Resourcde Renewal Institute (RRI)

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.”  

Press Release July 12, 2017
Conservationists, Ranchers, Park Service Agree to Plan to Address Point Reyes Ranching, Elk Issues

Resources
Frequently Asked Questions on RRI’s legal action.
List of endangered species at Point Reyes National Seashore
Seashore Ranchers’ Letter to Park Superintendent
June 2, 2014
Settlement of Litigation on Management of Ranching Frequently Asked Questions
Senator Dianne Feinstein's letter of support for diversification of agriculture at Point Reyes
Background
Marin Independent Journal, April 23, 2016
"Point Reyes National Seashore deserves a plan"
By Susan Ives
Takepart.com, February 4, 2016
"In Parts of the West, Grazing Cattle Are Making the
Drought Worse"

By Tove Danovich
Marin Independent Journal, January 20, 2016
"Marin Voice: Cows shouldn’t drive Point Reyes Park Plan"
by Huey D. Johnson
Marin Independent Journal, April 29, 2015
"Elk deaths in Point Reyes — the Tragedy Must Stop"

by Huey D. Johnson
Reuters, April 20, 2015
"Drought causes Cattle and Elk to Lock Horns Over Pasture"
by Mary Papenfuss
San Francisco Chronicle, October 11, 2014
"Reintroduced Tule Elk Compete with Cattle at Pt Reyes"

by Peter Fimrite
National Parks and Conservation Association, July 3, 2012 "Commercial Beef Cattle in America’s National Parks: Are You Serious?"
by James D. Nations
San Francisco Examiner, January 14, 1977
"2,300 Acres Bought for Marin Parks"
Learn more about this precedent-setting case from one of the many recent articles to hit the news:

LA Times:
Conservationists, National Park Service and Point Reyes ranchers reach settlement on disputed land

San Francisco Chronicle:
Ranchers allowed 5-year extension to graze cattle in Point Reyes National Seashore

Marin Independent Journal:
Point Reyes ranching threatened in lawsuit settlement

Point Reyes legal settlement a victory for national parks everywhere

Associated Press:
Settlement Reached Over Cattle Grazing on Point Reyes

National Park Service:
National Park Service Announces Settlement of Litigation on Management of Ranching at Point Reyes National Seashore

Courthouse News:
Environmentalists, Ranchers Settle Point Reyes Grazing Dispute

Santa Rosa Press Democrat:
A Welcome Truce in Point Reyes Ranching Battle

Advocates for the West:
Good News for Point Reyes National Seashore

Map of Point Reyes Ranches                                           Eric Simons/BayNature magazine/baynature.org


Poll Shows Growing Support for Public Land
January 11, 2016

A new opinion poll finds strong public support for national public lands.

  • “Most Westerners in this poll favor greater protection and sensible use of the open lands and national treasures that define the region.”

  • 58 percent of respondents oppose giving state governments control over national public lands.

  • 60 percent of respondents oppose selling significant holdings of public lands like national forests to reduce the budget deficit.

  • “Ahead of the 2016 elections, 75 percent of respondents say issues involving public lands, waters, and wildlife are an important factor in deciding whether to support an elected public official, compared to other issues like health care and education.”

Poll by The Colorado College, Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, and Public Opinion Strategies.


National Parks with Livestock Grazing
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (CO)
  • Buffalo National River (AR)
  • Capitol Reef National Park (UT)
  • City of Rocks National Reserve (ID)
  • Coronado National Memorial (AZ)
  • Death Valley National Park (CA)
  • Dinosaur National Monument (CO)
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (UT)
  • Grand Teton National Park (WY)
  • Lake Mead National Recreation Area (NV)
  • Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (WA)
  • Mojave National Preserve (CA)
  • Point Reyes National Seashore (CA)



  • Drought impacts on ranchlands. Drought impacts on ranchlands.
  • Cattle manure slurry is spread in the park. The cattle manure is a likely source of Johne's disease, which NPS says it has found in some Tule elk. Cattle manure slurry is spread in the park. The cattle manure is a likely source of Johne's disease, which NPS says it has found in some Tule elk.
  • Cows at feeding trough. Cows at feeding trough.
  • Dairy ranch at Point Reyes. Dairy ranch at Point Reyes.
  • Signs like these appear throughout Point Reyes. Signs like these appear throughout Point Reyes.
  • An independent report for the NPS cites mowing impacts on several species of Point Reyes birds. An independent report for the NPS cites mowing impacts on several species of Point Reyes birds. Song Sparrow.
  • Red-winged Blackbird Red-winged Blackbird
  • Myrtle's Silverspot, an endangered species. Myrtle's Silverspot, an endangered species.
  • California Red-legged frog, a threatened species. California Red-legged frog, a threatened species.
  • Tule elk. Tule elk.


... 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.”

—National Park Service Organic Act, 1916

     
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