Category Archives: News

Drakes Bay Oyster files reply brief in U.S. Supreme Court

This week, Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) filed its reply to the government’s brief opposing the oyster farm’s petition to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear the case.

The Supreme Court could decide whether to take this case as early as the end of this month.

At stake is whether the government, in making countless everyday decisions, can be taken to court when it abuses its power. The Ninth Circuit held last fall that a federal court does not have jurisdiction to review a discretionary agency decision for abuse of discretion.

Drakes Bay petitioned the high court on April 14, 2014 for a writ of certiorari to review the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in its case against the government. The government filed a brief on May 27, 2014 opposing the oyster farm’s petition.

The brief filed today points out the weaknesses of the government’s opposition brief. Drakes Bay has argued that the high court should take the case to resolve “the mother of all circuit splits.” A circuit split is an issue on which two or more circuits in the U.S. court of appeals system have given different interpretations of federal law. The splits in this case are on three critical issues: jurisdiction to review agency actions for abuse of discretion, applicability of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and prejudicial error under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The government’s brief does not dispute the existence of these splits, that these splits affect a fundamental issue of administrative law, or that the issue is of national importance.

Because Drakes Bay showed that there is a “reasonable probability” that the Supreme Court will take this case and a “significant possibility” that the oyster farm will win, the Ninth Circuit has allowed Drakes Bay to remain open while it takes its

The cert petition can be found here:

By Sarah Rolph

The reply brief can be found here:



Our Window Washer Men

(With thanks to the Mills Brothers)

For me for you he does his work with class
He shines like new the dirty window glass
No one rubs no one scrubs like he can
Oh the window washer man.

You can hear the Mills Brothers version on Ken Levin’s answering machine. He and his son, Sam Levin, along with their partner, Jamal Tyson are the guys on the ladders all over West Marin and occasionally over the hill. Ken is not quite over the hill, although he’s moving toward retirement and clearly delighted to share the business with his son.

Ken arrived in West Marin in 1970, having left his high school teaching job in New Haven when he could not tolerate policemen in the hallways and an atmosphere of threat their presence implied. He found his way to the left coast when, of course, so many young people could not countenance our involvement in Viet Nam. It was also the time of communes and much else that now seems long ago. After some starting and stopping up and down the coast, Ken was invited by a friend (read girl) to visit her in a cabin she’d found in a cool place called Point Reyes Station. He still lives in that cabin. The friend has moved on.

Ken’s working life in West Marin included making granola for the old health food store in Point Reyes. He spent several years working as an early childhood educator, married and had the joy of fathering son Sam. Ken soon decided to take care of his own youngster and no longer worked with other kids. And Sam had the luck to be raised right here.

Ken joined Michael Parmeley in the window cleaning business after Michael’s partner (and a close friend of Ken’s) died unexpectedly. From the beginning, Ken enjoyed the work as it kept him outside; was physical; his customers were and are pleased and appreciative; the results of the work are there for all to see (through) and it does no harm. Ken feels blessed and especially now because his son has joined him in the business.

Sam worked with his dad in summers during high school, so when he decided to join the business, he knew he would enjoy it. Sam enjoys the challenges of steep terrain and architects who do not consider the problems posed by inaccessible windows that still need to be washed. He says, “Some windows are really “unclean-able,” but we usually find a way.” Sam’s been working with Ken for ten years now. He’s a snowboarder, a succulent grower, a hiker, and very interested in the arts.

Now why do you smile? “I’m happy all day long.”
I’ve got my health, and I’ve got my job
And so I sing this song
Oh the window washer man.

These Women Are A Team

(L)HowsBusinessAnd you can’t miss it if you have any dealings with them. Martha Howard owns the law practice behind the gorgeous roses next to the Inverness post office. Dakota Whitney works with Marty about 12 hours/week, perfect for a mom with two young boys. Dino Williams, the office manager and legal assistant, greases the wheels and complains only that those climbing roses seem eager to climb through the front door. Dakota describes Dino as the backbone of the office and “the best math-mind” among them.

Marty is our local attorney in estate planning which means wills, trusts, associated taxes and probate. Sometimes, she does elder law, addressing the needs of older adults, some of whom cannot afford nursing home care without qualifying for Medi-Cal. How these specialties emerged, how Marty went to law school to become a criminal lawyer but ended up with a Masters in Tax Law had to do with too many drunk drivers and the wish to work more at home to be with her young son. By 1980, she was firmly ensconced in West Marin. The rose-adorned building she’s occupied since 1986 came to her when an upscale dress shop decamped. Marty points out that most of their clients are in their 60’s and 70’s. (According to a Forbes survey, 35% of adults actually have some form of estate plan.) Marty loves the intellectual challenge of her work and really doesn’t love the unavoidable feeling of never being completely finished. There is always more work and more detail, and yet another pressing problem to address.

