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Death by design: National Park Service vs tule elk

Peter Byrne, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

Instagram users love the captive tule elk hoofing Tomales Point at the northern tip of Point Reyes National Seashore.

The sleek, befurred mammals seem to commune with tourists who stroll a well-traveled trail in the preserve. Tule elk are Yoda-like, with big, brown eyes. They trumpet, munch flowers and make love in harems.

According to a 1998 National Park Service brochure, “Given the mild climate and lush habitat of Tomales Point, the elk live in a virtual paradise.”

Let’s take a closer look. Using the fact-focusing lens of science, we learn that hundreds of tule elk inside the preserve are dying in agony from starvation and thirst and eating poisonous plants. They are trapped in an ecological hellscape operated by a bureaucracy that fences the animals away from forage and water for political reasons.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/death-by-design-how-the-national-park-service-experiments-on-tule-elk/

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After 27 years in western Marin County, Straus moves to cutting-edge creamery in Rohnert Park

Austin Murphy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In his dungarees and rubber boots, Albert Straus looked every bit the dairy farmer that he is. On this particular morning, however, the 66-year-old founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery was some 25 miles from his family farm.

Straus stood on the floor of a processing plant, amid gleaming silver tanks and conveyor belts that would soon begin moving hundreds of the company’s iconic glass bottles of milk with cream on top.

While those bottles were familiar, the building was not. After 27 years making its highly regarded organic dairy products at a facility in Marshall, the company recently moved its production plant from Marin to Sonoma County, to this brand new, $20 million, 50,000-square foot facility in Rohnert Park. Where the old creamery was surrounded by ranchland, its new neighbors include the Graton Resort and Casino, and a Costco.

“After 27 years in Marshall,” said Straus, gesturing to the machinery around him, “this will give us a road map for the next 30 years.”

While the old plant could process up to 20,000 gallons of milk a day, the new one will be capable of doubling that output — “and do it much more efficiently,” noted Straus. The upgraded plant also features new technologies that allow it to capture and reuse large amounts of water and heat.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/after-27-years-in-western-marin-county-straus-moves-to-cutting-edge-creame/?

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“Apocalypse Cow:” Point Reyes National Seashore launches a propaganda war targeting independent journalism

Erik Molvar, COUNTERPUNCH

Grab your popcorn: The battle over livestock destruction of natural ecosystems at Point Reyes National Seashore is heating up. For years, conservationists have pointed out the ecologically catastrophic toll that beef and dairy ranching has been having on native coastal prairies, the wildlife that depend on these places, and public health and safety. As the news media has caught on, the tide of public opinion has turned against the livestock producers, in favor of protecting the very rare tule elk population and shifting management of the National Seashore away from livestock production toward public recreation and enjoyment. Now, a National Park Service unit is launching a propaganda war in a desperate effort to control the media narrative, and to cover up decades of laissez-faire mismanagement of livestock operations leasing Park Service lands on the National Seashore.

The flap centers around an investigative journalism piece titled “Apocalypse Cow: The Future of Life at Point Reyes National Park,” which ran in The Bohemian and the Pacific Sun, two local weekly newspapers that serve the counties surrounding Point Reyes National Seashore, and subsequently in Counterpunch. The article characterizes the Park Service analysis of environmental effects of cattle ranching on Point Reyes as “deeply flawed scientifically, culturally and ethically” and “politicized.” It’s a long and in-depth article, covering the politics of Point Reyes, and highlighting the ecologically harmful confinement of elk behind a massive fence on sometimes-waterless Tomales Point, the negative impact that cattle operations are having on climate change, commercial ranching’s destructive influence on rare and protected species of fish and wildlife, water contamination by livestock manure, and the contrast between coastal Miwok stewardship of Point Reyes’ native ecosystems and today’s destruction of those ecosystems at the hands of commercial ranching. Based on responses to the article, the locals seem to appreciate the insightful reporting.

The Park Service is doing its utmost to discredit the piece. On its webpage, “Frequently Asked Questions about the General Management Plan,” the Park Service has a section called “Corrections regarding misinformation published in the press.” The Park Service alleges errors; The Bohemian checked the verity of the article and stands behind it as factual reporting.

Read more at: https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/02/22/apocalypse-cow-point-reyes-national-seashore-launches-a-propaganda-war-targeting-independent-journalism/

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Apocalypse cow: The future of life at Point Reyes National Park

Peter Byrne, THE BOHEMIAN

The North Bay community is divided by conflicted views on whether commercial dairy and cattle ranching should continue at Point Reyes National Seashore. This reporter has hiked the varied terrains of the 71,000-acre park for decades. Initially, I had no opinion on the ranching issue. Then, I studied historical and eco-biologic books and science journals. I read government records, including the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Point Reyes released by the National Park Service in September. The 250-page report concludes that the ranching industry covering one third of the park should be expanded and protected for economic and cultural reasons. This, despite acknowledging that the park ranches are sources of climate-heating greenhouse gases, water pollution, species extinctions and soil degradation.

The Bohemian/Pacific Sun investigation reveals that the EIS is deeply flawed scientifically, culturally and ethically. It is politicized.

Sixty million years ago a chunk of granite located near Los Angeles began moving northwards. Propelled by the energy of earthquakes over eons, Point Reyes slid hundreds of miles along the San Andreas fault at the divide between two colliding tectonic plates.

During the last Ice Age, 30,000 years ago, much of the Earth’s waters were locked up in glaciers, and the Pacific Ocean was 400 feet lower than it is today. “The Farallon Islands were then rugged hills rising above a broad, gently sloping plain with a rocky coastline lying to the west,” according to California Prehistory—Colonization, Culture, and Complexity.

Humans migrated from Asia walking the coastal plains toward Tierra del Fuego. Then, 12,000 years ago, the climate warmed and glaciers melted. Seas rose, submerging the plains. A wave of immigrants flowed south from Asia over thawed land bridges. Their subsequent generations explored and civilized the Americas, coalescing into nations, including in West Marin and Point Reyes.

Novelist and scholar Greg Sarris is the tribal chair of the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria. The tribe’s ancestors are known as Southern Poma and Coast Miwok. In The Once and Future Forest, Sarris tells the story of how the first people came to be in Marin and Sonoma counties. “Coyote created the world from the top of Sonoma Mountain with the assistance of his nephew, Chicken Hawk. At that time, all of the animals and birds and plants and trees were people. … The landscape was our sacred text and we listened to what it told us. Everywhere you looked there were stories. … Everything, even a mere pebble, was thought to have power … Cutting down a tree was a violent act. … An elder prophesied that one day white people would come to us to ‘learn our ways in order to save the earth and all living things. … You young people must not forget the things us old ones is telling you.’”

Read more at: https://bohemian.com/apocalypse-cow-the-future-of-life-at-point-reyes-national-park/

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Future of Point Reyes cattle ranches at stake in National Park Service planning process

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

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Two Rock deal protects farm belt

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 –

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Valley Ford turkey king sues Marin County, Coastal Commission over agricultural preservation law

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

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Granting of Point Reyes ranch long-term leases halted in lawsuit settlement

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

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Marin County ranchers, residents debate slaughter proposals

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

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Point Reyes ranchers at center of debate over nature of national parks

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