Point Reyes debate more than ‘philosophical’
In an article published in the IJ (“Suit targets elk, ranch plan,” Jan. 11), the Marin Conservation League’s Nona Dennis implies that our lawsuit is unwarranted, based on nothing more than “philosophical differences” about the future of ranching in Point Reyes National Seashore. In fact, the complaint was filed because the National Park Service’s General Management Plan Amendment clearly violates multiple federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act. It also makes a mockery of the park service’s Organic Act and the Point Reyes Act that entrust it with preserving the area unimpaired for public enjoyment. The plan was roundly opposed in public comments and by scientists, park advocates, environmental groups, social equity groups, animal rights activists and the Coast Miwok, whose historic stewardship is sidelined by the commercial ranching that dominates cultural interpretation. Officials are ignoring the public and the experts, relying instead on an inadequate environmental impact statement presenting almost no baseline data for making critical decisions about allocating water and other resources, determining viable elk herd size or limiting the spread of infectious cattle diseases to wildlife. Dennis suggests that agencies “will work to resolve many of the impacts caused by ranching over time.” But the plan shows almost nothing of how the park service intends to comply with federal laws, remedy environmental damage and prevent further degradation as we face the climate crisis. Instead, it authorizes renewable 20-year leases and expands ranchers’ privileges to include row crops and livestock diversification, mobile slaughter facilities, tourist venues and — for the first time — the killing of Drakes Beach tule elk. Clearly, these are serious, far-reaching matters of law, public policy and environmental protection. I think the District Court will hold the National Park Service to account. — Deborah Moskowitz, San Anselmo
Those opposing ranches deserve some description
A press release about a new lawsuit against the National Park Service describes the bloc of people with the most representation, standing and passion to restore Point Reyes National Seashore. Unfortunately, those descriptions were left out of the IJ’s recent article (“Lawsuit: Point Reyes elk, ranch plan violates federal laws,” Jan. 11).
Many people protested the National Park Service’s environmental impact statement with letters, in meetings and at rallies. Further insight into the players and legal action would have been enhanced with the inclusion of the following information:
• 91.4% of public comments submitted on the plan opposed ranching on the Point Reyes National Seashore, while only 2.3% approved of allowing cattle ranching to continue.
• More than 90% of public comments opposed ranching and killing native tule elk. The park service adopted the plan in September 2021, ignoring many public comments and coalition letters.
• Officials refused to consider whether private ranching operations in the park damage Coast Miwok archeological sites. Park leaders discarded a proposal to protect those sites in 2015, instead adopting a plan that protects “historic ranches.” It should be noted that the Coast Miwok Tribal Council, lineal descendants of the original inhabitants of Point Reyes, formally objected to the Point Reyes ranching and elk-killing plan.
— Nancy Graalman, Calistoga
Defense of Point Reyes ranches missed big picture
In her recent Marin Voice in defense of ranches for Point Reyes National Seashore (“Attacks on Point Reyes decision ignore benefits of ranches,” Dec. 20”), Judy Teichman criticizes the lawsuit “that led to preparation of a full environmental impact statement.” That statement is puzzling. Preparation of an environmental impact statement should be standard practice to assess environmental risks of proposed actions. From my perspective, the lawsuit did nothing more than remind the National Park Service of this responsibility. Actually, we should all be grateful since it spurred the National Park Service to conduct long-neglected analyses and make these available to both agency leaders and the public. For example, Point Reyes officials had not evaluated the impact of ranching on water quality until the public raised the issue in comments on the draft impact statement. This resulted in an appendix in the final statement documenting very high concentrations of bacteria which are a risk to human health. Because this information was not provided in the draft impact statement, the public had no opportunity to comment or react to it. Hopefully, park officials will accept their responsibility and eliminate the discharge of cattle feces to Point Reyes streams and estuaries. As for Teichman’s comment about using science — park officials did employ “sound science.” By their own analysis, the selected alternative to extend ranching would continue to degrade not only water but also air and soil quality. Furthermore, the presence of ranches prevents most visitors from fully enjoying sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean that are only accessible by navigating barbed wire and electric fences that surround 30% of the park that is leased to beef and dairy operators. Visitors to Point Reyes are an enormous boon to the local economy — we should encourage more of them to visit what Teichman correctly calls “our beloved park.” — Elizabeth Dodge, Berkeley
Lawsuit is best way to fight on behalf of elk
The most recent annual National Park Service count of the rare tule elk in its “care” inside the fenced “reserve” at Point Reyes National Seashore is 221. In 2019 the count was 445 elk. In just two years, more than 50% of the rare, supposedly protected (by virtue of being inside a national park unit) elk have died.
