This is the last of a three-part series on this multi-faceted and important issue.  Part one which explored the myths of Stewardship, Perpetuity, and Creation, can be found here. Part two, which explored the myths of Legality, Special Jurisdiction, History, and Economy, can be found here

 

Myth of Popularity

It is a common claim that the public, who owns the national seashore, likes the ranches there. Rep. Huffman described Point Reyes as “a unique mosaic which most people love pretty much the way it is,” [i] and frequently casually repeats the assertion, without proffering any data.

But we do have data. As part of the scoping process for the GMPA, the park Service was legally obliged under NEPA to accept public comments on the Plan. More than 7,600 comments were received in August and September of 2019. They are available online from the NPS.[ii]  An analysis of the comments done by the Resource Renewal Institute [iii] showed that over 91% (6,969) of the 7,627 respondents opposed the preferred plan (Alternative B) on various grounds. Of all public comments which endorsed any specific plan explicitly (1,859), over 94% (1,751) endorsed the plan that removes ranching altogether (Alternative F). The report also notes that the comments convey a strong sense of betrayal and cynicism regarding the perceived misuse of public lands, cruelty to wildlife, allegiance to commerce and politics over commonwealth, and shortsightedness with respect to climate change and endangered species.

Additional data exists in the form of the public comments received by the California Coastal Commission (CCC), which on April 22, 2021, after 12 hours of debate, voted 5-4 to conditionally approve the aforementioned Alternative B.[iv]  Ahead of this meeting, the Commission received about 45,000 comments, 99% of which were against Alternative B. (If you omit form letters, it is 95%, but then if you remove letters of support from the ranches themselves, it’s 98% again.)

Lastly, when the Argus-Courier, a weekly newspaper in Petaluma, the epicenter of local livestock, asked whether cows belong in Point Reyes, 80% said no.

In a meeting with In Defense of Animals held on October 20, 2020, Congressman Huffman again claimed people like the ranches in Point Reyes, saying, “I know my constituents.”  It may be that the Representative spends more time with those in his district tied to ranching and dependent commerce. Or it may just simply be that he needs to update his assessment. The public comments submitted in the scoping process and to the Coastal Commission are especially significant because, as of this writing, they uniquely represent a large body of data regarding public opinion that has emerged since the publication of the court-mandated Environmental Impact Statement – in fact, in reaction to it.

In that same meeting, Rep. Huffman indicated he did not doubt the numerical findings of the comments analysis (which is publicly available for critique). He further indicated that, since PRNS is a national park, he did not feel that local opinions should count more than any American’s submission (though note there is no geographical analysis available to support the claim that local people have any different views than that of the American public at large.)  These are two dubious objections to the study’s findings that are sometimes expressed.

He did, however, indicate he thought the dataset suffered from self-selection bias, giving the example that whereas he receives hundreds of communications every year asking him to oppose abortion, he receives few or none asking him to support abortion rights. But this is a flawed comparison. Firstly, the entire public was solicited for comments in the scoping process, and the mechanism of solicitation contained no perceptible bias (it wasn’t communicated in a way that might bias the results.)  Secondly, the public was commenting on a way-forward that was explicitly undetermined and under review (unlike Huffman’s position on abortion). Thirdly, there was just published a new, systematic relevant publication (the EIS) that represents new information on the issue under review.

It’s not surprising to learn that people don’t typically write the Congressman and say, “keep up the good work on reproductive rights.”  But the truly analogous situation would be if he acknowledged a recent study on the societal impacts of abortion, indicated he was in the process of re-examining his position, and asked people to comment. In that case, of course, his received correspondence would have very different contents.

Lastly, it’s not clear why Rep. Huffman and other influencers wouldn’t amplify the results of the comments analysis, under the understanding that the respondents feel more strongly about it (since they bothered to answer) and on average have more current knowledge about this issue (assuming more of them on-average read the publication on which they were commenting than non-respondents).

In summary, there is finally new data available, everybody was asked to comment, and everybody had the same opportunity to comment. There is no reason to suspect self-selection bias at play. We have significant data regarding the public’s view on the proper way forward and the overwhelming majority want ranching ended in PRNS. Especially in the absence of any countervailing data whatsoever, the landslide results should be taken at face value.

