A year after an oyster farm was forced to shut down at Point Reyes National Seashore, sparking a bitter controversy over the role of farming in national parks, a coalition of environmentalists on Wednesday filed a lawsuit over a bigger and more explosive target: thousands of dairy and beef cattle in the park.
Many of the cattle ranches in the iconic park have been operated by the same families since the 1860s. And park service officials say they have no plans to remove them.
The suit against the National Park Service, filed by three groups in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, claims that the cattle are causing erosion, polluting waterways with manure, harming endangered salmon and other species and blocking public access.
The groups say park service officials are violating federal law because they are moving forward with a plan to renew 20-year leases to the ranchers without conducting adequate environmental studies on how the thousands of cows are affecting the seashore’s scenic resources, including its tule elk. Nor have officials updated their 36-year-old park management plan to consider other options, like reducing the number of ranches in the park or the size of the cattle herds, the lawsuit contends.
“There are pastures out there that don’t have any green thing on them, just mud and manure,” said Huey Johnson of Mill Valley, who served as state resources secretary under Gov. Jerry Brown from 1978 to 1982. “The cows have eaten up a lot of the wildflowers. We the public bought those lands.”
Johnson is president of the Resource Renewal Institute, a Mill Valley group that filed the lawsuit with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Watersheds Project, based in Idaho.
Johnson said the number of cattle in Point Reyes National Seashore, now about 6,000, should be reduced by at least half. If the lawsuit is successful, he added, the coalition plans to try to reduce or remove livestock from some of the roughly 30 other national parks that allow grazing, a list that includes Death Valley, Pinnacles in San Benito County and Mojave National Preserve.
“You’ve got welfare ranching going on public lands all over the West,” he said.
PART OF HISTORY
Ranchers at the national seashore say their operations are a beloved part of Northern California’s coastal history. They note that when developers were threatening to build subdivisions on the Point Reyes Peninsula in the 1950s, ranchers formed an alliance with the Sierra Club and other environmental groups to convince Congress and President John F. Kennedy to establish the park in 1962.
“When Congress made a deal to buy the park, the ranchers said we will commit to going into the park as long as you guys write into law that we can stay here,” said Ted McIsaac, who grazes black Angus cattle on 2,800 acres inside the national seashore. “It’s 50 years later, and the generation today has no idea how this all got started. That’s been lost over time.” See the full Story in the Marin IJ HERE
Dick Spotswood make excellent points about this HERE