Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The future of cattle ranching and herds of tule elk in the Point Reyes National Seashore is at stake in a policy-setting process that will culminate in four years and is already attracting thousands of public comments.
The National Park Service, which manages the sprawling seashore on the Marin County coast, has received about 2,800 comments on a list of six tentative management alternatives, including one that maintains the status quo for 24 families engaged in beef and dairy cattle ranching and three others that would eliminate or reduce ranching.
That trio of alternatives was required by a settlement agreement between the Park Service and three environmental groups that sued the agency nearly a year ago alleging decades of cattle ranching had trampled the seashore’s landscape and polluted its waterways, claims that the long-established ranchers and Park Service rejected.
Two other alternatives — including one designated the Park Service’s “initial proposal” — would continue cattle ranching under 20-year permits, replacing the annual permits currently being issued to ranching families. Under the one-year deals, the families cannot afford to pay or borrow money for maintenance, causing properties to deteriorate, ranching advocates say.
Read more at: Future of Point Reyes cattle ranches at stake in National Park Service planning process
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Nestled among wide rolling hills on the edge of the Two Rock Valley northwest of Petaluma, where generations of farmers have found fertile ground to support their livestock, the McClelland family’s vast open pasture provides ample room for cows to graze and scenic vistas that epitomize Sonoma County’s bucolic beauty.
Family members want their 330-acre property to stay that way forever, so the McClellands secured a deal with county officials this week to make it happen. Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday approved spending $1.88 million in taxpayer funds to conserve the property, ensuring it won’t be developed for housing and will remain as farmland.
The deal, about three years in the making, signals a landmark moment for the county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, because the McClellands’ pasture connects seven other properties the county conserved over the past two decades.Including the latest pasture — known as Hansen Ranch after the family who owned it before the McClellands — the county has now formed a 2,900-acre contiguous stretch of protected farmland in the area, an effort meant to keep dairy farms and other agricultural uses thriving in the southwestern corner of the county.
Read more at: Sonoma County spends $1.88 million to protect McClelland family’s Two Rock pasture | The Press Democrat –
Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Free-range turkey pioneer Willie Benedetti doesn’t want to work forever.
Instead of raising fat birds for Thanksgiving tables, the 68-year-old farmer hopes someday to be playing with grandchildren in a house he’d like to build for one of his sons on his 267-acre ranch near Valley Ford.
But he said that’s not possible because of a new Marin County law meant to preserve agricultural lands that would force him to keep farming if he constructs the new dwelling.
Now, he’s teaming up with a conservative legal action group that wages high-profile property rights cases, challenging the mandate in a lawsuit against the county and the California Coastal Commission, accusing them of coercion and violating his constitutional rights.
“What they are doing is not right,” said the owner of nationally known Willie Bird Turkeys, whose family has owned the land near the Estero Americano just south of the Sonoma County line since 1972. “To put pressure on the farming community. It’s ludicrous.”
The stakes could be high for many of the estimated 200 landowners in the coastal zone. A victory for Benedetti and the Pacific Legal Foundation would have broader implications on state and local government’s authority to set such strict rules for development.
“If he got a court to say local land use restrictions and basic tools like zoning are an unconstitutional deprivation of property rights, all bets would be off to maintain any type of consistent character in communities,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.
However, the ability to do just that is “battle-tested in the courts” and is not likely to go away, said Huffman, a former environmental attorney whose district runs from Marin County up the coast to Oregon.
Read more at: Valley Ford turkey king sues Marin County, Coastal Commission over ‘forced farming’ law | The Press Democrat
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Granting long-term leases to the two dozen ranching families that have raised cattle for generations at Point Reyes National Seashore would be halted under a proposed court settlement announced Wednesday to resolve a lawsuit brought last year by three environmental groups.
The tentative deal, which involves the groups and the National Park Service, manager of the 71,000-acre seashore on the Marin County coast, requires park managers to study impacts on the environment from decades of ranching and opens up the possibility that grazing dairy and beef cattle could be curtailed or ended.
