Point Reyes Settlement a Victory for Our National Parks
Last year, RRI filed a federal lawsuit over the Point Reyes National Seashore’s failure to operate under a timely general management plan.
The Park Service’s plan for the Seashore has not been updated for 37 years. This week, a federal court delivered a victory to our National Seashore and, by extension, to all of our national parks by approving a settlement agreement committing the Park Service to produce a new general management plan by 2021.
As a small, frugal, environmental organization, we are unaccustomed to suing anyone. But after the Park Service belatedly revealed that in 2014 half of the native Tule elk at the Point Reyes National Seashore—some 250 animals—had died, we reluctantly took legal action.
RRI’s founder, Huey Johnson, had a prominent role in adding thousands of acres to the Point Reyes National Seashore in the 1970s while working for Trust for Public Land, an organization he co-founded. The added parklands were intended for public recreation and to preserve the wildlife and natural resources at the Seashore. Instead, the Park Service leased those lands to cattle ranchers.
Point Reyes is the only national park where Tule elk live. California’s native Tule elk were once presumed extinct, but a few survivors were reintroduced to the National Seashore in 1978. Conflicts arose when the elk grazed on land leased for cattle. As a result, the elk were fenced into some 2,000 acres in the park. It was this confined herd that suffered the drastic losses, as a record drought diminished available water and forage. By contrast, during the same period, the number of free-roaming elk in the park increased.
Our federal lawsuit, in which we were joined by the Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project, questioned the Park Service’s management practices that had prioritized cattle over native wildlife. We asked the court to require the Park Service to update its general management plan before extending 20-year grazing leases that the Seashore ranchers demanded.
Last updated in 1980, the Point Reyes Seashore's general management plan did not foresee such challenges as climate change, nor anticipate the huge increase in visitors seeking recreation at the Seashore—some 2.5 million annually. As a result of our lawsuit, the Point Reyes National Seashore will now base its modernized plan on an assessment of environmental impacts. Instead of the closed door discussions that shaped the park's policies, the lawsuit ensures there will be a transparent process in which public comment is sought and considered.
This is a victory for the parks and the people. At a time of mounting pressure on our parks and public lands from special interests, a crucial voice—the public’s—must be heard.
We are grateful to a great legal team, the Idaho-based Advocates for the West and San Francisco’s Keker and Van Nest, and we’re thankful to our many supporters who cheered us on knowing that our lawsuit would be unpopular on our home-turf—a community that values both its parks and its agriculture.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who vastly expanded the National Parks System during the hardships of the Great Depression, said, “There is nothing so American as our national parks…The Parks are the outward symbol of the great human principle…that the country belongs to the people.”
RRI is honored to support and sponsor the work of the following organizations:
Protect Granite Chief, Daniel Heagarty, Executive Director.
Protect Granite Chief, https://protectgranitechief.wordpress.com, is a citizen activist campaign to defend the Granite Chief Wilderness Area from private development interests. Congress designated Granite Chief as “Wilderness” in 1984; the highest level of conservation provided for Federal lands. Now, this pristine area is threatened with the construction of a gondola and related development within the area along the Five Lakes Boundary. If allowed to proceed this proposal would substantively degrade the Granite Chief Wilderness Area, harming and diminishing this national Public Trust resource. A full-scale citizen effort calling attention to the environmental and public safety consequences of the development is underway.
Public Trust Alliance, Michael Warburton, Executive Director
The Public Trust Alliance, www.publictrustalliance.org, uses the legal framework provided by the Public Trust Doctrine to protect and defend our natural resources for future generations. The Alliance works with communities to assert their right to ecologically sustainable and socially just management of resources, while holding public agencies accountable as trustees of the public’s land, air and water. The Alliance focuses on long-term commitments to larger projects, such as the Monterey County effort to develop and implement infrastructure for an alternative, regional water supply to stop dewatering regional rivers & streams, as well as providing immediate assistance & information to community groups at various stages of their advocacy.
Californians for Western Wilderness, Michael Painter, Executive Director
“CalUWild”, www.caluwild.org, is a citizens group founded to secure protection for the remaining wilderness areas and other public lands in the western United States. The organization works to facilitate citizen participation in administrative and legislative actions, creating a constituency in California for wilderness across the West. A current strategy seeks to protect public lands through National Monument designation. In partnership with the Greater Canyons Lands Coalition and Native American tribal leaders, CalUWild is working to permanently protect these regions from oil and gas development, and for the creation of Bears Ears National Monument.
Washoe Meadows Community, Lynne Paulson, Chair
The Community’s decade-long fight to thwart California State Parks’ stripping Washoe Meadows State Park’s legislative protection in order to expand a golf course into its ecologically fragile parkland exemplifies the tenacity essential to Defense of Place campaigns. The Community most recently prevailed in an April 2015 lawsuit when the Alameda Superior Court ordered the State’s Environmental Impact Report to be vacated. The State has appealed that decision. The Community is proceeding with positive proposals that could bring Upper Truckee River restoration; an innovative golf course by a world-renowned designer; and recreational opportunities to spare the park’s rare fens, meadows, forests, cultural sites, and streams that support Rainbow, Eastern Brook, and Brown trout.