 

Myth of Local Authority

When the near-monolithic public opposition to ranching in PRNS is cited, one often encounters the retort that the local people actually favor its continuation. Point Reyes is a small community and many of the locals are ranchers themselves or their business associates or long-standing friends and neighbors. But many locals favor its ouster, some publicly and some quietly. The community was painfully divided over the aforementioned closure of Drakes Bay Oyster Company, whose operator is a current rancher in PRNS, and few are eager to sacrifice more social ties and have another fight. The author lives literally adjacent to the park, and I have read angry dismissals of “meddlesome” “urban outsiders” on social media from people whose houses I can literally see through my window.  I’ve been told to move back to Rhode Island, which, while a charming day-dream, would be inconvenient.

Rep. Huffman, for his part, concurs with the populist view on this aspect: it’s a national park, and therefore it doesn’t matter where you live; any citizen has the same right to weigh in on the use or misuse of any national park, from Denali to Acadia to the Everglades to Joshua Tree.

If what’s being said is the local people, especially the local ranchers, know best how to take care of the land, then this is just an appeal to authority, and ”a wise man proportions his beliefs to the evidence.”

 

Myth of Process

This one hasn’t been around long around to earn the stamp “myth” — let’s call it a curious claim. In a March 2021 interview with EnviroNews, Rep. Huffman lauded the “incredibly open process” surrounding the GMP update. He is presumably aware that over 95% of the public comment received by the NPS and California Coastal Commission were against the proposed plan and/or in favor of ending ranching in PRNS. The Coastal Commission, at the end of a 12-hour meeting, eventually rendered a determination of “compliance with conditions” via a 5-4 vote, where at least four commisioners received ex parte communications from the Representative. The four dissenters were passionate and at times exasperated during the hearing, especially Commissioner Dayna Bochco, who called the treatment of the Tule elk under the proposed plan “cruel.” [v]

In fact, Alternative B bears a striking resemblance to a letter written on June 2, 2014, by the Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association, delivered to then-Superintendent Cecily Muldoon and copied California Senators Feinstein and Boxer, Representative Huffman, and certain influential, local politicians.[vi]  The letter specifies what should be used as the environmental baseline (current day operations), what Park Unit elsewhere should be used as a model (Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio), how long lease renewals should be (20 years) what should become of the lease succession policy (less restrictive), and what activities should be expanded or newly allowed (poultry, sheep and goats, including guard animals, row crops, retail shops and farm stands, tours, B&Bs, onsite butchering, food-processing, including from produce brought in from elsewhere, cheese-making, et al.) It also characterizes the native Tule elk as an invasive nuisance and implies that “overpopulated elk” may transfer Johne’s disease to cattle, when it is well known that the domestic livestock are from where the elk contracted the disease originally. The disease in the elk, incidentally, makes their relocation difficult and strengthens the case for culling them over any more humane or ecologically sound ways forward.[vii]

In response to that letter, the NPS not only obediently translated all of these brazen requests into elements of the “preferred” Alternative B, but in January of 2021, dutifully installed a new Superintendent of PRNS, Craig Kenkel, the former Superintendent of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, another on the short list of national park units which incorporates for-profit, private use of public lands and which utilized federal sharpshooters to cull deer populations, which is the likely fate awaiting scores of Tule elk in PRNS. Superintendent Kenkel was named last November by scandal-ridden extraction and agriculture lobbyist-cum-Trump Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and appears to be handpicked in the background by the ranchers.

This letter also had asked NPS to nominate the ranches in PRNS for registry in the National Register of Historic Places, which they did in 2017, (it was approved in 2018) after first withdrawing a similar application for the same for an indigenous archaeological district related to the Miwok history and sites in the park. That application was originally made in 2008 but for some reason never got approved. It was withdrawn in 2015, within a year of the rancher’s association asking for their own designation. [viii]

On the other side of the issue, the public, including three membership-funded environmental groups, had to sue the federal government into doing any sort of process whatsoever in the first place.[ix] They then wrote tens of thousands of critical comments and objections to the relevant administrators, have staged multiple rallies and demonstrations, including in the park itself and at Rep. Huffman’s San Rafael office, and now are petitioning Interior Secretary Haaland to intervene. Rep. Huffman pre-screens questions at his town hall meetings, and Superintendent Kenkel met once with a concerned-citizens’ coalition but has since reneged on a promise to meet again with the group, saying he does not have time until after the decision is finalized.

