Investigations into Lease Violations Pile Up on the Eve of the Decision for Ranchings’ Future at Point Reyes National Seashore
“They’re just trying to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.”
– Seashore Rancher William Nunes
Life is getting sticky for the beef and dairy ranchers operating within Point Reyes National Seashore. They’ve taken to blaming their problems on the activists that have effectively stalled what the ranchers clearly thought was a slam dunk for their forever-ranching in this national park.
In the final days before the federal ruling that will determine the fate of the park, federal and state investigations continue to mount as park visitors uncover and report new lease violations across the Seashore.
Gino Lucchesi Jr. and Clayton Lucchesi, lessee’s of Home Ranch, made headlines last week when birders happened upon a bulldozer that had cleared a path for their cattle—cutting trees, destroying a creek bank, and depositing sediment into a perennial creek that drains into Drakes Estero. Resource Renewal Institute researchers discovered that this sensitive riparian habitat supports two federally listed species—Central California Coast steelhead and California red-legged frogs. The work was done without the park’s permission and in violation of the ranch’s lease, park officials said.
Last week, things also got sticky for Mr. Nunes, whose family has leased ranches in the Seashore for 59 years. Park visitors discovered an enormous dump at E Ranch and reported it to the National Park Service, which claims it was unaware. It is now under investigation as a possible toxic waste site.
The Nunes’s dairy supplies milk to the Straus Family Creamery. Straus should hope that we, the public, won’t take notice of the toll its alleged “sustainable” products take on our park and its wildlife. Its website reads:
“Sustainability is a founding principle and core value of Straus Family Creamery. Organic farming practices are the basis of our sustainability efforts. These practices promote good land stewardship, animal welfare and help sustain family farms and communities. These practices are essential to help support responsible farming for future generations.”
Its suppliers haven’t gotten the message.
Stickiest for both Seashore ranchers and the NPS may be the release of a recorded interview posted to YouTube, in which a former employee of the Mendoza Dairy, located at B Ranch, describes the intolerable conditions that he and his family endured as ranch workers. It suggests that other vulnerable agricultural families at the park also face poverty-level wages, unsafe housing, and no health benefits. Read Resource Renewal Institute’s letter to Secretary Debra Haaland concerning the welfare of ranch laborers here.
These are just the latest in a flood of recent violations that have come to light since the revelations of dangerous levels of water pollution in creeks and the deaths of the iconic Tule elk that the NPS allows to starve behind a fence to preserve forage in the park for the cattle.
Such wanton violations in plain sight suggest that the NPS staff should get out of the office and take a look around the park. Despite the worst drought on record and no current data on the status of groundwater in the park, the NPS has been busily preparing to redevelop springs and enlarge stock ponds needed to support the new ranching plan, which permits more livestock and crops on the ranches.
The decision whether to perpetuate the ranches, phase them out or something in between, rests with the Secretary of the Interior and is due out on Monday, September 13—59 years to the day that the legislation was signed that established this beloved and beleaguered national seashore.
On Sunday, September 12, park advocates will gather at the Bear Valley Visitor Center in honor of the creation of the Seashore to demand that it be restored to the public it was meant to serve. It is past time for the Park Service to break its ties with the culture of exploitation at Point Reyes – both human and environmental – and return to its true mission.