Stay Involved With the General Managemt Plan

Tule elk bull in Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo courtesy Matthew Polvorosa Kline, wildlife photographer.

Point Reyes National Seashore could be the “Yellowstone of the Pacific Coast.” But special interests have captured the National Park Service into serving their private needs. These are OUR national park lands!


The public comment period is closed on the draft Environmental Impact Statement just released that analyzes an amendment of the outdated General Management Plan, a plan that will guide management of Point Reyes National Seashore and the northern part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area for decades to come.

Visit to stay involved, and let the park know that you want wildlife, not livestock, dominating our park.


Dairies and beef ranches were paid millions of dollars of taxpayer funds in the 1960s and they all agreed to leave. Now the private interests are trying to stay on our national park lands, and continue excessive commercial grazing operations that are far above the ability of the land to sustain.


The park service is proposing to extend ranchers leases to another 20 years, and re-designate 28,700 acres in Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area as a “Ranchland zone.” We do not want a ranching zone here, but a wildlife zone with no cattle, and where free-roaming native tule elk roam. Historic barns, cultural interpretive trails and visitor facilities without cattle are a much better option for managing this gem of a national park.


Native tule elk will be in the crosshairs if the National Park Service approves their “Preferred Alternative” (Alternative B) of culling free-roaming elk in the Drake’s Beach and Limantour herds.  These elk were released into the treasured Phillip Burton Wilderness within Point Reyes National Seashore to be free-roaming, not behind fences, as the original legislation forming the park intended.


Today, 24 ranchers hold lease/permits on 18,000 acres of Point Reyes and 10,000 acres of the north district of Golden Gate. Approximately 2,400 animal units of livestock for beef ranching and 3,315 dairy animals are currently permitted, and this would continue if the park approves Alternative B (with a slight increase in dairy cattle). An animal unit is a cow/calf or one bull. These cattle numbers are far above what the coastal grasslands can sustain, and the ranchers have to truck in tons of alfalfa hay and grow hundreds of acres of silage (a form of moist hay)—which contains invasive weeds such as mustard and radish—on park land that should be habitat for native plants and animals. In fact, the native coastal prairies have been all but eliminated from most of the cattle-grazed lands, and the native plant communities converted to European weedy grasses and forbs.

Modern dairy facility on Point Reyes National Seashore. Does this look historic?

In contrast, the native free-roaming tule elk herds are miniscule. And tule elk have an estimated AU equivalent of 0.26 to 0.47 at Point Reyes—they weigh much less than one cow animal unit. The Drake’s Beach tule elk herd consists of 124 animals and the Limantour herd has 174, and these herds follow local seasonal migrations into different areas, concentrating and breaking up into smaller herds during and after the late summer rut. This leads to some elk often spending time in the cattle pastures within the park. Yet instead of reducing cattle numbers and geographic extent, the park service is proposing to shoot these elk if they cross over barbed-wired fences into ranches, and their meat donated to charities or tribal groups. This is unacceptable in a national park unit.


This goes against the goals of the 1998 Tule Elk Management Plan to maintain viable populations of a free-range elk herd in Point Reyes and to manage with minimal intrusion to regulate population size, where possible, as part of natural ecosystem processes.


Tule elk on Point Reyes National Seashore suffer from Johne’s disease contracted from cattle, and in places have nutrient deficiencies and low birth rates. We believe the best management of elk on Point Reyes National Seashore would also to remove the 3-mile-long fence that contains the 432 tule elk kept in the Tomales Elk reserve, and allow them to roam freely into the rest of the park. Point Reyes elk are believed to be among the most inbred in California, having lost an estimated 80% of their retained genetic variability. Instead of confining and culling them, the National Park Service should be considering a program of selected translocation from other more genetically diverse tule elk herds in California, in order to diversify the genetics of the Point Reyes tule elk population.


Furthermore, climate change is a concern we all share. Deep-rooted native perennial grasses such as red fescue and purple needlegrass sequester carbon in coastal prairies. Weedy shallow-rooted annual grasses introduced from Europe do not, and any notion of “carbon farming”—where ranchers spread dry or wet cattle manure over pastures in an attempt to reduce the fecal dairy backlog—is a false attempt at climate change mitigation. Conserving and restoring native coastal prairies, meadows, and wetlands at Point Reyes would be the best way to store carbon in rich soils not trampled by cattle. Native coastal prairies are eliminated by heavy cattle grazing. Yet the park tossed this native plant restoration option out, and is seeking to expand commercial agriculture.


Native ecosystems which should be conserved in a national park—such as the rare coastal prairies, riparian areas, wetlands, and estuaries—are being degraded and eliminated by continuing cattle grazing.


But also at risk in the park’s preferred plan are an incredibly high diversity of native species, including coho salmon, steelhead trout, California freshwater shrimp, tricolored blackbird, Myrtles silverspot butterfly, California red-legged frog, Western snowy plover, and numerous rare plant species.


Populations of non-native and invasive plants are uncontrolled in the park, and dominate the vegetation in grassland zones. The process of continual heavy grazing and trampling with high cattle stocking rates holds these grasslands at an early seral state which favors nonnative weeds, and does not allow the formation of native coastal prairie and valley grassland within the planning area. The park is proposing to use herbicides to control invasive plants, but they will continue to spread because of disturbance from cow hooves and grazing.


Water quality problems on the park is a huge issue caused by excessive cattle and manure. Fecal coliform bacterial pollution from the dairies on Point Reyes are causing unacceptable water quality human health hazards on beaches on in Tomales Bay, with no no end in sight with the park review. Cattle pollution is also impacting Cordell Banks and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Point Reyes. The park’s proposals for improving water quality and dealing with the mountains of cow manure are woefully inadequate and unspecific.


