Seashore ranches offered interim agreements


Last month, the Point Reyes National Seashore sent new, roughly five-year agreements to the ranchers whose leases on its lands have expired. The interim permits are individualized, but none exceed the July 14, 2022 deadline set by the recent settlement between the park and three national nonprofits over ranching. 

By that date, the park must complete an amendment to its General Management Plan and an associated environmental review to determine its management strategy for the ranchlands. The review will address many issues raised by the ranchers in recent years, such as tule elk encroachment, succession plans and agricultural diversification, and will result in a range of alternatives, including one that would end ranching on Point Reyes.

Until now, many ranchers had operated on one-year agreements.

“I was pleased to receive my interim lease,” David Evans, a fourth-generation rancher in the seashore, wrote in an email to the Light this week. “This lease marks forward movement in the process of planning the future of ranching in the Point Reyes National Seashore that I am hopeful will both establish a minimum of 20-year ranching leases and create a framework for success that a long-term public-private partnership can provide.”

Park spokeswoman Melanie Gunn said the interim leases provide greater certainty to the ranchers than the one-year authorizations issued during the development of the park’s Ranch Comprehensive Management Plan, which the lawsuit suspended and ultimately terminated. 

Ms. Gunn said that as ranchers return signed copies, the park will post them to the lease and permit page on its website.

When the ranches were originally purchased by the National Park Service in the 1960s and ’70s, most owners negotiated a reservation of use and occupancy, which is an agreement tied to the deed and cost of the property. These agreements had different time periods, ranging from 20 to 40 years to life estates. Currently, only a couple of life estates remain.

As reservations of use and occupancy expired, the park offered ranchers five-year agricultural leases or special use permits. After the Point Reyes National Seashore received authority from the National Park Service to offer 10-year agreements in the 2000s, some ranchers operated with 10-year agreements.

Then, in 2012, in response to outcry over the closure of Drakes Bay Oyster Company, which had sought to renew its special use permit, then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar ordered the park service to issue 20-year agreements to show its commitment to continuing the agricultural legacy on Point Reyes.