Marin Voice: We can no longer afford ranchers in our national seashore
By Susan Ives, Opinion, Marin Independent Journal (CA)
Sep 5, 2019
Ives is a writer, communications consultant and co-founder, with other national park advocates, of Restore Point Reyes Seashore
Two recent United Nations reports cite greenhouse gases and land conversion for cattle grazing as among the leading causes of two existential threats: the climate crisis and unprecedented species extinction. The reports call upon governments, industry and individuals to take action before it’s too late.
As these alarming studies were making headlines, the National Park Service released its draft plan for grazing cattle at Marin’s two national parks, the Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Unfortunately, the park service’s “preferred alternative” for these 28,000 public acres is the most far-reaching and damaging of the six alternatives the NPS chose to consider. Fortunately, as a result of a 2016 lawsuit, the public has the right to comment on ranching for the first time in the seashore’s history.
NPS’s Alternative B, would give 24 ranchers in the Pt. Reyes seashore grazing rights for up to 20 years; permission to add row crops, pigs, sheep, goats and chickens to the nearly 6,000 beef and dairy cows the currently run in the park; and calls for killing native Tule Elk that eat grass reserved for cattle, thereby cutting into the ranchers’ bottom line.
The ranches in the park are considered a “historic resource.” This is true of a few buildings that predate the park, but “historic” doesn’t apply to ranching operations, which have become supersized since the seashore was established in 1962. Ranching today is on an industrial scale. Although millions of park visitors drive past the muddy feedlots and tiny calves housed in plastic huts along the road to lighthouse — the Seashore’s most popular destination — there’s no interpretation of the ranches or how they pertain to the park. The park’s 3,500 dairy cows add to a surplus of milk that’s driving dairy prices to historic lows. Beef consumption is declining, but an estimated 2,500 beef cattle also graze here—highly subsidized at public expense.
Ranchers in the park pay no property taxes and are granted below-market rents and discounted grazing fees. Improvements to roads and buildings that support ranching are maintained by the NPS, despite its dwindling budget.
Economics aside, numerous NPS reports and the current draft EIS document the cattle’s impacts to native plants, birds and wildlife and pollution to streams, bays and marine ecosystems. These impacts get scant attention from the NPS management, which lacks staff to oversee the ranches or remedy their damage to the environment.
Native Tule elk here exist in no other national park. Once believed extinct, the reintroduction of the elk is a case study in species recovery. Yet, cows outnumber elk 10 to one at the seashore, and under the preferred alternative the elk that trespass on land leased for cattle will be shot. NPS says it will kill 10-15 elk annually to prevent “conflicts” and shore up ranchers’ profits.
Further, habitat loss takes a toll, including on dozens of threatened and endangered plant and animal species. Under Alternative B, ranchers can add crops and small livestock to their operations — certain to create conflicts when a bobcat or coyote nabs a chicken.
Marin is rightly proud of our agricultural heritage. A growing number of local producers embrace “best practices” such as allowing pastures to recover to sequester carbon, installing wildlife-friendly fences, and keeping cattle out of creeks and ponds. But Seashore ranchers and the NPS have not.
Public lands throughout the West are under mounting pressure from drilling, logging, mining and grazing. Point Reyes National Seashore is not exempt from this privatization. In fact, it is a target. Commercial ranching here puts other national parks in the cross hairs, further endangering the very places that offer us a chance for restoration — and hope.
The UN warns that a million species worldwide are at risk of extinction — many within decades. Millions of people will soon face food shortages, displacement and other existential threats from the climate crisis. If we are to meet these challenges we need to face reality and demand change. We can’t afford business as usual. Ranching at Point Reyes isn’t sensible. It’s sentiment...
more, including link to comment on NPS draft plan