Choice of Superintendent Signals Ranching Reigns at the Seashore
As the Trump Administration continues to shuffle National Park Service personnel, Craig Kenkel has been named the Superintendent at Point Reyes National Seashore, replacing Superintendent Cecily Muldoon and a parade of Acting Superintendents.
Kenkel, a 37-year veteran of the NPS, grew up on a farm in Iowa and gained cultural and historic expertise working at Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which he supervised since 2014, according to the NPS press release. Kenkel’s appointment signals that the NPS will continue to prioritize private ranching over the restoration and public use of the West Coast’s only national seashore.
“This was an opportunity to reimagine the park following decades of destructive cattle grazing,” says Deborah Moskowitz, president of the Resource Renewal Institute, a Mill Valley nonprofit that challenged the NPS plan to permit 20-year leases for ranchers at the Seashore. “Sacrificing a national park to special interests is consistent with the Trump Administration’s policies to exploit public lands, despite overwhelming public opposition.”
Cuyahoga National Park is an outlier among national parks, an amalgamation of public lands, businesses, natural areas, and manmade tourist attractions. Named a National Recreation Area in 1974, the 35,000-acre park along the Cuyahoga River includes a former Superfund site. What it shares in common with Point Reyes is proximity to a large urban population and heavily subsidized agriculture within national park boundaries.
The vision for establishing Poing Reyes National Seashore was to preserve a swath of undeveloped coast so that people of all races and incomes might experience the grandeur of wild nature in a national park barely an hour’s drive from an urban metropolis. The Seashore has never charged an entrance fee.
After Congress enacted the Point Reyes Act in 1962, ranchers willingly sold their land to the National Park Service for $380 million in today’s dollars and were granted up to 25 years or until the death of the rancher to move out of the national park. However, the ranchers’ descendants claim that Congress meant for them to remain in the park forever. There is no such language in the park’s enabling legislation.
“It’s a stretch to believe that the National Park Service paid two dozen ranchers millions of dollars for their land so that this national park could remain their own private Idaho,” says Moskowitz.
The ranchers and their political allies have been setting the priorities at Point Reyes for decades. Notwithstanding that the national park is outside its jurisdiction, the County of Marin has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the ranchers, and the NPS spends twice as much to service the ranch leases than ranches return to the NPS in revenues. Ranching at the Seashore contributes about $16 million annually to County coffers. Tourism at Point Reyes National Seashore, which attracts 2.5 million visitors annually, generates about $128 million for the County.
Resource Renewal Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, and Western Watersheds Project sued the NPS over closed-door negotiations that enabled ranchers to remain in the park nearly 60 years after they agreed to leave. A settlement agreement required the NPS to conduct its first-ever Environmental Impact Statement on ranching at the Seashore, and permitted public comment to the question of whether ranching in the park would continue. Of the 7,600 public comments the NPS received, 91 percent opposed the NPS’s plan for continued ranching and killing native Tule elk to ensure forage for the cattle, which outnumber elk 10 to 1. Environmental impacts from ranching include harms to native wildlife, including threatened and endangered species; water pollution; and overgrazing. Cattle are the Seashore’s top source of greenhouse gas emissions.
At both Point Reyes and Cuyahoga, private agricultural operations have been elevated over other park purposes. Cultural interpretation–including thousands of years of indigenous habitation–visitor services, scientific research, habitat restoration and basic maintenance go unfunded, while some 28,000 acres of public land have been appropriated for a privileged few.
What You Can Do
Watch the film “Killing of a Native Species,” sign the petition, and share it on your social media accounts. Take action here: www.restoreptreyesseashore.org/elkfilm
Visit RestorePtReyesSeashore.org to learn more.
Make a tax-deductible donation.
Thank you for your interest and activism to preserve Point Reyes National Seashore.