Coho salmon male in spawning colors. Oil on cotton rag paper, Laura Cunningham.

Chinook and coho salmon as well as steelhead runs are found in the streams on Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and each of these runs is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to past and ongoing human impacts on their habitats.  


As of 2004, steelhead had declined in abundance by 94% in the local region, while coho runs are extirpated in more than half of the regions streams that once supported them.

The effects of past land use practices (development, logging, agriculture and grazing) have changed watershed conditions and reduced habitat for many aquatic invertebrates, fish and amphibians. Loss of native perennial vegetation and deep-rooted coastal prairie, soil compaction and loss, hillside trailing, gullying and incision of swales and meadows have changed the runoff patterns and reduced the capacity of the watershed to attenuate pollutant loading and surface runoff to streams.

Livestock grazing has many negative impacts on anadromous salmonid runs, including increased stream temperatures, siltation of spawning gravels, and changes to stream morphology. 16% of spawning stream reaches were unfenced in the parks, giving livestock direct access to streambanks.

Horrendously bad management and attempted mitigation of a steelhead trout stream on a beef cattle lease in the northern Golden Gate National Recreational Area. April 2019. Is the National Park Service paying attention to cattle impacts and mitigation here?

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the agency responsible for listing and recovering threatened and endangered ocean fish, has directly studied a variety of stream reaches adjacent to grazing leases, including areas with and without riparian vegetation. Some of the adjacent stream reaches lack the habitat complexity needed for healthy juvenile salmonid rearing. Instream wood is largely absent. These conditions are locally limiting the amount of juvenile salmonids that survive to smolt age. These conditions also impact any adults that may migrate and spawn in these areas.


NMFS (2004: 41) concluded: Once the National Park Service (NPS) implements the actions described above, and continues resource monitoring and response, adverse effects to salmonids are expected to slowly reduce until in many cases they are minimal and unlikely to result in take. However, there are potential long term impacts from the grazing lease program that could result in harm to listed salmonids. NPS has estimated in the past that 16% of stream reaches occupied by native salmonids remain unfenced and accessible to domestic livestock. We are concerned that, because cattle in particular concentrate their grazing impacts along riparian corridors and  wallow in stream-courses, that continued livestock grazing on Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) will suppress the recovery of these listed fish species.

Cattle are known to have the following negative impacts on stream habitats occupied by salmonids: (1) Suppression and removal of streamside shrubs that stabilize streambanks and shade stream reaches. (2) Overgrazing of herbaceous vegetation, resulting in loss of overhanging cover used by juvenile salmonids. (3) Increased erosion and siltation of streams, resulting in increased turbidity as well as smothering of spawning gravels with silt that results in suffocation of salmonid eggs and alevin. (4) Wallowing in streams resulting in disturbance or displacement of spawning adults and the

physical crushing of salmonid eggs and alevin in their redds. (5) Physical breakdown of streambanks, converting narrow, deep streams to wide, shallow streams with little hiding cover from overhanging banks. (6) Raising of water temperatures above thermal optima for salmonids, resulting in stress, retarding growth, or causing death. (7) loss of instream hiding cover as a result of factors 1, 2, and 5 above, resulting in unnaturally high levels of predation on adults and young from avian, aquatic, and/or terrestrial predators.

Ranching is impacting Olema Creek and its tributaries, Lagunitas Creek and its tributaries, and the tributaries of Drakes Estero, in addition to estuarine habitats which may be important staging areas. Overgrazing and attendant erosion and siltation are causing problems for spawning salmon and steelhead by embedding spawning gravels with silt and suffocating redds, both in fenced and unfenced reaches of these streams.

This is your public lands and your park. What do you think? Comment here to tell the National Park Service how you would like the Seashore and tule elk to be managed. 


National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 2004. Biological Opinion: The Continued

Issuance of Grazing leases at Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate

National Recreation Area in Marin County, California.

Above: Sketch of female and male Coho salmon in Lagunitas Creek, ballpoint pen on paper.

Right: California grizzly mother and cubs feasting on coho salmon on Lagunitas Creek hundreds of years ago. Oil on cotton rag paper, Laura Cunningham.

© 2020 by Laura Cunningham. Proudly created with