Posted by: Sandy Steinman | February 12, 2016

Should Pt. Reyes National Seashore Extend Cattle Grazing Leases?

Center for Biological Diversity News Release

Conservation Groups Sue Over Missing Point Reyes Management Plan

National Seashore Needs Plan for How Ranching Fits into Park, Not How Park Fits into Ranching

SAN FRANCISCO— The Resource Renewal Institute, Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project filed a lawsuit in federal court today seeking to require the National Park Service to update its General Management Plan and prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, prior to adopting a proposed plan to extend cattle grazing leases in the Point Reyes National Seashore, in Marin County, California.

“The Point Reyes National Seashore is a national treasure,” said Huey D. Johnson, president of Resource Renewal Institute and former California Secretary of Resources. “The Park Service has delayed comprehensive planning and environmental analysis for decades, depriving the public of the right to weigh in on appropriate uses and activities within the park. This lawsuit is a last resort to try to get the Park Service to do its job.”

Under federal laws the National Park Service is obligated to ensure that wildlife and natural resources receive “maximum protection” and are left “unimpaired” for the enjoyment of future generations. The lawsuit asserts that the Park Service is violating these requirements by relying on a badly outdated management plan, adopted in 1980, which fails to address current conditions such as climate change, increasing visitation and recreational use, and threats to wildlife.

The lawsuit cites persistent drought and conflicts between cattle and native wildlife, particularly tule elk, among significant threats to park resources. Tule elk, once believed to be extinct, were successfully reestablished at the Seashore and exist in no other national park.

Over the last two decades, the Park Service repeatedly announced its intentions to update its 35-year-old management plan for the Seashore, but abandoned the planning process without explanation. It is now moving forward on a Ranch Management Plan that could extend grazing permits in the park for up to 20 years.

“The Park Service needs to take a step back and look at the impacts of commercial ranching on the park overall,” said Johnson, who in 1977 as president of the Trust for Public Land acquired more than 2,000 acres for the Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area. According to Johnson, that land was intended for wildlife habitat and public recreation, but has been leased to private ranchers.

After Congress enacted legislation establishing the Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962, the federal government purchased the ranches in the park at a cost of more than $70 million in today’s dollars. Ranching was not mandated by the legislation, but rather allowed under two narrow circumstances: time-limited reservations of rights for former landowners or general leases with conditions to protect the park. Nearly all reservations and leases have expired.

The Park Service has never prepared an Environmental Impact Statement on ranching at the Seashore. Nevertheless, the Park Service allows cattle grazing to continue. Fifteen ranch families currently operate on 24 lease units within the National Seashore, comprising more than 18,000 of the park’s 71,000 acres.

“The Park Service continues to authorize commercial grazing permits at the Point Reyes National Seashore without an Environmental Impact Statement on how ranching impacts the park, which is needed to ensure protection of the park’s ecosystems,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity who lives in West Marin. “We’re filing this lawsuit because we love the park and believe it’s up to everyone to make sure the national seashore is managed sustainably so that future generations can enjoy it as we have.”

“The law requires the Park Service to determine the environmental impacts at the Seashore and restrict any uses if they impair wildlife, natural resources or the public’s use and enjoyment,” said Karen Klitz, a board member at Western Watersheds Project. “Behind-the-scenes negotiations between a handful of ranchers and well-meaning conservationists is no substitute for an open and transparent planning process that includes public input.”

The groups are represented in the lawsuit by San Francisco attorney Jeff Chanin of Keker & Van Nest, and lawyers with Advocates for the West, a public interest environmental law firm.

Background and Frequently Asked Questions

Link to photos available for media use.

View the RRI web page for more information on the lawsuit.

Resource Renewal Institute is a nonprofit organization based in Mill Valley, California founded by Huey D. Johnson in 1985. Johnson was featured in the documentary film “Rebels With a Cause,” about the battles to protect the Point Reyes National Seashore and other public lands. He served as California’s Secretary of Resources from 1978 until 1982, and is the founder of The Trust for Public Land,the Grand Canyon Trust and the Environmental Liaison Center.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation group founded in 1993 with 1,500 members whose mission is to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and litigation.

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