FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JULY 15, 2021
Chance Cutrano, Resource Renewal Institute, firstname.lastname@example.org, 312-403-3702
Laura Cunningham, Western Watersheds Project, lcunningham@westernwatersheds.
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, jmiller@biologicaldiversity.
OAKLAND— The National Park Service (NPS) has submitted a request for a 60-day extension in order to complete a highly controversial plan for commercial ranching at Point Reyes National Seashore.
The General Management Plan Amendment, which would issue 20-year leases to private beef and dairy operations, expand livestock, allow cultivating commercial crops and kill native elk, was to be completed by a court-ordered deadline of July 14, 2021.
The Motion to Extend filed in federal court by the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental and Natural Resources Division on behalf of the National Park Service, postpones its consideration for approval by the Secretary of the Interior. The delay comes amid growing protests about the impacts of ongoing cattle grazing on 28,000 acres of national parklands at Point Reyes National Seashore and adjacent Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The affidavit requesting more time, filed by Seashore Superintendent Craig Kenkel, cites “complications” including delays by the California Coastal Commission over concerns about water pollution and the “transition to a new Administration.” The motion says the NPS needs additional time to brief Department of the Interior officials. A Record of Decision (ROD) must be authorized by the Secretary of the Interior before the proposed plan can take effect.
“As with other high-profile matters, the National Park Service needs additional time to brief the new administration on the plan and the feedback received through the public involvement process. The National Park Service is committed to ensuring that its decision is responsive to formal public comments, the Park’s resources and needs, and legal requirements,” the motion for the extension states.
Private ranching has been ongoing at Point Reyes National Seashore since the park was established by Congress in 1962 and the National Park Service began to acquire private ranch lands to form the park. More than 5,500 beef and dairy cattle continue to graze in the park today.
The highly contested plan follows a lawsuit environmental organizations brought against the Park Service in 2016. The Resource Renewal Institute (RRI), Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watershed Project sued the National Park Service for failing to update its 40-year-old management plan and for routinely permitting ranching without environmental review, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act. A settlement agreement gave the NPS until July 14, 2021 to produce an amended management plan and Environmental Impact Statement for ranching.
All three of the plaintiff organizations and the County of Marin agreed to the motion to extend the July 14, 2021 deadline. Representatives for the Lunny Ranchers and the Rossotti Ranchers objected to the motion filed by the National Park Service.
Ranchers have long lobbied for permanence at the Seashore and their demands for long-term, non-competitive leases, more livestock and diversified ranching activities are reflected in the NPS’s plan.
Record drought, the die-offs of hundreds of rare native Tule elk—a species found in no other national park—and recent revelations of unchecked water pollution from the cattle manure ranchers spread over parklands have stoked long-simmering public opposition. Thousands of concerned individuals, including scientists, park users, animal rights and environmental justice advocates as well as Coast Miwok tribal members submitted written comments and oral testimony during the planning process and continue to send letters to government officials, sign petitions and stage protests.
Last month, over 50 conservation organizations representing millions of members signed a letter asking the Secretary of the Interior to adopt Alternate F, the one alternative the NPS proposed that protects the tule elk and restores the park for recreational, educational and scientific purposes, while phasing out the commercial ranching over five years.
“The Seashore has been held captive by special interests from the beginning,” said Deborah Moskowitz, president of the Resource Renewal Institute. “These ranchers have the inside track and receive preferential treatment. We have learned from the court filing that the National Park Service has been in constant communication with ranchers, while the public struggles to have our voices heard. ”
“We are happy to see the administration taking a hard look at the Trump-era plan before making a decision,” said Chance Cutrano, Director of Programs at the Resource Renewal Institute. “The new administration has expressed a commitment to ensuring that its decision will be responsive to the thousands of public comments it received, and its mission to preserve park resources. It shouldn’t take long for Secretary Haaland to find that scientific evidence and public opinion overwhelmingly support the swift adoption of Alternative F, the restoration alternative for this national park. This is a turning point for Point Reyes.”
“I am cautiously optimistic that the huge public outcry over water pollution, drought, and the tule elk die-off gave the Department of the Interior pause to better consider impacts of the livestock operations on Seashore resources,” said Laura Cunningham, California Director at Western Watersheds Project.
“This is a chance for the Department of the Interior to change course on the atrocious management proposal for Point Reyes National Seashore,” said Jeff Miller, senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Interior should reject the Park Service’s plan to kill elk and expand agriculture, and implement Alternative F, which reflects the public interest in protecting wildlife and the natural ecosystems.”
Judge Saundra Armstrong has yet to respond to the National Park Service’s request.