If you were an elk, you’d want out of the park’s drought-stricken, thus deadly, “reserve.” You would want access to the park’s full 71,000 acres. But 28,000 acres are fenced off to elk — and also human visitors — in favor of private beef and dairy operations.
I believe there is only one reason for the fence: Private cattle ranchers have successfully lobbied the National Park Service to do their bidding. The result is lethally confining a few hundred elk to let 5,000 cows pollute the park.
Like the first lawsuit, the second against the National Park Service by three prominent environmental organizations seeks to enforce existing laws and regulations ignored for decades (“Lawsuit: Point Reyes elk, ranch plan violates federal laws,” Jan. 11). It will end the decimation of tule elk and protect Point Reyes National Seashore from the ongoing degradations of cattle operations.
Ranching’s massive environmental damage is unavoidable; methane and feces are inherent in cattle operations. Organic or not, grass-fed or grain-fed, “local” or “factory farmed” — these distinctions are irrelevant to methane emissions, huge water and food inputs, huge fecal and urine outputs.
The industry’s latest pushback includes sophistries like “regenerative cattle ranching” and “sustainable dairying.” They are oxymorons, like “clean coal.”
This should be an easy call for educated, supposedly environmentalist Bay Area residents. If we can’t put an end to polluting, methane gas-emitting cattle operations in a national park, we are in trouble.
— Jack Gescheidt, San Rafael
Pt. Reyes Seashore should be natural
EDITOR: Your Argus article (“Lawsuit targets Pt. Reyes dairies,” Jan. 13, 2022) misses the point that advocates want to restore Point Reyes National Seashore to a more natural and beautiful place. PRNS is public land with unique elk and marine mammals. The plan since the 1960s was to remove the dairies and ranches and their fences to allow visitors and wildlife to roam freely. But wealthy ranchers used their political power to change the agreement to stay there, now with leases for another 20 years, despite public opinion. Robert Raven
I am writing in regard to Judy Teichman’s recent Marin Voice commentary (“Attacks on Point Reyes decision ignore benefits of ranches,” Dec. 20).
While Teichman reports that thousands of letters received by the park service during the public process were “in support of allowing the elk to roam free,” she doesn’t mention thousands of letters calling out the egregious environmental costs that can be traced right back to ranching. There is not just one single issue when it comes to people wanting these private ranches off our public lands.
Teichman comes up with a doozy when she states that the ranches act as protection against pot farms. This is really stretching things, in my opinion, as that same thinking could justify cutting down all wilderness just to keep out those pesky pot farmers. Ultimately, I would bet that rangers joined the park service in the first place to maintain our wilderness — not to manage ranches.
Lastly, the environmental impact study presented by the National Park Service, which she claims supports ranching, includes a list of horrendous grievances against the business of ranching in our park. It details the 24,000 tons of greenhouse gas emitted annually; 78 million gallons of water used (118 Olympic size swimming pools) and, with that, the very significant negative impacts on water quality; the invasive plants that are causing whole native plant communities to disappear — the erosion (not control) that these invasive species bring, and the suffering and killing of our endemic tule elk.
It appears that the latest ranching plan was made despite the findings of the impact statement.
— Lonna Richmond, Muir Beach
Grazing livestock not beneficial to Point Reyes
After reading extensive scientific research, I take issue with several important assertions expressed in Judy Teichman’s recent Marin Voice commentary (“Attacks on Point Reyes decision ignores benefits of ranches,” Dec. 20).
Additionally, I think she made a serious mistake by belittling those who oppose the decision by managers of Point Reyes National Seashore to continue to allow ranching in the park indefinitely. She is calling them bitter people and implied that they are anti-science foot-stompers. I’d say that she didn’t take the time to read or even skim the comments sent to the National Park Service, many written by scientists.
Teichman asserts that those opposed to the plan “ignore the thorough research” in the proposal’s environmental impact statement. Apparently, she did not read that either, because it clearly documents how the chosen alternative was the worst one for impacts on the environment.