Dakota went to law school at a time when women were more and more present, in class and in practice. For seven years, she worked for a big firm in the City where she felt very content, even walking to work from Telegraph Hill. When she got pregnant with her first child “everything changed in a second.” So, the growing family came back to Inverness where Dakota was raised, and she’s never looked back. She reflected about life at that big law firm where she worked on complex business litigation: how the young associates worked together with real joy and friendship; and how you hoped not to be assigned to work for one of the partners who were notorious task masters. For women, even then around the turn of the last century, after so much discussion, after such big cultural shifts, the majority of young women associates did not choose the path to partnership. Dakota looked at the lives of both male and female partners and just didn’t want those lives for herself. She agrees with Marty that intellectual challenges are important and adds that the inevitably personal interactions also make her very happy to be doing this work which is often critical to clients’ well being.

Marty and Dakota and Dino are aware that women’s lives in the legal profession continue to change. Big firms still have few women at the top, but no one any longer says, “Oh, you’re a lady lawyer, huh?” The days when judges and lawyers all “knew each other” and were all male, are past. And women often run our bar associations, and they fill 46% of law school classes. All-female law firms are no longer unheard of, and in West Marin, we have one of our own. So stop by and smell those gorgeous pink roses!

Chariot Of The Gods

Do I deserve my dream horse? I have been pondering this. Does it help that I am concerned about my neighbors and gather signatures? Deserving requires measurement, sufficient amounts of having been good or tidy or obedient or silent or respectful or whatever else grown people want from children. The accomplishment of these brings pride; which, as Freud said, is the consciousness of deserving to be loved. How many signatures do I need to become deserving? Magic travels in different company.You can’t earn it or deserve it, there’s no one to impress in order to get it, it is never owed to you and does not respond to bargains or negotiations. There’s something capricious about it, can’t be predicted, tends to show up when least expected.

Does magic happen to people who don’t believe in it? Definitely not. Does believing in magic bring it about? Probably not. You get something you’ve always wanted; it happens unexpectedly for no particular reason. There it is. It has arrived. What are you going to do now? When magic happens, to believe in it is a form of gratitude. I’ll never get what I want through deserving it. I’m simply not the kind of person who deserves things. If I am to get them there will have to be magic. But what kind of magic? In the traditional kind, If you want to catch an animal you draw its antlers on the walls of a cave, put on its skin, lie down in a clearing and wait for it to come to you. Or, if you want it to rain you punch a few holes in the bottom of a pot and walk through your fields watering vegetables, suggestively hinting.

When I was a kid in Los Angeles I used to gallop around slapping my thighs and making tock tock sounds with my tongue. This behavior was meant to work magic and persuade my hard-working parents to get me a horse, with no questions asked about where we would board it or how we could afford it. I am aware that my neighbors here in the village might look at this behavior with the same expression I see in their eyes as they converse with me.Therefore, I’ve been lecturing myself: “Conversation needs a vigorous editorial function. This you say, this you imagine, this you confide, this you shut up about.” It’s crucial to avoid situations where these hesitations might be compromised but this is not easy in a village where lines are constantly forming, where I might be tempted to hold forth about magic.

Next door to us we have cows, young heifers who come running when we walk by their corral. We have nothing to feed them and they must know by now so I assume this is a friendly, even neighborly gesture. As the mist and twilight come in over the hills the heifers frisk and frolic, kicking up their hind legs in what I thought, when we first moved out here, was a most un-cow-like way. Many animals, I have learned since, grow frisky as it gets dark. The deer leap and bound through our garden as if they were celebrating something; our cat, usually lazy and docile, races up the oak tree. We know the universe is full of mysteries that bring great joy until you try to explain them. I call this natural magic, the kind that is there all over the place if we bother to notice.

I talked about the magic of nightfall to our Village Clipper while she was cutting my hair. I knew she had some twenty different animals on an acre of land behind her house. In exchange, she told me about her cow who used to push the neighborhood kids on a swing tied to a tree, gently of course, using her big head. This same cow took care of the neighboring horses. Whenever their owner didn’t drive out to feed them she would push hay under the fence. When Catherine whistled the cow came, fast as a cow could, across the pasture. This is the magic of interspecies love. Imagine a doubled universe—ours, where things go haywire, are chaotic, force people from sheer terror to believe in the omnipotence of gods. In our world no one ever gets used to the suffering of the innocents, genocide, ethnic cleansing, wars, mass murder, the things we tend to bring upon ourselves in (almost) every generation and in every generation blame on god.

