).

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