Both the ranchers and environmental groups claimed victory in the settlement of a closely watched case, seen as having wider implications for management of federal land.
“This is what we asked for in the lawsuit,” said Deborah Moskowitz, president of the Resource Renewal Institute, one of the environmental groups. “It’s good news.”
Dairy rancher Jarrod Mendoza said the settlement was “a temporary win” for ranchers, who would get five-year leases.
Ranchers have been operating on one-year leases and Mendoza, a fourth-generation rancher, said he was “hopeful” that 20-year terms would ultimately be allowed. Mendoza, who milks about 200 cows a day at his ranch, said he hopes to continue in agriculture for the rest of his life.
Moskowitz and Mendoza acknowledged the settlement does not address the question of whether cattle can coexist with wilderness on a scenic peninsula inhabited by tule elk, eagles, black-tailed deer and bobcats.“I think those questions will be answered in the general management plan,” Mendoza said, referring to a park planning update required by the settlement,
Read more at: Granting of Point Reyes ranch long-term leases halted in lawsuit settlement | The Press Democrat
Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Efforts by the Marin County ranching community to obtain more local options for killing and processing livestock have run into opposition from residents who don’t want slaughter operations there.
The Marin County Board of Supervisors next week will consider language that would allow ranchers to bring mobile slaughter units onto their properties for cattle and other livestock. The provisions also would allow permanent, small-scale poultry processing facilities on farmlands.
Marin ranchers echo what their counterparts around the North Coast have long maintained: A lack of slaughter facilities in the region threatens to hold back the growth of niche livestock operations that offer grass-fed beef and other premium meats. Petaluma does have a slaughterhouse in operation for cattle and other animals, but for years the region’s ranchers have taken sheep, hogs and poultry to processing plants in the Central Valley.
“If the consumers want a local food movement, then the county needs to support it,” said Lisa Poncia, who owns Stemple Creek Ranch outside Tomales with her husband Loren, a fourth-generation rancher there.
Read more at: Marin County ranchers, residents debate slaughter proposals | The Press Democrat
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Storm clouds shadowed Ted McIsaac as he shifted his battered 1994 Chevy pickup into four-wheel drive and bounced along a muddy track over hills cloaked in brilliant green grass.
His border collie Rollin trotted alongside while McIsaac made a morning recon of his 2,500-acre Point Reyes ranch to scan the slopes near and far for his 160 head of pure black cattle. To the west, the dark spine of Inverness Ridge framed the horizon, and 2 miles beyond winter surf pounded a wild coastline.
“You rely on Mother Nature. She rules your day,” said McIsaac, 65, a lean, sturdy man with a creased face and square jaw. A fourth-generation rancher, he’s accustomed to the vagaries of weather, especially spring rains that can make or break a cattleman.
But a much larger storm now hangs over the remote Point Reyes peninsula, where a legal fight triggered by three environmental groups has profoundly unsettled life for McIsaac and 23 other families who operate ranches on the federally protected landscape.
Theirs is a way of life often as rough as the relentless waves crashing at the edges of this timeless headland. And they believe the future of ranching is at stake in the 71,000-acre Point Reyes National Seashore, where pasture for beef and dairy cattle exists side by side with wilderness, both shielded from development in a unique preserve established by the federal government at the ranchers’ behest more than 50 years ago.
President John F. Kennedy, convinced it was some sort of charmed West Coast Cape Cod, created the national park after ranchers and environmentalists fearful of intense development pressures banded together to stop the encroachment of subdivisions on Point Reyes.
As part of the deal, the ranchers insist they were made a promise specifically designed to endure: They could remain as long their families were willing to work in the wet, cold and wind of an unforgiving landscape.
Point Reyes National Seashore is now at the center of an unfolding dispute that ultimately seeks to define the nature of America’s national parks: Can the treasured public scenery accommodate the country’s ranching tradition?
Read more at: Point Reyes ranchers at center of debate over | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com