Now imagine the other universe, a light to our darkness, where there is no omniscience and therefore no being to hold accountable or blame, no reason to grow bitter or curse life. Things happening the way they happen; apples growing on apple trees and not on fig trees, for example. There is a simple order to things, rain falling on our heads not up into the sky, babies starting out new-born, growing older and not the other way around. This magical order is a kind of intelligence, far beyond any we’re likely to achieve for ourselves. All we have to do is align ourselves with it by stating our desires. This is spokenwish magic and reveals a perfect faith in the goodness of the universe. I started hanging around at Morgan Horse Ranch. I looked, I stared, I stirred up dust with my toe. I watched Black Mountain turn black on an overcast day and pronounced my wishes. I gazed at the horses and their straight-backed riders coming in off Bear Valley Trail and made myself stand straighter. I frowned, I narrowed my eyes, I came closer, I retreated to a distance, muttering my wishing- words. None of this worked until one long darkening afternoon, as the wind was rising, he was there. Right smack in front of me, burnished in the long light, exactly as I had imagined Plato’s horse, tossing his head to make the tiny bell on his bridle announce him: a copper-colored horse with a long flaxen main and tail and four perfect white socks and a diamond blaze on his forehead. I ran over as the rider was removing the saddle.

“I just had to touch him to believe he was real.” “I know what you mean. Same thing happened to me.’ “What is he? Is he one of a kind? I mean, the only one like him here on earth?” “Don’t worry. There are others. Horses of this breed come from Kentucky. They’re called Mountain Saddle Horses and the fantastic things you hear about them are true.”

I had never heard anything about them but I was ready to believe in the fantastic. “The breed doesn’t trot, it ambles. I mean, as fast as most other breeds cantor. You just sit there and relax as you go on your way because the walking-gait doesn’t change. No posting, no nothing. No one believes it until they’ve tried it.” Here was a horse even the most severe realist in the village could approve for me. She handed me the reins.

“Walk him around a bit. You’ll get a feel for how gentle he is. The breed is magical, I don’t know why anyone rides anything else.” The breed is magical? She had actually said it. “Do I have to give him back?” I handed her the reins. “I love Sinbad, I mean, I got him on my 12th birthday so of course. But honestly there are, you know, the dark brown horses with flaxen manes and chestnuts and whites and palominos, and reds and sorrels and all of them with two-foot manes and long tails that brush along the ground. If you’re looking for a horse, you’ve found him.” A fleeting thought of young Cooper, now suddenly discarded. How fickle could I be? All those months of pining and I had thrown him over, just like that? But maybe that’s how magic works. You cut yourself free from one obsession before you start wishing on another. I watched the trailer drive off, not sure if I was saying goodbye forever to the most beautiful horse in the world, or had been pointed in the direction of the right horse for me. My intended. Not that I deserved him. How could anyone deserve Plato’s winged horse who guides the chariot of the gods?


Art Review

Tobias BernardiGallery Route One, May 11-June 14 The visual poetry of Geraldine Liabraten is an exhibition of urban photographs, coupled with contrasting writing by well-known authors such as Robert Frost, Henry David Thoreau, T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, Jane Hirschfield, Langston Hughes, Omar Khayam, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Also the Bible. The oblique relationship between the quotes and the close-up images of walls, lights and other objects presents objects for thought. Her work forces us to see light and shadow, diagonal lines and patterns that we miss if we do not look closely at things. This is the first time she has engaged with poetry. Sometimes the images came first and sometimes the poetry. The result is a success that deserves sustained viewing. Liabraten says, “Things are not necessarily how they appear…my intent is to make the viewer wonder what this is.”

