Bipartisan bill seeks to settle Point Reyes Tule elk issue

Eleven bull Tule elk with velvet-covered antlers at the Point Reyes National Seashore.

The National Park Service (NPS) recently issued a Record of Decision for the General Management Plan Amendment for the Point Reyes National Seashore in California. The decision is good news for ranchers and dairy farmers in the area, as it allows them to continue to operate for at least the next two decades.

The management plan dealt with the future of lands under agricultural permits and free-ranging tule elk. NPS said the final amendment will include more robust requirements for ranches, further restrictions on ranch operation diversification and improvements to the management of free-ranging elk. The decision also requires infrastructure upgrades and operational changes to protect natural and cultural resources in order for existing leases to operate for up to 20-year terms.

The new 20-year leases replace the previous five-year leases. The management plan covers 28,000 acres of beef and dairy leases in Point Reyes National Seashore and the northern district of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

“This plan strikes the right balance of recognizing the importance of ranching while also modernizing management approaches to protect park resources and the environment. Input gained throughout this planning process was critical to shaping the NPS’ final plan,” said Craig Kenkel, Point Reyes National Seashore superintendent. 

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Public Lands Council (PLC) applauded the decision. 

“This, along with changes that allow for more flexibility in diversification, will allow our producers to better plan for the future of their operations,” Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of PLC and NCBA Natural Resources, told E&E News.

However, Glover expressed disappointment with the plan’s prohibition on new dairy operations, although existing dairies will be able to convert to beef operations.

“While we are frustrated by the reduced flexibility in the final decision, we are encouraged to see this now put to bed in a way that gives our producers certainty,” Glover said.

Although those in agriculture praised the Record of Decision, environmentalists and those concerned with tule elk conservation rejected the plan.

“Point Reyes, like all public lands, belongs to all of us,” said Diana Oppenheim, founder of ForELK, an organization devoted to conserving tule elk in the seashore. “We have worked to showcase the bias the National Park Service has toward private ranching interests at the expense of water quality, habitat degradation, land access and the lives of the tule elk. This decision is not supported by the people and is a step backwards in the fight for wildlife protections.” — Anna Miller, WLJ managing editor

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