Regarding agriculture in Marin County, Teichman states that carbon farming (which uses composting) is a potent strategy for reducing carbon emissions. Considerable recent research shows that carbon sequestration in farming and ranching through composting is unlikely to be effective. The research cites decreasing carbon uptake over time, increasing costs per unit of carbon sequestered over time, insufficient biomass in many farming situations, often insufficient nitrogen and phosphorus on site, increasing carbon release as temperatures rise and technical constraints, as well as issues with cost.
Teichman then asserts that grazing allows native plants to grow. In reality, grazing reduces species diversity enormously, that being the purpose of monoculture systems. She even fails to discuss the greatest adverse impact of agriculture, which is on water quality. Agriculture is the largest source of water pollution in the world, the U.S. and California.
It is now believed that we must reduce the amount of land devoted to agriculture globally in order to reduce the rapid destruction of ecosystems everywhere and the consequent loss of species.
— Bob Johnston, Inverness
Benefits of livestock for birds oversimplified
I am a frequent park visitor to the Point Reyes National Seashore. I spend tourist dollars in Marin and Sonoma counties on my trips at hotels, restaurants and stores. I have an issue with Judy Teichman’s recently published Marin Voice commentary claiming universal benefits of livestock grazing on these public lands to birds (“Attacks on Point Reyes decision ignores benefits of ranches,” Dec. 20).
As a biologist, I know grassland birds are at risk. But this opinion oversimplifies the picture. Many grassland birds need taller grass, not heavily grazed by livestock. This includes western meadowlarks and grasshopper sparrows. Meadowlarks need taller grass to build their grass nests. Grasshopper sparrows are rare because of the lack of tall grass patches in California.
Other birds favor short grass, such as horned larks. But short grass can be created by tule elk grazing and cultural burn programs and prescribed fires. Commercial livestock grazing is not the only disturbance regime that can create shortgrass patches for certain grassland bird species. Other birds require coyote brush mixing with grass, such as white-crowned sparrows, Bewick’s wrens, California thrashers, California towhees and many others.A mosaic of short grass, tall grass and shrubs, in my observations, provides the highest level of bird diversity with a varied mosaic of habitat types. Livestock also bring unwanted birds, such as brown-headed cowbirds, which favor agricultural areas. They parasitize nests of rare birds such as yellow warblers and Bell’s vireos, which have nearly disappeared from the Bay Area as breeding birds. Also, livestock operations increase raven populations to artificially high levels with water facilities, feed and carcasses — ravens predate rare bird nests such as snowy plovers.
We can benefit bird diversity in general by removing livestock from the park and creating a true reserve for bird conservation.
— Laura Cunningham, Beatty (Nevada)
Beef, dairy industries clearly bad for Pt. Reyes
I was shocked to read Judy Teichman’s Marin Voice commentary (“Attacks on Point Reyes decision ignores benefits of ranches,” Dec. 20). Who knew that 5,000 earth-trampling cows drinking 150,000 gallons of water per day and producing 8 million gallons of feces and urine per year would be considered a perennial Christmas present to Point Reyes National Seashore. She implies that ranches are better than native forests and coastal prairies for carbon sequestration. If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for you.
Tule elk co-evolved with California coast land for thousands of years. They eat less, drink less, poop and pee less, move about more (meaning they trample and desiccate soil less) than 5,000 cows do. Cows were imported to Point Reyes for only one reason: to fatten for milking and slaughter. They were brought here for profit.Cows are the victims of an extractive industry, one so brutal we collectively deny its essence: mother dairy cows are forcibly impregnated, their babies are taken from them, then they are milked for profit and later slaughtered. Cattle businesses, hidden in plain sight, pollute and degrade Point Reyes. They are heavily subsidized by an unsuspecting and bamboozled public taught from birth to consume and crave these unnecessary foods from a bygone era, before billions of humans overran the planet.
The meat eaters and milk drinkers of Marin and across America would love to believe cow meat and milk products, organic or not, can be both sustainable and scalable to feed the nation, but they’re not, unless you ignore physics and chemistry. And don’t forget to consider the methane cows produce. No amount of jargon about “rotational grazing” and “best practices” can change the realities of cattle-industry methane trapping heat in the atmosphere and exacerbating the climate crisis.