In Gallery Route One’s Project Space/With the Earth Gallery, two artists share the space for Disappearing Act: Our Role in Species Extinction. Marie-Luise Klotz’s work is concerned with bees and the colony collapse disorder over the past eight years. This is an urgent threat to plant life, agriculture and our food. Her sepia-toned photographs are covered with gold and presented on black backgrounds. They beautifully depict bees, almonds, seeds, flowers, raspberries and a stalk of broccoli, all equally endangered. Klotz tells us “I want to imply that something so seemingly mundane as the honeybee is something that we should value as much as gold…” One wall of the space has a shelf holding a 30-foot book of stencil paintings by Xander Weaver-Scull of turtles, lizards and birds. His process starts with free hand drawings with markers on acetate that he then cuts out shapes. The stencils are then spray-painted on the paper or hand-painted in watercolor and ink. The GRO Annex Gallery shows Suzanne Parker’s small painted photographs. The photographs serve as a beginning for paintings that move from exterior views to interior views of thoughts and feelings. These exhibitions will close with a salon at 4 pm on Sunday, June15. GRO is open daily except Tuesday, 11-5. Spring Art Show, May 10-18. As I entered the gallery at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center I was greeted by a colorful group of paintings by Anne Faught covering one panel. On another wall was a highly textured painting of fish by Tobias Bernardi. And in the other room of this annual spring show of work by over 100 artists who live in the San Geronimo Valley was an entire wall of big colorful paintings in different styles and techniques by Sherry Petrini, Harry Cohen, Deanna Pedroli and Alexandra Adeir. Among the smaller paintings Barbara McLain’s oil painting, Solo Performance, stands out. Oils and watercolors were predominant but there were some fine pastels by Sandy White of a very relaxed pig, and Connie Smith Siegel of a flowering plum, one of her recurring themes. An unusual tile work was Animal Nature by Justine Tot Tatarsky. This was a show for everyone who lives there, and for everyone who wanted to see a variety of artistic creativity in all media. As there was no theme to this exhibition I cannot comment on its meaning other than to say what I found interesting on the afternoon that I visited the gallery. In addition to the paintings there were a number of fine prints. I enjoyed the lifesize faces of Fred Berensmeier’s Coho Creation Dance, a collagraph; Elan Kamesar’s untitled stone lithograph; Jean Berensmeir’s linoleum block print of formalist images of the torso, Physical Therapist’s Delight in Stability; Geoff Bernstein’s serigraph, Rio de Janiero; and Dan Getz Corporate What? a beautifully made image with 12 cubicles in perspective containing shirts, collars and ties. An intriguing mixed media work by Gaetano de Felice showed a predatory bird flying through silhouetted trees at sunset. The exhibition offered a number of mixed media works and assemblage and only one traditional carved sculpture, Pele, an earthwoman of alabaster by Cornelia Nevitt. This show deserved a much longer run so that more people could have seen the creative work being done in the valley.

Art People

Inez Storer is having a solo show, Hidden Agencies, at the Gail Severn Gallery in Ketchum, Idaho, May 21- June 27. Emmeline Craig’s painting graces the May cover of In Marin Magazine.

Send your information and comments about local artists and the arts, along with high-resolution images to i n f o @ c c h a p l i n e . c o m <> with Artswell in the subject line.

Supreme Court Amicus Briefs Support DBOC

In an impressive show of support, four strong amicus briefs have been filed
with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s petition
to have its case heard. The briefs show that farmers, environmentalists, scientists,
chefs, agriculturalists, conservationists, and historic preservationists all support
the historic oyster farm.

At stake is whether the government, in making countless everyday decisions,
can be taken to court when it abuses its power, misinterprets the law, or misrepresents
science. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a federal
court does not have jurisdiction to review a discretionary agency decision for
abuse of discretion. Drakes Bay Oyster Company petitioned the U.S. Supreme
Court on April 14, 2014 for a writ of certiorari to review that judgment.
Because Drakes Bay showed that there is a “reasonable probability” that the
Supreme Court will take this case and a “significant possibility” that the oyster
farm will win, the Ninth Circuit has allowed Drakes Bay to remain open while it
takes its case to the Supreme Court.

The amicus briefs filed in support of Drakes Bay make compelling arguments
for why the Supreme Court should take the case.

And the very fact that there are so many amicus briefs is a positive indicator
for the oyster farm. A 2008 study published in the Georgetown Law Journal
showed that amicus briefs make a big difference. With no amicus briefs filed in
support, the odds of certiorari being grants were around 2 percent. With at least
one amicus brief filed in support, the odds of certiorari being granted were around
20 percent If, as in this case, there are at least four amicus briefs filed in support
of the petition, the odds jump much higher, to 56 percent. This means that the
oyster farm may have a better than even chance of having the Supreme Court take
its case.

This story provides a detailed report of one of the briefs, that of William T.
Bagley et al. Future stories will discuss the other three briefs, filed by the Monte
Wolfe Association, by the Pacific Legal Foundation and the California Cattlemen’s
Association, and by Dr. Corey Goodman and Dr. Paul Houser.
Elder environmentalists and farm-to-table chefs support aquaculture
Former California Assemblyman William T. Bagley and former Congressman
Paul Norton “Pete” McCloskey (co-author of the Endangered Species Act and cochair
of the first Earth Day) are two of the elder environmentalists joining the
brief filed by San Francisco lawyers Judith Teichman and Alexander D. Calhoun.
The brief underscores the overwhelming support for the oyster farm in the West
Marin community and beyond. As the brief points out, “The oyster farm is a small
presence in the Seashore’s marine wilderness but a large presence in California
and a critical source of fresh shellfish for the Bay Area.”

