The Marin Conservation League, along with many prominent environmental organizations, supports the continuation of agriculture on lands managed by the Point Reyes National Seashore. The current Comprehensive Ranch Management Plan process, which the recent lawsuit seeks to abandon, provides an opportunity to demonstrate that ranching in the seashore can be sustainable and complement the park’s many other values. It also allows for a full public review of the planning process.
The seashore ranches provide habitat for wildlife without compromising sensitive species and indigenous sites. They reflect more than 150 years of agricultural history, and they maintain open scenic vistas that enhance the recreational experience of millions of visitors. The ranches also contribute to the overall economic health of agriculture in Marin. Other land management agencies in the Bay Area lease public land for grazing as a means of managing fire fuel load, maintaining grassland habitat and fostering biodiversity.
A collaboration of environmentalists and ranchers was critical in the creation of the seashore in the 1960s. When their land was purchased to create the park, the ranchers had the option of reserving a right to continue to use the property for a fixed term or for their lifetimes; the purchase price was reduced by the value of this retained right. As these reservations of use expired, the park service leased the ranches for varying periods of time, usually a maximum of five years, and subject to conditions that have changed over time. With short-term leases, ranchers have not qualified for loans or matching grants that could assist them with the costs of implementing environmental improvements.
In 2013, then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar directed the seashore to enter into 20-year leases. Longer-term leases would enable the ranchers to plan for and finance a variety of beneficial projects and capital needs. They would also give the next generation in these third, fourth and fifth-generation Point Reyes families the opportunity to continue to care for land that is part of the fabric of our community.
Long-term leases resulting from the current ranch planning process will enable the park and ranchers to ensure that agriculture in the seashore is current with the evolving best management practices of sustainable agriculture, including the opportunity to increase carbon sequestration on grasslands. These best management practices, which also address ecological values like habitat and water quality, include over 30 USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Services conservation practices that the Marin Carbon Project, Marin Resource Conservation District and some ranchers are already implementing in Marin, including on ranches under Marin Agricultural Land Trust easements.
Marin Conservation League’s committees are participating in the ranch planning process, guided by their recently updated agricultural policy. Marin Conservation League continues to support the retention of agriculture on pastoral lands managed by the seashore.
Kate Powers, a San Rafael resident, is president of Marin Conservation League and submitted this column on the organization’s behalf.