High potentially pathogenic bacteria counts have been measured in Kehoe Creek and Abbotts Lagoon, and many samples exceeded the potentially pathogenic bacteria standard. Stormwater runoff from dairy manure management pools and pastures has contributed to hazardous water and beach conditions for park visitors. One mitigation attempt was to construct a modern dairy loafing barn on I Ranch, to try to contain the manure more effectively, but this does not meet with historic district standards. The impossibility of managing a safe park with historic and biological resources preserved for visitor enjoyment, is quite apparent in the park’s ranching proposal.


Sensitive springs in the ranching zone would be developed for livestock watering facilities with pipes and troughs, as many are today. This is unacceptable in a national park that was designated for natural resource conservation.


Hiking, birdwatching, wildlife photography, wildflower-viewing, and other recreational activities in our national parks are being limited by barbed-wire fences, gates, and the illusion of private ranchlands that are actually fully owned by the public, inside Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The cattle need to be removed, as was originally intended by Congress when forming these unique and valuable park units. Native plants and wildlife should be allowed to thrive in this very small section of public lands on the central California coast, and ecologically appropriate recreational activities allowed their full potential.


The park service is unfortunately proposing to allow a few private ranchers to keep running their private cattle on our public park lands, plus increase their for-profit commercial agricultural operations: row crops, chickens, hogs, sheep, goats, horse boarding, plus private tours are being considered. The park would allow expanded sheep and goat herds onto 9,000 acres of the proposed Pasture subzone.This is a dangerous precedent inside our national parks. A few private interests should not be able to diversify their income at the expense of public lands, recreational opportunities, rare species, and native ecosystems. National Park lands are to preserve, restore and interpret nature and history for the public benefit, not cater to a few private modern industrial interest groups.


The construction of modern dairy facilities, trucking in of alfalfa hay, harvesting of potentially genetically-modified silage seed mixes, and a proposal for agricultural diversification flies in the face of preserving the integrity of historic structures and cultural landscapes. The park is proposing to concentrate dairy cattle in ranch core areas and feed supplemental forage, far beyond the carrying capacity of the land and grasslands on these sensitive coastal habitats. 


In such a unique Pacific Coast national park unit, we feel that it is completely unacceptable to allow the seeding and mowing of vegetation in the proposed “Pasture subzones” of the ranchland planning area (over 9,000 acres of the Seashore), where the park would apparently increase the farming of introduced or domesticated forage plants (such as silage) for livestock production. These high-value and beautiful park lands should not be converted into cattle feedlots.


Beef cattle would be allowed to graze year-round on weedy pastures, which would not allow the restoration of coastal prairies. This is poor management of park land.


We oppose the proposed Ranch Core subzone on 180 acres, where row crops could be grown, new buildings constructed, and onsite farm processing plants built.


The management of the park is overbalanced in favor of commercial ranching interests. Park management needs to be re-balanced towards the protection and restoration of natural resources, consideration of recreational opportunities, and the preservation of historic barns, as well as increasing the interpretation of the history and cultural landscapes of the region (which need not include cattle or working ranches). The park is proposing to continue cattle grazing as “a tool to interpret traditional land use and current agricultural practices.” This does not mesh with the definition of a historic landscape, and cattle are not needed to interpret old barns. The park discusses “visitor carrying capacity” but not “livestock carrying capacity,” and we see evidence of overstocked cattle across the grazed part of the parks: bare ground, trailing, erosion, browselines on willows, non-native weeds, and elimination of coastal prairie, wildflower fields, and native meadow vegetation. 


The park’s proposal is too vague and limited concerning monitoring and mitigation to protect water quality, rare species, and habitats, and we are not convinced enforcement of rancher compliance will be effective given the current poor quality of the pastoral zone. The park proposes to use “adaptive management” in order to try to limit cattle damage to sensitive resources, but this simply tosses the details of management into the future. We want much more detail of how tule elk, other wildlife, and native habitats will be protected.

Worse still, the park service implies ranch leases will be kept open indefinitely for new ranchers regardless of whether an existing rancher wants to leave. The EIS does not propose to ever close a ranch lease for conservation purposes.


It's critical that people write comments on this General Management Plan amendment that will decide the fate of the tule elk, and many other native species, for decades to come.


The enabling legislation remains strong and clear on the original intent of the park, to preserve and restore natural resources, and ensure historical interpretation for visitor benefit. The enabling legislation is also quite clear that when ranchers agreed to take taxpayer’s funds to buy out their properties, the family would have a generous life-lease of 25 years, or the death of a spouse, and then they would relocate their operations with the funds provided. This has not happened, and the ranchers are far past the agreed-upon lease agreements.


Please be specific and detailed about why YOU enjoy Point Reyes and watching wildlife. Anyone across the country can comment, as these are our federally protected public lands which receive a large visitor influx, and which provide a huge benefit by protecting open space and native species so close to the densely populated urban centers of the Bay Area.


Alternative F would discontinue ranching operations and cattle grazing, and allow tule elk to establish new herds in the pastoral zone of Point Reyes National Seashore. We support this planning alternative.

Confined animal feedlot at L Ranch on Point Reyes National Seashore, April 2019.

Ungrazed coastal prairie on L Ranch, too far for the cows to reach in a corner. Field trip to show the public what Point Reyes National Seashore used to look like, and could be restored to in the future. Down the road from the feedlot, April 2019.

© 2020 by Laura Cunningham. Proudly created with