Additional elder environmentalists joining the brief are Phyllis Faber, noted
wetland biologist and co-founder of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, and the
Tomales Bay Association, a 50-year old West Marin County environmental organization.
Tomales Bay Association supports DBOC as “a critical component of ongoing
habitat restoration projects for Threatened & Endangered species,
especially native oyster restoration projects in SF Bay and elsewhere in the State.”
Emphasizing the importance of DBOC shellfish to the menus of the farm-totable
restaurants in the Bay Area, the brief is also joined by a number of distinguished
chefs and restaurants: Patricia Unterman, chef-owner of the Hayes Street
Grill, a San Francisco Civic Center restaurant that has specialized in fish since
opening in 1979; Sheryl Cahill of Station House Café in Point Reyes Station, celebrating
its 40th anniversary, where oyster stew is a signature dish; Christian
Caizzo of Osteria Stellina, Point Reyes Station, an Italian restaurant “with an unwavering
commitment to local organic products” that serves DBOC oysters raw
and on pizza; and Luc Chamberland, whose Saltwater Oyster Depot in Inverness
features oysters shucked “moments after they leave the bay.”

Producers in California and around the country are unable to meet the growing
demand for shellfish. On behalf of the Hayes Street Grill, and the many Bay Area
restaurants, including other amici, amicus Patricia Unterman confirms “The loss
of oysters produced by DBOC would have a devastating impact on our mission,
our menu, and the expectations and pleasure of our customers. We cannot replace
the fresh, local, shucked oysters from DBOC.”

Survival of the oyster farm is vital to the survival of the ranches
The brief argues for the support and development of innovative, ecologically
sound and sustainable agriculture practices, and points out that the fate of the
oyster farm is entwined with the fate of the ranches here. “Survival of the oyster
farm is vital to the survival of the ranches in the seashore,” the brief states, and
the ranches in the Seashore are an essential component of agriculture in Marin
and Sonoma counties.”

Amicus Dr. Stephanie Larson, Livestock and Range Manager and Director of
the UCCE, Sonoma County, develops and implements projects that integrate dairy
and livestock production with rangeland management in Sonoma and Marin. She
has extensive experience working with Seashore ranchers to develop individual
ranch plans, which address water quality issues in the Drakes Estero watershed.
Dr. Larson is concerned that despite these efforts the ranches in the Drakes Estero
watershed may be held responsible for declining water quality in the Estero and
required to take additional cost prohibitive measures if the filter feeding oysters
are removed from Drakes Estero.

Underlining the importance to the oyster farm to the future of agriculture, the
brief is also joined by a many agriculturalists and agriculture organizations in addition
to Dr. Larson:
• The Sea Grant program of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San
Diego, which promotes the wise use of coastal and marine resources and sustainable
aquaculture development
• Mike and Sally Gale, Owners of Marin ranch where they raise apples and
grass fed beef;
• Peter Martinelli, a third-generation Marin farmer
• West Marin Compost Coalition, a group of individuals working to divert all
organic wastes from landfill disposal to composting for the benefit of Marin
farms, gardens and ranches
• Agricultural Institute of Marin, a nonprofit corporation that operates Certified
Farmers’ Markets in Marin, Alameda and San Francisco
• Alliance for Local Sustainable Agriculture, an unincorporated association of
“environmentalists supporting and promoting local sustainable agriculture
through education, research, conflict resolution and advocacy”
• California Farm Bureau Federation and Marin and Sonoma County Farm Bureaus,
nonprofit membership corporations whose purpose is, respectively, to protect
and promote agricultural interests in the State and in their Counties and to
find solutions to the problems of their farms and rural communities
• Marin Organic: Founded in 2001 by “a passionate group of farmers, ranchers
and agricultural advisors to put Marin County on the map as a committed organic
county,” Marin Organic fosters a “direct relationship between organic producers,
restaurants, and consumers” to strengthen commitment and support for local organic
farms, such as DBOC.

To learn more about the interests of these amici and their arguments for the
continuation of Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, read the brief at:

Nancy Scolari Recognized by Marin Resource Conservation District

Marin Conservation League President Jon Elam with Nancy Scolari, Executive Director of the Marin Resource Conservation District, at the Conservation League’s annual dinner last month. Scolari received the John M. McPhail, Jr. Green Business Award. The Conservation League recognized her work with the Marin RCD for bringing together diverse stakeholders to design and implement numerous conservation projects on Marin County ranches, including improvements to water quality, habitat enhancement, carbon sequestration, and pasture health.