— Jack Gescheidt, San Rafael
Point Reyes plan is a deplorable fiasco
In regard to air quality, the final environmental impact statement indicates that more ranching under the selected plan would “continue to emit criteria pollutants and greenhouse gases associated (approximately 24,000 metric tons) with cattle grazing, manure management on dairies, fugitive dust, and mobile source emissions.”
Regarding soil, it reports that “activities associated with … ranching (will) continue to affect soils because of erosion, compaction, and alteration of soil fertility, primarily from livestock grazing, forage production, high intensity use areas, and manure spreading.”
Regarding water, more ranching will “continue to contribute adverse impacts … from ranching, manure and nutrient management, and water consumption related to ranching activities.” Ranches and dairies in Point Reyes use as much as 77 million gallons of water annually.
Regarding vegetation, ending ranching “would eliminate adverse impacts on vegetation from the ranching activities across the entire planning area.” Regarding wildlife, ending ranching “would eliminate impacts (on native wildlife) of forage production, manure spreading, and diversification and would reduce high-intensity-use areas compared to existing conditions,” and would not require shooting to death or starving any tule elk.
Despite all that, the final decision reads, “In the best professional judgment of the NPS staff … no impairment of the park’s resources or values will result from the implementation of the selected action.” In technical literature, this is known as “a lie.”
We are experiencing a climate crisis, an extinction crisis and unprecedented drought. It is a very sad day when otherwise dedicated public servants have to muzzle themselves and betray the public to keep their jobs. What a deplorable fiasco.
— Ken Bouley, Inverness
Leaders should have stopped ranching decision
Point Reyes National Seashore has about 18,000 acres leased for ranching. The leases are expiring. The United Nations has told us that to combat climate change, our damaged ecosystems need to be restored to an area the size of China to absorb the carbon the world produces. Only then will the planet stand a chance of slowing the effects of global warming.
Politicians like Rep. Jared Huffman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Assemblyman Marc Levine, state Sen. Mike McGuire and all the Marin supervisors could have supported ending the leases and returning all of the national park to coastal prairie. They missed the opportunity to be heroes, to be leaders in fighting climate change. Instead, they pushed for more ranching, more pollution and more habitat destruction. Shame on them.
Statues of historical figures are being torn down as we recognize their shortcomings. Today’s politicians will face similar disgrace for not acting in the interests of the planet and for not pushing ecosystem restoration wherever possible. Instead, desperate to stay in office and retain their financial support, they continue to be puppets of corporate interests.
— Sidney Dent, San Quentin
Environmental nonprofits should fight ranching
I am disappointed that several so-called “environmental” nonprofits I donate to are not involved in the fight to remove ranchers from the Point Reyes National Seashore. Why aren’t organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council and Point Blue Conservation Science doing more to fight?
One look by any casual observer at the decimated overgrazed landscape on the park of Point Reyes that is ranched suggests that any study calling this OK for the environment is deeply flawed.
I think voters should reconsider their support for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Jared Huffman, Assemblyman Marc Levine and state Sen. Mike McGuire. They all endorsed the lease extensions for ranches in Point Reyes. We also need to take a closer look at the nonprofits who sold out our iconic Point Reyes National Seashore, the native tule elk and ground-nesting birds.
— Nancy Hair, Sebastopol
Huffman’s Point Reyes view deserves criticism
In the article published Sept. 14 with the headline “Point Reyes adopts controversial ranch, elk plan,” Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, is quoted as saying, “In the 30% of the seashore where some of this historic ranching continues, it’s been part of the history and culture of Point Reyes since the mid-1800s.”
Ranches and dairies were established on the land that became the Point Reyes National Seashore because of the weather. The region is cold year-round. Before refrigeration technology, that kind of weather was important to ensure that our milk, meat and butter didn’t spoil. It could be put on a boat, where it stayed cold in the hold, and be shipped to the bustling metropolises of Oakland and San Francisco for good money.
In 1900, ranching on Point Reyes was very important. But, from my perspective, the advent of refrigeration and the explosion of agriculture into the Central Valley by the 1930s made Point Reyes ranches and dairies unnecessary.
