West Coast
Alyssa McClure

CA - California Coastal Commission approves Point Reyes park cattle grazing, elk management with conditions

The commission also requested the park service review the 20-year lease plan in five years.

In a marathon session that lasted nearly 12 hours on Earth Day, April 21, the California Coastal Commission endorsed in a 5-4 vote a national park service plan to extend cattle ranchers’ leases at Point Reyes National Seashore with conditions that mainly address water quality issues.

More than 70 speakers — including strong rancher supporters such as U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael — gave passionate testimony on the proposal that includes limiting the population of the native Tule elk at Drakes Beach to 120. This was part of the plan for the 28,000 acre zone that Commissioner Dayna Bochco said she found “troubling” during commissioner deliberations.

“This is really one species versus another,” Bochco said, calling the elk’s treatment as “cruel.”

Another key issue in the plan was water quality, which was mentioned several times by commissioners and attendees. Critics contend that cattle fecal matter leads to pollution of the waterways. The park service stopped taking samples in 2013, a primary issue with environmentalists, backpackers, animal advocates and tribal representatives, who dominated the comments by a 3-to-1 margin. At times, the meeting got contentious.

Native American Norma Jean Wallace, who’s against the plan, took a jab at Huffman in his comment about ranching being in the park’s DNA by saying her Miwok Tribe has “the original DNA.”

But Commissioner Katie Rice noted ranching is a part of Marin County’s long history in supporting sustainable, small agricultural operations that have been “in the same hands for generations,” she reminded fellow commissioners and attendees.

“The birth of this park was developed around these ranches. They are the core of our dairy industry,” Rice said. “This is a big deal that (reflects) the core values (of) our county — the core values (of) the Coastal Act.”

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