This year the Marin RCD, based in Pt. Reyes Station, is managing conservation projects with budgets totaling $740,000 on seven local farms and ranches, all with the cooperation and assistance of partnering agencies and the farmers and ranchers.

Herd Out West

Couldn’t help but hear.
“And don’t eat the lettuce . . . .it’s a prop!”
Melissa Claire, director of Kids Musical Theater, to young actors before the opening night performance of “We Are Monsters.” Heard at the Dance Palace by Ramon Cadiz of Inverness.

Citizen readers:When you hear or observe something amusing in West Marin, over the hill, while on vacation or a business trip or perusing blogs, we want to join in the fun. E-mail submissions to Or telephone: 415-454-3552

Elk putting National Seashore ranches at risk-Part 2

As reported in the Citizen last week, the Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association (PRSRA) has stepped up pressure on park officials to take immediate action to remedy overgrazing and other elk problems they claim threatens the very survival of the ranches in Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS). This week, PRNS officials respond to that article, plus answer additional questions on the issue.

As background, tule elk, native to California, had all but disappeared from the Point Reyes area by 1860. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), in cooperation with US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service (NPS), reintroduced tule elk to the 2,600 acre Tomales Point Wilderness in 1978. They are kept from roaming into the ranch areas, restricted by the Pacific Ocean to the north and west, Tomales Bay to the east, and a three-mile-long, ten-foot-high wildlife fence to the south.

In 1998, NPS officials moved 45 elk from that original herd to the Limantour Estero Wilderness area to “establish a free-roaming herd”. No fences were built to contain this new herd, although a formal Elk Management Plan was developed.

In 1999, two elk from this herd “showed up behind the barns on the C Ranch”, across Drakes Estero some six to eight miles away, “with tracking collars on their neck” according to C Ranch manager Ernie Spaletta. The NPS says they did not relocate this herd, rather they migrated out of the unfenced, free-roaming wilderness area on their own.

It is this third herd that is causing consternation among the ranchers in the Drakes Beach area of PRNS. Now 74 animals strong, according to the last official NPS count, they are now roaming around the B, C, and E ranch pastures in the Pastoral Zone with the cows.

Asking for help

Ranchers, in their September 23, 2013 letter to NPS Superintendent Cicely Muldoon, assert “The Drakes Beach herd is affecting ranchers in this area on a daily basis by damaging fences and other infrastructure allowing cattle to get into the wrong pastures, impacting forage and water resources, causing physical harm to livestock, and putting the ranchers’ organic certifications and overall livelihoods at serious risk. Despite the Seashore’s promises of commitment continually made to the PRNS ranching community that their sustainability is ensured, the current problems created by the elk guarantee an end to agriculture in the park.”

In that letter, the PRSRA quotes a March 2012 letter from Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey: “Their concern, and mine is the considerable damage and economic impact that grazing elk are having on their operations. Additionally the elk population is growing by 12% each year and migrating further onto agricultural leased property.”

David Press, NPS Wildlife Biologist for PRNS, and NPS Outreach Coordinator Melanie Gunn discussed rancher concerns, the 1998 Elk Management Plan, and other tule elk herd management issues during a recent Citizen interview at Park Headquarters.

Press stressed the 1998 Elk Management Plan specifically addressed the “reintroduction of a free-range herd in Limantour, but it did not anticipate the elk wandering into the Pastoral Zone, and the plan does not address what the park should do in that situation. It only addresses what the park should do if elk migrate outside the park.”

New plan needed

Press said while ranchers have asked the NPS to move the elk back to the wilderness area, the PRNS Elk Management Plan does not allow for that, according to Department of Interior (DOI) attorneys. “So we need to develop a new Elk Management Plan to address the movement of elk from wilderness to pastoral ranching areas inside the park itself,” he said.

“PRNS wants to strengthen relationships with the ranchers,” Press continued. “We are not phasing out ag for tule elk or other wildlife. We are committed to preserving ag and finding the right balance with wildlife management.”

Gunn added emphasis to Press’ comments saying “NPS officials truly want to work closely with the ranchers to solve the problem, and continue to build on the historical NPS support of ranching in the park.” She said they are guided by a letter written by former DOI Secretary Ken Salazar in May 2012 to Senator Diane Feinstein, in response to the Senator’s request on behalf of the PRSRA that he review the NPS efforts to address the elk situation to “protect the rights and property of ranching leases.”