In the article, Huffman went on to say that ranches in the national park are “a very important part of our local food system and agricultural economy.” But in Ken Bouley’s widely posted report titled “Myths of Point Reyes, Part II,” he notes that a recent environmental impact statement indicates ranching “contributes 0.03% of total regional employment and 0.01% of gross regional product” in Marin County. That doesn’t sound all that significant to me.
— Deborah Goldeen, Palo Alto
Good reminder about real history of Point Reyes
I am writing to thank Theresa Harlan for her recently published Marin Voice commentary about the Coast Miwok (“Indigenous roots of Point Reyes need to be preserved, shared,” Oct. 8). We all need to be reminded that the “beginning” of history at Point Reyes was not the arrival of the ranchers.
The Miwok and other Indigenous people were here earlier than the privileged White folks who arrived in 1850 and claimed the land via better weapons and political connections. From my perspective, the ranchers were paid substantially in the early 1960s to ultimately leave Point Reyes National Seashore.
I have been going to the park for more than 40 years and “seeing the ranches” was certainly never the impetus for me to be in the park. The National Park Service received many letters that clearly stated the wishes of the citizens: Do not let the ranches continue and do not give ranchers special treatment. We asked the park service to make this a place of national natural beauty and an example of good stewardship and honest history.
The amount of wilderness on the Earth is shrinking and our population is increasing exponentially. Places where people can experience nature while regaining their sanity and humanity are evermore limited. Park officials should stand with the people.
— Sandy Claire, Fairfax
Point Reyes missed chance to send message
The National Park Service, Rep. Jared Huffman and the Marin supervisors failed the public regarding Point Reyes National Seashore (“Point Reyes adopts controversial ranch, elk plan,” Sept. 14). Park officials decided to allow another 20 years of subsidized leasing of our seashore for beef and dairy production.
The park’s announcement claims: “Public and agency engagement and feedback have been vital to the development and refinement of this plan and the selected action.” No, the public sent more than 50,000 comments requesting the removal of cows and the restoration of our seashore. Public demonstrations have been increasing (hundreds of people at a recent rally). The interests of two dozen operators, who were paid the equivalent of $350 million in today’s dollars approximately 50 years ago, trumped the public’s interest.
Making a change in how Point Reyes is managed could have been low-hanging fruit in our push to do real things to curb climate change, stop long-term drought and help native species. Cows are a major factor in our climate crises. U.S. beef and dairy consumption must be substantially reduced, starting now.
Our supervisors approved $52,000 to truck water to the cows because the land doesn’t support the cow population during this drought. Claims by Huffman and the supervisors that these are sustainable operations ignore the science. It is difficult for Point Reyes to meet state and federal water quality standards. Native elk are killed to protect cows. Biodiversity losses continue. Soil degradation is extensive. Illegal toxic dumps still exist. The park has the worst methane and carbon emissions in West Marin.
While the rest of the county participates in the “Drawdown Marin” program, Point Reyes National Seashore instead models nonaction. These are not great messages to our youth. Now is the time when we need real leadership.
— Daniel D. Heagerty, Mill Valley
Point Reyes needs to shift focus from the ranchers
I am writing in regard to the recently published letter to the editor by Wendi Kallins. The letter seems to imply that the thousands of communications against the ranches received by the National Park Service are somehow bogus and were produced underhandedly.
I trust that the letters critical of ranching and the elk management program in the park were from U.S. citizens. These taxpaying voters are the ones whose money was spent to purchase the park for all to enjoy forever, not just the ranchers and their families.
These issues shouldn’t be complicated. The facts are clear. Back in the 1960s, the value of the ranches was appraised, fair market value was established and the sale was approved by ranchers. From what I read via the Department of the Interior report, the prices paid were always for the approved appraised value.
Back then, the ranchers had a choice. They could accept the government’s offer and sell. They could accept the offer and remain on the property for 25 years. Finally, they could reject the offer, in which an eminent domain process would have taken place. These ranchers chose to take the money and enjoyed the park by themselves for more than 25 years, thanks to decades of renewals. This deal has been more than fair to the ranchers.
Every property owner should have the right of ownership. As the land owner, the National Park Service should have a right of ownership on the ranch land. Hopefully, park officials will listen. We want the ranches gone.
Without the ranches, the fences could be removed and the tule elk could be given the extra acreage to roam and feed. There would be no reason for culling the herd.
— William Donnelly, Novato