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California Coastal Commission votes 5-to-4 to approve controversial ranching plan for Point Reyes National Seashore–with conditions

California Coastal Commission votes 5-to-4 to approve controversial ranching plan for Point Reyes National Seashore–with conditions

The California Coastal Commission narrowly approved the consistency determination regarding the National Park Service (NPS) plans for ranching at Point Reyes National Seashore.  The Commissioner approved, by 5-4 vote the conditional concurrence recommended by Commission staff with additional amendments. Three additional amendments were unanimously adopted by the Commissioners.

Two amendments were moved by Commissioner Carly Hart. The first amendment to the conditional concurrence requires the NPS to provide the Commission with a water quality strategy within one year. The strategy would be subject to public review, a public hearing, and approval by the Commissioners. The NPS would submit the strategy to the Commission prior to NPS issuing any lease extensions to the Seashore ranchers.

A second amendment, also unanimously adopted by the Commissioners, requires the NPS to report on the status of the water quality within five years rather than ten years as had been recommended by the Commission staff. Failure to show water quality improvement could trigger additional intervention by the Coastal Commission.

A third amendment, moved by Commissioner Mike Wilson, commits the NPS to prepare a climate action strategy, to be presented to the Commission next year along with the water quality strategy.

The NPS objected to the amendments as initially proposed but as the negotiations continued Seashore Supervisor Craig Kenkel ultimately agreed to provide the Commissioners a vaguer version of the “strategies” requested, within the timeline approved by the Commissioners.

California Coastal Commission reviewed the NPS plan for ranchers for consistency with the state Coastal Management Act. Its “conditional concurrence” is contingent on the NPS addressing chronic water pollution from cattle manure. Other proposed amendments narrowly failed. A motion by Commissioner Hart to disallow the diversification of livestock in the park failed to overcome the objections raised by Commissioner Katie Rice, a Marin County Supervisor.

Commissioner Dayna Bochco introduced another narrowly defeated amendment, also opposed by Commissioner Rice. It would have prevented the killing of the Seashore’s free-roaming Tule elk herd as called for in the NPS’s plan. The failed amendment sought to acknowledge the CCC’s jurisdiction over the Seashore’s tule elk which, Commissioner Bochco claimed, could possibly migrate into the Coastal Zone if the NPS and ranchers didn’t haze the elk or limit their movement via the 300+ miles of barbed-wire fences found in the heart of the Seashore.

Commenting on the Park’s plan, Commissioner Dayna Bochco stated, “Everything is based upon how it affects the cattle. This was not a report that was based on how it affects the environment.”  It is a “cruel management plan for the elk.”

The Coastal Commission’s Special Meeting on the Point Reyes Management Plan Amendment went on for nearly twelve hours. Conservation organizations, scientists, ranchers, and concerned individuals testified—the majority speaking against continued ranching at the national seashore.  Only three organizations—the Marin Conservation League, the Seashore Ranchers Association, and the California Dairy Producers—spoke in favor of the NPS ranch plan. Opponents included the National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, Center for Biological Diversity, In Defense of Animals, Resource Renewal Institute, Western Watershed Project, Marin Audubon, SPAWN, ForElk, Watershed Alliance of Marin, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, among others.

“Although we are disappointed in the outcome of the hearing, the mismanagement of the national seashore was on full view. The nearly twelve hours of testimony and deliberations demonstrated the public’s growing concern over the impacts of cattle grazing to the park and hundreds of struggling species like the magnificent native tule elk,” said Deborah Moskowitz, President of the Resource Renewal Institute.

By law, the state Coastal Commission’s authority over federal lands is limited to “spillover impacts” to the Coastal Zone. Testimony focused on the NPS’s lack of data to support its plan to extend 20-year leases to long-time ranchers in the Seashore, the proposed plan’s impacts on wildlife, long-standing water quality issues, and environmental justice—particularly in regard to Native Americans, who occupied the Seashore for millennia before ranchers appropriated their homeland.

Notable was the NPS’s staunch defense of ongoing ranching, which it views as a cultural resource. The NPS plan allows for the diversification of domestic livestock and the killing of native tule elk to ensure the profitability of the ranches as consumer demand for meat and dairy declines.

Ranchers on the Point Reyes peninsula sold their land to the NPS nearly 60 years ago. Their descendants continue to lease land in the Seashore and graze some 5,500 beef and dairy cattle on these public lands.

“This controversial Point Reyes plan generated more interest than any other item that has come before the California Coastal Commission, and all but 12 of the record 44,939 public comments opposed this plan. It’s clear that the American people want the National Seashore they were promised–one where wildlife, clean water, and climate don’t play second fiddle to beef and dairy interests,” said Chance Cutrano, Director of Programs at the Resource Renewal Institute.

“The additional conditions and timelines that the Coastal Commission has required will provide the public with more opportunities to hold the National Park Service accountable. This is far from over.”

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