Gunn said the NPS continues today to follow Salazar’s lead in the agency’s commitment to the ranching community as stated in his response to Feinstein: “The NPS actively supports historic dairy and beef operations at Point Reyes and has made significant investments in ranching infrastructure. PRNS recognizes that beef and dairy ranches operate in a challenging economic environment and we take the concerns raised by the park ranchers seriously. The 1998 Tule Elk Management Plan and Environmental Assessment for Point Reyes did not contemplate, analyze, or assess the establishment of a tule elk herd in the pastoral ranching zone of the Park,” his letter continued.

Two interpretations

The PRSRA has stated that 1) the ranchers simply want the NPS to follow the existing 1998 NPS Elk Management Plan that provides for relocating elk that cause damage to private property; and 2) the association disagrees with the NPS contention that the 1998 management plan does not apply to this herd of elk and that NPS hands are tied until a new Environmental Assessment (EA) which would contain a new Elk Management Plan must be completed before anything can be done.

Press, however, said the NPS interprets the plan differently. “The 1998 EA allowed for reintroduction of tule elk into a new area as a free range herd (the Limantour Wilderness herd noted above). It did not anticipate that the tule elk would wander or migrate into the Pastoral Zone, and so the 1998 plan does not address what the park should do in that situation. It talks quite specifically, I think, about what the NPS must do if the tule elk leave the park and enter private property—not if they end up in areas of the park where they were not expected to roam.”

Ranchers point to several statements within the 1998 EA they believe gives the NPS authority to act, including “Under alternative A the Seashore will maintain the elk fence on Tomales Point and continue to separate elk from cattle.” They also point to the section of the EA titled “Relocation of Elk to Limantour” which states “Tule elk will be allowed to roam outside the area as long as new home ranges are not established where conflicts with traffic corridors or neighbors are likely.”

“We too are concerned about elk impacts on ranching operations,” Press emphasized. “The statement that the park has not been doing anything to help the ranchers is just not accurate. We are preparing for the planning process, by meeting with ranchers and we have more field biologists spending time in the Pastoral Zone monitoring elk. The ranchers are saying we want you to move the elk back to the wilderness area, and it is their opinion that the 1998 Elk Management Plan allows for that.” However, Press pointed out “We contend that we cannot, because of our solicitors and DOI lawyers guidance that says ‘no the 1998 Elk Management Plan does not give you that authority.”

A new plan

Gunn interjected, “In fact, it would be going against NEPA law if we did that. As much as we would like to help solve the problem now, we don’t have the authority.” (As required by federal law and NPS management policies, management plans must be developed through a public process that conforms to the National Environmental Quality Act (NEPA). The NEPA process consists of an evaluation of the environmental effects of a federal undertaking including its alternatives.)

She said she was “Happy to announce today that we have finally secured the funding to do a new comprehensive dairy and ranching management plan which is also needed because of Secretary Salazar’s decision last November to extend the ranches’ special use permits to 20 years. The tule elk will be addressed in the new plan that covers the new lease terms.” (Special use permits are often referred to as “leases” that govern the ranching operations. In this instance, the NPS is the landlord and the ranchers are the tenant operators. Originally written for five years, and then extended to 10 years, the permits were issued to the original owners of ranches whose land was condemned by the government and then leased back to the original owners when PRNS was designated national park.)

Gunn and Press were then asked “How do you respond to people who say the elk should not have been reintroduced into the pastoral zone from the wilderness because doing so is a violation of California Coastal Act because the elk are displacing ag land and that is violation of the California Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) that says “federal agencies shall comply with the CZMA o the extent possible under federal law and that enforceable policies of the CZMA provide that lands suitable for agriculture shall not be converted to nonagricultural use unless continued or renewed agricultural use is not feasible?”

“The NPS is staying in ag, we support ag in the PRNS,” Gunn responded. “We are grateful we now have funding to begin the new 20-year planning process we’ve been talking about, that is going to get underway after the first of the year, that will focus on the future of ag in the park. And, actually some ranchers are not sure they want 20 year leases, so it could be for a period of up to 20 years.”

Not ‘if’ but ‘how’

She pointed out “There has been some talk about Drakes Bay Oyster Company leaving the park as the first sign that ranches will be pushed out of the park, and that is absolutely not true.” She continued, “The Secretary has confirmed that with his announcement of 20-year leases. This planning process is not about whether the ranches will stay in PRNS, but how they will stay. PRNS is a model for the country when it comes to ranches inside parks. This is a real opportunity to change the tone in the community about ranches and the park. We are looking forward to how we can strengthen relationships with ranchers in the park.”