Lastly on this topic, the Coast Miwok Tribal Council of Marin, who represents the traditional inhabitants of the Point Reyes area, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on June 3, 2021, calling the preferred plan a travesty and pointing out what was mentioned above, that in 2015 the NPS withdrew a 2008 proposal to add PRNS to the National Historic Register as an Indigenous Archeological District and replaced it with a proposal to instead add a Historic Dairy Ranching District. The former proposal would have honored the 10,000+ year sustainable practices of the Miwok people and was allowed to languish for 7 years until withdrawn. The latter proposal honors the 170-year legacy of extractive European Colonial practices and was approved in October 2018, after the NPS was sued to update its ranching general management plan and before publication of the draft plan, which coincidentally stressed the historic and cultural value of the cattle operations.[x] [xi] [xii]

Rather than participating in a democratic, “incredibly open” process, concerned citizens, environmental groups, animal rights activists and Native American Tribes — in other words, the people — are being “participated.”

 

Current Situation

The final decision is due by July 14, 2021. NPS has given no indication that it will be anything but the “preferred” Alternative B. As mentioned, the oldest and largest dairy in PRNS has recently announced it is shutting down. But the leaseholder is renegotiating his lease and has indicated he will keep some number of cattle there even without an operational dairy. This means the NPS’s succession policy, which indicates offering unrenewed leases to other ranch operators, and if no takers, only then convening a public process for a way forward, remains dormant, blocking anything like a restoration on the highly impacted acreage.

Local environmental groups nonetheless plan to propose rewilding projects for the 1,076 acre I Ranch. Such an effort could be a dry run for the many similar restorations that inevitably lie ahead, a pilot under which participants could develop an equitable, democratic, science-based and repeatable process for future efforts, and could frame and begin to answer questions such as how best to rehabilitate the soil post-cattle, how the indigenous Tule elk might function to renew native flora, how traditional Miwok land management practices could regulate fire fuel, how a financial model for restoration might repurpose the current ranch subsidies for public good, and more generally which interventions and to what extent they are necessary to successfully rewild a defunct ranch in this biome. The pilot could identify other questions that are not now apparent and put them on the docket.

What stands in the way? Photographer Ansel Adams said, “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.” Livestock agriculture is undeniably exacerbating the climate and extinction crises while dairy is dying all over the headlines. The death throes of the industry begin to harmonize with the death throes of the planet. Adams’s cohort David Brower, the first executive director of the Sierra Club and one of the driving forces behind the formation of the seashore, said, “Polite conversationalists leave no mark save the scars upon the Earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground.” Our job now is to contact Interior Secretary Haaland ( Deb_Haaland@ios.doi.gov) and Rep. Huffman (415-258-9657), and implore them to intervene on behalf of wilderness. Otherwise, the fate of Point Reyes is likely with the courts.

 

Conclusion

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, had no reason to apologize to Dorothy L. Sayers (who said facts run away like cows) when he said, “Facts are facts and will not disappear on account of your likes.”

None of the claims treated above has been supported and all of them may be unsupportable; they are myths or at best bald assertions. Those with money at stake should probably be recused from the debate, or at least should bear a commensurate burden of proof and have their arguments appropriately scrutinized (ditto for in-tow politicians).

As we all know from personal experience and from introspection, people are loath to change their minds. In other words, one could cling to the myth of stewardship despite the plain indictments of the EIS (and notwithstanding the climate and extinction crises). One could preserve the myth of perpetuity based on unsubstantiated assertions and post-hoc revisions of Congress’ intent. Further, it’s easy enough to assume that NPS’s habit of renewing leases entails their legality (and not lose sleep over what this precedent may mean for other national parks). And maybe it passes unnoticed to some when we privilege recent, white history over those of the displaced and marginalized. Et cetera.

