The renaissance of seashore ranching: The Salazar playbook


It’s time for both sides of the Drakes Estero controversy to move on. We agree that ranching in Point Reyes National Seashore should continue—and, contrary to Corey Goodman’s claim in his March 3 column, environmental groups have made that message clear.

On Feb. 23, I wrote in the Marin Independent-Journal: “A great number of environmental organizations do not support [Huey Johnson’s] 'wrong-headed' lawsuit [and instead] support sustainable ranching at Point Reyes. Without these ranchers’ willing participation, we wouldn’t have a Seashore and to break that bargain would threaten public land creation...”

On Feb. 25, the Marin Conservation League wrote in the I.J.: “Contrary to an impression the [news] reports may have created, ranching in the pastoral zone of the seashore has the support of many prominent environmentalists. Marin Conservation League, along with many other organizations, supports the continuation of agriculture in… the Seashore.”

The same day, Neal Desai of the National Parks Conservation Association told ThinkProgress: “We see this [ranch plan] as an opportunity to actually highlight and standardize the practices that are truly reflective of sustainable operations and in harmony with all the other issues of the Seashore.”

On March 5, Bruce H. Hamilton, deputy executive director of the Sierra Club, wrote:  “The Sierra Club was instrumental in the authorization of Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) in 1962. That legislation included a provision that ranching would be continued in a portion of this national park...”

These statements flatly contradict Dr. Goodman’s first false claim that ever since environmental activists were challenged to oppose efforts to end ranching in the seashore, the “silence has been deafening...” Hello?  

Back in November 2014, the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin wrote in response to another claim by Dr. Goodman: “A recent op-ed by Corey Goodman…was a misleading piece that perpetuates the false assertion that EAC and others in the environmental community want the dairies and ranch operations in the Point Reyes National Seashore removed.” 

That’s also an accurate response to his recent op-ed. 

Furthermore, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s “playbook” could not have been clearer when he stated in November 2012: “The Department of the Interior and the NPS support the continued presence of dairy and beef operations in the Point Reyes’ pastoral zone…. Accordingly, I direct that the Superintendent work with the operators of the cattle and dairy ranches…to reaffirm my intention that, consistent with applicable laws and planning processes, recognition of the role of ranching be maintained …these working ranches are a vibrant and compatible part of Point Reyes National Seashore…”   

This statement flatly contradicts Dr. Goodman’s second false claim that the park service intends to “run the ranchers out of the seashore.” If he were correct, then the park would have included a planning alternative that called for ending ranching. The fact that it did not prompted Mr. Johnson’s lawsuit, as a result of which the park will defend its right to continue ranching, all while Dr. Goodman attacks it for supposedly trying to discontinue ranching.  

He and other pro-ranching extremists also attack we middle-ground environmentalists for not supporting ranching, while anti-ranching extremists attack us for not supporting environmental protection. So we must be doing something right. 

The irony is that people at opposite extremes of the Drakes Estero controversy have forged an alliance on ranching because both agree that ranch planning should be removed from the hands of local seashore staff. They only disagree about whose hands it should be in.

Pro-ranching extremists want ranch planning moved to the federal capitol building, while anti-ranching extremists want it moved to the federal courthouse. 

It is also conceivable that pro-ranching extremists actually financed the anti-ranching lawsuit to justify their paranoia. Dr. Goodman himself states that “some folks thought we were paranoid. They were right.” 

We say give peace [and ranch planning] a chance. We have the opportunity for a renaissance of ranching at Point Reyes, and a model for sustainable ranching nationwide. Here’s what needs to happen.  

First, seashore staff should complete the ranch plan without interference, crafting a plan that moves ranching toward greater sustainability. We all will have the opportunity to assess their work when their draft is published. 

Second, Save Our Seashore has requested that the nonprofit seashore association establish a fence fund to promote sustainable ranch practices. Many fence projects are complete, but there are many more to go, which has created a water-quality target for the opposition. Those who loudly claim to support ranching in the park should have the opportunity to put their money where their paranoia is and join us in the middle to support continued ranching.     

Third, our community should support District 4 candidates who have long experience in dealing with complex and controversial governance issues—and the ability to listen to both sides and bring them together. 

The seashore was indeed “set up as a partnership between agriculturalists and environmentalists,” as Dr. Goodman wrote. That partnership exists still, although extremists from both sides seek to undermine it.     

Gordon Bennett, president of Save Our Seashore, is the former president of Westbrae Natural Foods and former chair of the Marin Sierra Club who discovered the dishonest science used by the Army Corps to promote dredging Bolinas Lagoon.