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How did we get to this point?

 Point Reyes National Seashore was created by an act of congress in 1962 thanks to the passion of Congressman Clem Miller. Developers had massive development plans for Marin County in the pipes starting in 1942, Point Reyes, with its miles of ocean views, being the jewel in the crown.  Dairy had been viable on Point Reyes for decades starting in the 1850's. Between cold, blowing fog all summer and the cold pacific for shipping, butter and milk from Point Reyes diaries was fresh. Flush with money from the gold rush, residents of San Francisco and Oakland, the two most prosperous cities on the west coast, were willing to pay a premium for it. But with the advent of refrigeration making much less expensive dairy from the central valley available and ranching on Point Reyes marginal and not necessary. By the time the federal government authorized the establishment of Point Reyes National Seashore, some ranchers had already started selling out to developers. 


It took the federal government ten years to appropriate enough money to purchase all of the land within the park boundaries.  There was  debate about whether and how the ranched lands should be included in the park or not and if so, under what condition. Ultimately, it was decided that they should, that the land should be owned by the government and leased back to the ranchers.  The ranchers were given RUOs, reservation of use and occupancy permits, to the ranches operating within "the seashore."  The original RUOs were not to exceed a period of twenty-five years and were not to be extended beyond the death of the leaser or their spouse.  There is conflicting information on whether or not the ranches were supposed to be phased out or if they were going to be allowed to stay in perpetuity. But it is clear that it was the specific ranching families that were to be protected, not necessarily ranching itself.  Two thirds of the ranches are now leased to people unrelated to the original ranchers. There are four or five times as many cattle on this land then when the park was established, the ranches now pay less in lease fees than the park service has in it's budget to "manage the ranches," and there are numerous documented accounts of egregious abuses of the land and water on the part of the ranchers.  


The most recent decision by the federal government, authorized by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in September of 2021, extends the leases another twenty years and allows the ranches to expand their commercial options to include other livestock (chickens) row crops and AirBnbs. This plan is presently suspended by a lawsuit over water quality violations.

The ranchers claim they have a right to continue their commercial operations because they are historic. There is a provision in the legislation, the Organic Act of 1916, that established the national parks, that allows for preservation of "historic objects." The act states that “the fundamental purpose of the parks is to conserve the scenery and the natural and . . . the wild life therein . . . by such means as will leave them unimpaired or the enjoyment of future generations."  The present day ranching does anything but. It is also is worth noting here that the last permanent Miwok/Huukuiko residents of the Point Reyes peninsula, the Felix's of Felix Cove/Laird's Landing, were marched off their ancestral lands at gun point by ranchers in 1950. (See for more information.)


For a definitive and thorough history, please read "Saving Point Reyes: How an Epic Conservation Victory Became a Tipping Point for Environmental Policy Action" by Gerald Felix Warburg

More detail, but shorter and specific to ending ranching is "The Myths of Point Reyes" by Ken Bouley, published by Wildlife News.


 For a list of articles, resources and current news, visit

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