But if we’re honest and attentive, we’ll admit that eight or ten failed defenses do not add up to even one successful one. None of these justifications sticks to the wall of public outrage. The science, public opinion,

the law, and any unbiased assessment of social justice all require that ranching end in PRNS and the park become what a national park is meant to be: a refuge for beleaguered wildlife, a recognition of traditional stewardship, a retreat for citizens whose daily experience is otherwise bereft of nature, and a small respite against the seemingly inexorable collapse of our once-healthy planet.

 

Additional References

Relevant quote: “Point Reyes National Seashore.–The Conferees note that multi-generational ranching and dairying is important both ecologically and economically for the Point Reyes National Seashore and the surrounding community. These historic activities are also fully consistent with Congress’s intent for the management of Point Reyes National Seashore. The Conferees are aware that the Service is conducting a public process to comply with a multi-party settlement agreement that includes the preparation of an environmental impact statement to study the effects of dairying and ranching on the park. The Conferees strongly support the inclusion of alternatives that continue ranching and dairying, including the Service’s Initial Proposal to allow existing ranch families to continue ranching and dairying operations under agricultural lease/permits with 20-year terms, and expect the Service to make every effort to finalize a General Management Plan Amendment that continues these historic activities.”

Endnotes

[i] Facebook, September 12, 2019

[ii] https://www.nps.gov/pore/getinvolved/planning_gmp_amendment_deis_public_comments.htm

[iii] https://restoreptreyesseashore.org/comments-to-draft-plan/

[iv] https://www.marinij.com/2021/04/22/california-coastal-commission-endorses-point-reyes-ranch-elk-plan/

[v] https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/article/article/california-coastal-commission-approves-point-reyes-park-cattle-grazing-elk/

[vi] https://www.rri.org/Lawsuit/Ranchers%20Association%20CRMP%20Scoping%20Comments.pdf

[vii] https://www.pointreyesrewild.org/tule-elk

[viii] https://www.ptreyeslight.com/article/tribal-council-seeks-protection-miwok-sites

[ix] https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2016/point-reyes-02-10-2016.html

[x] https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/coast-miwok-tribe-objects-to-point-reyes-ranching-elk-killing-plan-2021-06-15/?fbclid=IwAR2IvU5UnOkcpojeswcakTMrdxloFCNzw7200I-aGi52dZ9VUiiIGR5zqAU

[xi] https://pacificsun.com/tamal-huye-coast-miwoks-fight-for-recognition-of-point-reyes-indigenous-history/

[xii] https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/news/newsreleases_20181113_ranches_national_register_of_historic_places.htm

– – – –

This is the last of a three-part series on this multi-faceted and important issue.  Part one which explored the myths of Stewardship, Perpetuity, and Creation, can be found here. Part two, which explored the myths of Legality, Special Jurisdiction, History, and Economy, can be found here. 

 

 
avatar
About The Author

Ken Bouley

Ken Bouley is a software developer at the data analytics company FICO, where he has worked for the last 24 years. He and his wife Kelli live in Inverness, immediately adjacent to the Point Reyes National Seashore, hiking there frequently and indulging Ken’s wildlife photography hobby. Bobcats are his favorite.

4 Responses to The Myths of Point Reyes, Part III

  1. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    The expansion of ranching and farming activities here is really shocking, and leaving the Tule elk to die from lack of water is truly unconscionable.

  2. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    ^^or proposed expansion, that should read.

  3. avatar Kenneth Bouley says:

    There is a webinar tomorrow June 30 2021 at 6:00pm pacific time on this topic. Please consider joining.

    https://seaturtles.org/webinar-on-debunking-the-myths-of-private-ranching-in-point-reyes-national-seashore-june-30/

  4. avatar Rich says:

    Ken,

    Thank you for providing the information regarding the travesty occurring at Point Reyes and the contact information for Secretary Haaland (Deb_Haaland@ios.doi.gov). I sent an email to her today asking her to take action to protect the PRNS and phase out ranching. I hope others will do likewise.

Leave a Reply to Ida Lupine Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Calendar

June 2021
S M T W T F S
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930  

Quote

‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

%d bloggers like this: