Proposed Point Reyes Seashore Plan is a Giveaway to Ranchers

The National Park Service has released a plan for Pt. Reyes National Seashore this shocks and angers me, and here is an alert/story by the group, “Restore Pt. Reyes National Seashore.” . . . Ralph Maughan
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The National Park Service (NPS) has released its Draft General Management Plan (GMPA) and (EIS) for ranching at Point Reyes National Seashore. This is the first time in the park’s history that ranching has been subjected to a full review of its environmental impacts, and the first time the public has had an opportunity to submit comments to the park’s ranching policy. The public has until September 23 to send comments:

The NPS’s preferred plan—Alternative B—prioritizes ranching over other park purposes, including preserving wildlife and the park’s natural values. There is no mention of restoring resources degraded by decades of continuous cattle grazing. Alternative B, is one of six alternatives the NPS considered for managing 28,000 acres of the Seashore and GGNRA it leases to two dozen ranchers.

Alternative B mirrors a letter from the Point Reyes Seashore Ranching Association—a group of 24 cattle and dairy ranching families—submitted to the Seashore’s Superintendent in 2014. The letter, acquired under the Freedom of Information Act, is a wish list that includes 20-year leases; diversifying ranch operations to “improve the economics and profitability” of seashore ranchers by growing and processing crops, and small livestock including goats, pigs, sheep, and chickens; and rolling back regulations and NPS oversight meant to protect the environment. The ranchers’ letter also asks the NPS to “incentivize” (aka pay) them to conduct their operations more responsibly. Ranchers also want the NPS to remove native Tule elk that eat grass that’s reserved for cattle.

Before the Gold Rush, a half million Tule elk roamed Northern California, but they were driven to near extinction by hunting and habitat loss as land was taken over for domestic cattle. A surviving elk herd was discovered in the Central Valley in the 1970s. Hunting of the Tule elk was banned in 1971 and, in an effort to save the species, the NPS reintroduced ten elk to Point Reyes Seashore in 1978.

Today, 500 native elk live at the Seashore. Point Reyes National Seashore is the only national park where the public can view Tule elk. Cattle at the seashore outnumber Tule elk 10 to 1.

The majority of elk are confined behind a fence at the northern end of the park, Pierce Point. About 124 “free roaming” elk live near Drakes Beach, adjacent to the ranches. Every day, the NPS hazes the elk to keep them off the leased land. The NPS’s preferred plan calls for shooting 10 to 15 of the elk annually when elk “trespass.” A contagious cattle disease spread through cow manure, has infected some elk so relocating them outside the park isn’t an option.

Congress enacted, and President Kennedy signed, legislation establishing the Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962 to serve the growing need for public recreation near urban areas. Kennedy’s remarks at the signing make no mention of perpetual ranching.

Ranchers resisted the creation of the Seashore but ultimately accepted more than $57 million (more than $380 million in 2019 dollars) for their land, and were permitted to stay at the Seashore for 25 years or the death of the previous landowner, whichever came first. As these agreements began to expire, the National Park Service gave ranchers the option to continue to lease parkland “at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior.”  Neither law states nor implies permanence for the ranches, yet ranchers and their supporters maintain that Congress meant ranching to continue in the Seashore forever.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) partnered with anti-public lands Republicans last year to revise the Point Reyes legislation to reflect what he believes Congress intended when it created the national seashore 57 years ago, but he was unsuccessful. At a recent Town Hall meeting in Point Reyes Station, he dismissed concerns about the environmental impacts of intensive ranching at the Seashore in the name of so-called “historic ranching.”  Ranching in the park has grown to an industrial scale even as beef and dairy consumption declines. More than 5,500 domestic cattle graze year-round in the national seashore putting native plants and animals at risk—including several endangered species;
polluting streams, ponds, bays and ocean; and contributing to the climate crisis.

We who love national parks and believe they were meant to be places of refuge for wildlife and people have our work cut out for us.  As the owners of America’s public lands, we have to let the Park Service know
our concerns about their proposed plan for the Seashore and tell them what we want instead.  Our comments could determine the future of this national treasure for generations to come.

Please send comments before September 23, 2019.

For more information including facts and myths about ranching at the national seashore, please visit:
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News story in the local media. San Francisco Chronicle: Point Reyes Management Plan Riles up Environmentalists—Comment Sought. By Peter Fimrite.




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  1. JB Avatar

    I got into natural resources management in large part due to Point Reyes. I found the Service’s prioritizing of non-native cattle over elk to be baffling; likewise, the fact that the Service let non-native deer roam the seashore confused me given its mission. Flash forward: 5.5 years of graduate school and 12 years of work in the field and I know understand HOW it happened, but I don’t think I truly understand why? Managerial inertia?

  2. James E.Liles Avatar
    James E.Liles

    Mt answer to the HOW will not fit in this block. If you desire my (the 1st supervisory ranger in the National Seashore’s “Bear Valley District” (south half of PRNS)commentary, I will send relevant chapter from my unpublished memoir.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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