Point Reyes Settlement a Victory for Our National Parks
Last year, RRI filed a federal lawsuit over the Point Reyes National Seashore’s failure to operate under a timely general management plan.
The Park Service’s plan for the Seashore has not been updated for 37 years. This week, a federal court delivered a victory to our National Seashore and, by extension, to all of our national parks by approving a settlement agreement committing the Park Service to produce a new general management plan by 2021.
As a small, frugal, environmental organization, we are unaccustomed to suing anyone. But after the Park Service belatedly revealed that in 2014 half of the native Tule elk at the Point Reyes National Seashore—some 250 animals—had died, we reluctantly took legal action.
RRI’s founder, Huey Johnson, had a prominent role in adding thousands of acres to the Point Reyes National Seashore in the 1970s while working for Trust for Public Land, an organization he co-founded. The added parklands were intended for public recreation and to preserve the wildlife and natural resources at the Seashore. Instead, the Park Service leased those lands to cattle ranchers.
Point Reyes is the only national park where Tule elk live. California’s native Tule elk were once presumed extinct, but a few survivors were reintroduced to the National Seashore in 1978. Conflicts arose when the elk grazed on land leased for cattle. As a result, the elk were fenced into some 2,000 acres in the park. It was this confined herd that suffered the drastic losses, as a record drought diminished available water and forage. By contrast, during the same period, the number of free-roaming elk in the park increased.
Our federal lawsuit, in which we were joined by the Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project, questioned the Park Service’s management practices that had prioritized cattle over native wildlife. We asked the court to require the Park Service to update its general management plan before extending 20-year grazing leases that the Seashore ranchers demanded.
Last updated in 1980, the Point Reyes Seashore's general management plan did not foresee such challenges as climate change, nor anticipate the huge increase in visitors seeking recreation at the Seashore—some 2.5 million annually. As a result of our lawsuit, the Point Reyes National Seashore will now base its modernized plan on an assessment of environmental impacts. Instead of the closed door discussions that shaped the park's policies, the lawsuit ensures there will be a transparent process in which public comment is sought and considered.
This is a victory for the parks and the people. At a time of mounting pressure on our parks and public lands from special interests, a crucial voice—the public’s—must be heard.
We are grateful to a great legal team, the Idaho-based Advocates for the West and San Francisco’s Keker and Van Nest, and we’re thankful to our many supporters who cheered us on knowing that our lawsuit would be unpopular on our home-turf—a community that values both its parks and its agriculture.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who vastly expanded the National Parks System during the hardships of the Great Depression, said, “There is nothing so American as our national parks…The Parks are the outward symbol of the great human principle…that the country belongs to the people.”
Eric Simons/BayNature magazine/baynature.org
... to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”