Coastal Commission Rejects NPS Plan for Point Reyes

On Thursday, the California Coast Commission (CCC) unanimously rejected the National Park Service’s (NPS) “First-Year Water Quality Strategy and Climate Action Plan,” for Point Reyes National Seashore. One year ago, the Commission, by one vote, approved a controversial General Management Plan Amendment (GMPA) for the Point Reyes National Seashore on the condition that NPS come up with a “strategy” to fix the water pollution and greenhouse gases spewing from private cattle operations in the national park. It gave the Park Service one year to do so. To the surprise of exactly no one, the NPS failed to follow through. Per NPS reports, beef and dairy ranches account for roughly two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions in the park, and nearly 5 percent of emissions for the entire County of Marin. The sixty thousand tons of manure that cattle at the Seashore produce annually across one-third of national parklands managed by Point Reyes National Seashore earned Point Reyes dubious distinction of being in the top 10 percent of U.S. locations most contaminated by feces.

A 2017 study by the Center for Biological Diversity found the highest E. Coli levels in California at a cattle ranch in Point Reyes National Seashore. For decades, the NPS has turned a blind eye to the impacts of the 24 cattle operations that lease 28,000 acres of national parkland on the California Coast. In 2013, the NPS published a report documenting excessive levels of bacteria from cattle waste in Seashore creeks. As a result, it simply stopped testing the water. Ranchers who lease land in the park do their own water testing. The results aren’t made public. The NPS signs off, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) issues waivers from the Clean Water Act when ranches fail to meet water quality standards. Neither federal agencies nor state agencies regularly test the water at the park, where more than 5,000 cows and millions of annual visitors converge. Environmentalists blew the whistle last year. They hired an independent lab to test creeks downstream of the dairies and found pathogens at levels dangerous to public health. The NPS shrugged off the findings despite public outcry and the CCC’s admonition that it come up with a fix-it plan within one year. The NPS has yet to address the problem.

The NPS submitted a half-cooked water quality strategy and climate action plan to the CCC only a few weeks before its April meeting, leaving Commission staff no time for analysis. At the Commission’s first in-person hearing in two years due to COVID, Seashore Superintendent Craig Kenkel phoned in his presentation, offering the bureaucratic equivalent of “the cows ate my homework.” He downplayed concerns, noting that the park saw all-time record visitation in 2021—some 2.7 million visitors. “If conditions are so tragic at the Seashore,” he protested, “why are the visitors still coming?” The Commission is acutely aware that cattle impacts at Point Reyes Seashore continue to threaten the climate, coast, and public health. Resource Renewal Institute and Turtle Island Restoration representatives attended the hearing, in Ventura, to testify to the NPS’s ongoing failure to do its job. Point Reyes Birding & Nature Festival Environmental Action Committee of West Marin (EAC) Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Shark Stewards provided written and recorded testimony on impacts to water quality from cattle affecting wtaer quality and wildlife in Drakes Estero and the adjacent Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.