Letter splits ranchers 


Twelve ranchers involved in nine ranches resigned from the Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association on July 26, saying a recent letter sent to the park service that requested consideration of the use of soon-to-be vacant Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s buildings lacked proper input from membership. That letter, drafted by a subcommittee and copied to numerous elected officials, asked the park to freeze plans to demolish the buildings until an environmental assessment for the new Ranch Comprehensive Management Plan is complete. 

An earlier letter submitted during the public scoping period for the plan and signed by 23 members expressed interest in the shared use of the oyster farm’s buildings for educational, interpretive and retail purposes.

Although the resignations come after recent pleas by the association for universal policies that would strengthen their future, they point to a troubling divide at a time of change in the management of ranching in the seashore. 

“It has become increasingly evident that our styles of communication in matters pertinent to the Point Reyes National Seashore are very different. This was most recently evidenced by the letter dated July 21, 2014 which was sent on behalf of The Association to Superintendent Muldoon and various elected officials. We felt that we had inadequate time to review and respond and consider the implications of such a letter being sent,” they wrote in their resignation, which was copied to the seashore, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Rep. Jared Huffman, Assemblymember Mark Levine, Supervisor Steve Kinsey and Stacy Carlsen, the county’s agricultural commissioner. It started circulating on social media late last week.

Melanie Gunn, the seashore’s outreach coordinator, said she did not believe the resignations would affect the park service’s relationship with any of the ranchers. “We respect their decision to resign and we will obviously continue to work with every rancher and the ranchers association,” she said.

The letter was signed by Robert McClure of I Ranch; Tim, Thomas and Mike Kehoe of J Ranch; Daniel and Dolores Evans of H Ranch; Julie Rossotti of K Ranch; Dave Evans of Rogers Ranch; Betty Nunes of A and E Ranches; Elmer Leroy Martinelli of Martinelli Ranch; Bob Giacomini, who pastures cattle in the Olema Valley, though his dairy and creamery are not in the seashore; and Joe Mendoza, who ran B and L ranches before he retired. His children, Jarrod Mendoza and Jolynn McClelland, who now run B and L ranches, respectively, declined to comment when asked whether they were still members representing those ranches. 

Numerous ranches contacted by the Light, including the association’s president, Ted McIsaac, did not return requests for comment for a second week.

For at least one rancher, the move is disappointing. “We think we’re stronger if we can be unified, and we were,” said member Kevin Lunny, who sat on the subcommittee that drafted the letter. “We still think it’s a very useful organization. It’s a tool to meet and keep each other up on what’s happening…All the people who’ve been active for a decade are still active. Our commitment to help everyone in seashore is still here.” Mr. Lunny said the ranchers who resigned didn’t give the association an opportunity to discuss the issue before they gave the letter to Mr. McIsaac.

Mr. Lunny said the committee’s intent was “to underscore to the park service that we know that the oyster farm is getting kicked out, but remember, we want a place to sell our products.” 

According to him, the committee sent the letter to all the members and received some input, but did not wait for a response from everyone before sending it to the seashore. 

Regardless, the subcommittee did not believe it needed such a response because the association doesn’t have specific protocols on what portion of membership needs to weigh in on communications, and the content was very similar to portions of a previous letter sent to the park in June, Mr. Lunny said.

That letter, submitted during the public scoping for the seashore’s ranching plan, also discussed the future of the oyster farm buildings. Twenty-three ranchers representing 21 ranches in both the seashore and the northern Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which the ranching plan also covers, signed it.

The letter expressed a hope that the park would consider more public education and interpretation of ranching in the new plan, and said the oyster buildings could serve that purpose. Because the oyster farm buildings are fully surrounded by farms and ranches “and easily accessible to the public, the [environmental assessment] must include this vital public education resource,” the letter argued. “[The Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association] not only supports the continuation of the oyster farm interpretation within the working landscapes, it believes that ranch land interpretive and educational programs should be expanded… The [environmental assessment for the ranch plan] should evaluate the benefit of having the public interpretive center in the middle of the working landscapes,” as well as selling products from ranches that might diversify if the park streamlines the approval process for things like row crops.

Since that letter was sent, the United States Supreme Court has denied the oyster farm’s appeal to remain open while litigating with the federal government over the denial of a use permit. And in light of the oyster cannery and retail shop closing last month, the ranchers’ more recent letter asked Ms. Muldoon to delay any possibility of demolishing the buildings, at least until the conclusion of the ranch planning process. It reiterated its request to consider the buildings for interpretation, education and retail sales. The letter also argued that worker housing at the oyster farm could be used for local ranch workers when the farm closes; the scoping letter mentions the need for new worker housing, since diversification might necessitate more employees, though it doesn’t mention the housing on the oyster farm specifically.