Maximum access for all the people is prevented by the National Park Service (NPS) maintaining 300-plus miles of barbed-wire fences, wooden fences and gates, and metal pipe fences to contain cattle, and drastically increasing fencing in its plan to divide ranches into Ranch Core, Pasture, and Range Subzones. The California Coastal Commission in its Consistency Determination of NPS's decision says: “The NPS assumes approximately 20% of the 340 miles of existing fencing would be replaced, 24 miles of fence would be installed for the Resource Protection subzone, and an additional 35 miles of new fence would be constructed to improve livestock management over the 20-year lease/permit term. The NPS anticipates up to 5 Fencing projects annually.” That is an increase in fencing from 340 miles currently to 399 under the NPS proposed plan. In addition, NPS proposes to increase ranch fencing to exclude native tule elk from cattle pastures.
Most park visitors are not used to jumping over barbed-wire fences to get to the Pacific Ocean, or crawling through a barbed-wire fence and ripping clothing. This is not inclusive especially for underserved communities and urban populations seeking to explore and access nature and the Pacific Ocean in a National Park unit within the Bay Area.
“Conspicuously posted” access is also under question, as park visitors have reported to us signs on some Point Reyes National Seashore cattle operation leases that appear to claim “no trespassing” rights when none exist on these public lands, where NPS ranch-leases allow public access. Regardless of the physical obstacles of fences in the NPS plan, the signal of fences and signs sent to park visitors is that these are “off-limits” and seem to be “private commercial livestock operations” when they are in fact open public lands and should be much more accessible with posting to that effect.
The better alternative would be to remove all the cattle and livestock fences and restore public access freely to all points of the coast in this unique national park unit—the only National Seashore on the Pacific Coast.
The National Park Service in 2021 drew specific closure boundaries around certain ranch-lease core areas in Point Reyes National Seashore, where the public is excluded. See this link for maps.
All the ranch-leases are public property, purchased over the decades since the formation of the Seashore. NPS ranch-leases state that the public may access all ranchlands except yards and homes of ranchers.
NPS has instituted a more specific policy that certain ranch core areas around facilities are off-limits to the public, but otherwise hikers are free to cross outer pastures.
Otherwise these are public lands in a National Park unit. The ranch diversification alternative does not expand coastal recreation opportunities, but restricts them to private for-profit “ranch stays,” for-profit AirBnB’s, selling of row crops, and even mobile slaughter-houses where meat can be sold to park visitors—an unprecedented use of national park coastal lands. These types of private for-profit industries are outside of normal permitted park concessionaires, and represent new forms of park management favoring private commercial for-profit operations unrelated to public access or interpretation, that needs much better public review, comment and acceptance.
Barbed wire and field beyond with freshly-spread dairy cattle liquified manure. Not inviting. Photo: Jocelyn Knight.
Broken fences on a beef ranch-lease, Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo: Jocelyn Knight.
Fences keep cows in and hikers out, on park service lands. Photo: Laura Cunningham.