State rejects Point Reyes water pollution, climate plan

The California Coastal Commission has rejected a weak federal strategy to address water pollution and environmental impacts caused by animal husbandry at Point Reyes National Seashore.

The commission’s decision on Thursday came nearly a year after voting narrowly to support the National Park Service Plan To extend a lease of up to 20 years to lease land along the sea for beef cattle and dairy farms.

The plan, adopted by the Biden administration in September, allows park employees to shoot some of the park’s free-roaming tulle elk to reduce conflict with damaged property and farms to reduce competition for grazing .

A year earlier, the state commission voted 5-4 to support the plan under the condition that the park would return within a year, in order to reduce water pollution and other environmental impacts caused by the farms. To provide a comprehensive strategy.

On Thursday the commission voted unanimously to dismiss it. Strategies Park presented at the end of March. The commissioners said the strategies lacked details of identifying priority areas for cleanup, creating benchmarks for restoration projects and specifying enforcement actions.

Schooner Creek flows into the Drax Estero west of Inverness on Friday, March 19, 2021. (Alan Depp/Marin Independent Journal)

“Actual water quality planning is not enough,” said Mark Gold, executive director of the California Ocean Protection Council.

“I think it’s an embarrassment to be where we are today,” said state assembly candidate Sarah Aminzadeh, who lives in Marin County. “I think we have to raise the bar and do more.”

Park staff now plan to work with commission staff and state water quality regulators over the next several months and will submit a more detailed strategy for review in September.

As a state entity, the commission does not have the authority to prevent the park from implementing its animal husbandry and elk plan. While the commission indicated last month that it would consider revoking its support of the plan, commission staff said on Thursday that doing so is a far more complicated process than taking a simple vote.

Additionally, the Park Service may withdraw from that process at any time and the commission will have no authority to require compliance with its recommendations, the staff said. The Commission has the option of filing a suit.

Mij L Parks 0804
Point Reyes National Seashore visitors spend some time at Drakes Beach near Inverness, Calif., Thursday, July 31, 2014. (Alan Depp/Marin Independent Journal)

Jack Ainsworth, the commission’s executive director, said that while he agreed that Park’s presented strategies were inadequate, circumstances required a different approach to using the commission in these situations.

“Our authority is different so we need to work closely with our federal partners,” Ainsworth told the commission.

Commissioner Roberto Uranga said that although he did not believe adjourning the issue to September would yield better results, “I don’t believe we can just walk away.”

Ranchs have existed in the Point Reyes area since the mid-19th century. After the park was created by Congress and President John F. Kennedy in 1962, the federal government spent tens of millions of dollars over the following years to buy the ranchers’ land, but also to allow them to continue to operate the park under leases. Of the 86,000 acres on the seafront and the neighboring northern side of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 28,000 acres are farmland.

Point Reyes National Seashore Superintendent Craig Kenkel told the commission he is “committed to owning the current situation and taking action to correct it.”

Sjm L Hikes 1122 39
INVERNESS, CA – OCTOBER 21: Pierce Point Ranch is seen near the start of the Tomales Point Trail at Point Reyes National Seashore on Wednesday, October 21, 2020 in Inverness, California. The 9.7 mile roundtrip hike offers stunning views. Point Reyes Peninsula Beach and Tomales Bay. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area Newsgroup)

“We are dedicated, we are committed to resetting how the seaside ranch operates,” Kenkel told the commission.

Many of these changes would come through new leases with the park’s farmland. Ranch operators will need to upgrade which will reduce water pollutants such as manure runoff and other environmental impacts, for example, installation of methane digesters.

A previous version of the plan would have made these upgrades optional, Kenkel told the commission. Also, under the plan some pastures will be removed and about 2900 chickens will be removed from the park.

Kenkel said farms that do not agree to the park’s terms will not receive a lease and existing farms in the park can take their place.

“We are at a very critical point right now when it comes to ranchers making decisions about their future,” Kenkel told the commission.

However, details on which farms are delayed in which upgrades. The park is not issuing long-term leases for at least one year due to a federal lawsuit by three environmental groups that are challenging the Animal Husbandry and Elk Management Plan.

On water quality, the park has resumed long-term testing of water bodies and creeks near the beach, which were monitored for fecal bacteria from 2000 to 2013. Monitoring stopped when the park found that pollution-control projects on farms during those years – such as fencing, manure control and the installation of onsite water sources – reduced bacteria levels by up to 95%. The park also plans to start short-term tests to find the sources of pollution.

Anja Roudabagh, chief executive officer of the Western United Dairies trade association, which represents the park’s five dairies, said the commission’s decision was disappointing. It questioned the legal authority of a state body that was attempting to dismantle an already verified federal plan.

Additionally, he said that the allegations of water quality violations against the farms are “fundamentally not true” and the dairies need to work with the state’s regional water quality board.

“I think a lot of this criticism is being directed from out-of-town, hired people who really don’t know anything about the jobs and the local economy that these farms and ranches provide,” Roudabaugh said. Friday.

Mij L Hike 1213 02
INVERNESS CA – JANUARY 16: A colony of adult male, female and pup elephant seals are seen at a site of land near Drax Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore on Saturday, January 16, 2021 in Inverness, California. The adult breeding season runs from December to March. (Sherry Lavers/Marin Independent Journal)

Ranchers are wary of investing multimillion-dollars under short-term leases, Roudabagh said, which will address new long-term leases.

Environmental groups and critics of the park’s plan said the water quality strategy would continue to address this issue in the future.

“The plan comes down to ‘trust us, we’ll take care of it,'” said Scott Webb, advocacy and policy manager for Turtle Island Restoration Network, based in Olema. “Trust is something that is earned, not given. And the lack of monitoring, regulation and enforcement of the park gives us no reason to trust.”

“Protecting coastal resources should be the first expectation for any operator on a beach. Operating practices must protect resources and not be negotiable,” said Morgan Patton, executive director of West Marin’s Environmental Action Committee. Strategies leave us the same as last year: vague terms, promises of future dates and actions.”

Commissioners and park critics recently pointed to incidents of violations at ranches made public only after they were discovered by park visitors, including illegal dumping and more recently discovered incidents. discharge Of raw human excreta on cow pasture and manure pond. In response, Kenkel said cattle ranchers have been cooperative and taking corrective action.

Kenkel noted that the park saw an all-time record visit with 2.7 million visitors in 2021, about 500,000 more than the average.

“If the seaside conditions are so sad, why are the visitors still coming?” Kenkel told the commission. “It is really interesting to me. It is an incredibly beautiful park and it is very rich in experiences that visitors can have.”

Discouraged by the park’s submissions so far, the Coastal Commissioners said the best course of action, given their legal limits, was to continue working with the parks.

Leave a Comment