Press added, “As another example of the fact we are not phasing out ag for tule elk or other wildlife in the park, I want to point out that when D Ranch closed during 2001, and reverted to park management, the main pastures remained in ag; they were divided up between the C Ranch and the E Ranch. We are committed to preserving ag in the park.”

The D Ranch reverted to NPS when Horick family heirs decided to exit the ranching business after their mother Vivian died. Most of the pasture area of the ranch was added to adjacent ranch leases: pasture acres were added to the adjacent Historic C Ranch lease, managed by Ernie and Nichola Spaletta, and to the Historic E Ranch managed by Tim Nunes. Press noted that the D Ranch farmstead buildings (house, barns, sheds), livestock watering ponds, and the land that runs down to Drakes Beach reverted to PRNS management, and is no longer permitted for grazing.”

Press and Gunn were also asked to respond to another prickly question: “What do you say to the ranchers who remind me that when they went back to Washington, D.C., they ‘agreed to lay down their swords and stop fighting condemnation of their land for the establishment of the new PRNS if the government would allow them to run the ranches as they always had done’—and there were NO elk involved when they made that agreement, and no EIS was done in advance of reintroducing elk onto their ranches?”

“It’s true, no EIS was done,” Press said, continuing “There is no current document around elk, and that’s an issue for us out there, too. Again, no one anticipated the elk would migrate out into the ranches.”

Elk movement tracked

One of the biggest challenges associated with managing elk, of course, is their impact on available forage for both wildlife and livestock, Gunn noted. A full time NPS range management specialist is assigned to work with the Seashore ranchers “as it is complicated to run a ranch on NPS property given NEPA rules.”

Press has employed the use of sophisticated GPS tracking devices to monitor where the elk are roaming. Two cows and two bulls were outfitted with tracking collars in the Drakes Bay area in October 2012 with three-hour data points. The computerized system generates an email to Press every three days, from which he can create a map of where the elk have been. That data, along with visual observations by biologists who are in that area two or three times per week, will be included in the preparation of the elk management plan component of the new 20-year management plan for the Pastoral Zone. Gunn said “We are generating valuable research data. Thus far, we have 650 surveys of elk movement completed since the fall of 2009.”

Getting back to the specific requests of the ranchers who have reported damages that are affecting their economic well being, Press noted two key complaints: damages to fences and forage consumption by elk. (The operating leases require ranchers to pay for the cost of fencing, building maintenance such as new roofs, ranch roadway maintenance, and general upkeep of the entire infrastructure on the properties.)

“We are exploring opportunities to provide additional pastures to affected ranchers, from areas now controlled by the park that are not part of the ranch leases, forage areas that are adjacent to affected ranches.” Gunn noted.

‘Elk crossing’

Press said they are working on fence damage concerns. NPS has installed “elk crossings” that allow elk to move across fence lines without tearing up the fences, as shown in the attached photo provided by the NPS. Press noted that they want to help with fence repair, and “some ranchers request we don’t repair their fences, and some do.”

Press also noted that in an attempt to alleviate pressure on ranch forage and water resources—especially in this recent drought year when many livestock watering ponds dried up—and to keep elk bunched up away from ranch pastures, PRNS has started an elk watering project at the D Ranch.

Two, 5,000 gallon water tanks have been set up outside the old barn on D Ranch and tapped into the Drakes Beach Visitor Center water system. Water is pumped up to the holding tanks so it can be “de-chlorinated” before it is piped out to two old livestock watering ponds and one spring area below the barns, keeping them full. “This project is designed to encourage the elk to stay on the NPS property at the D Ranch, instead of roaming onto leased pastures,” Press said.

According to Press, 60 cow elk are congregating around the D Ranch watering areas, and GPS monitoring shows a significant reduction in the use of neighboring ranch pastures, even though no supplemental feeding is provided.

Population control options are controversial to say the least, but the ramifications of doing nothing can have far reaching impacts on wildlife habitat as well as agricultural operations. According to CDFW reports, at the Tupman Tule Elk Reserve, where no cattle compete with the elk for forage, the elk were confined to a 953-acre enclosure, and no mechanisms for population control were used. As a result, the herd expanded to a point where the habitat was essentially destroyed and artificial feeding was necessary.

Hunting option

The hunting option to control population numbers has been controversial at all national parks. While most NPS policies do not allow hunting of native wildlife in official “national parks”, The Wildlife Society’s 2012 technical report titled “Ungulate Management in the National Parks of the US and Canada” notes the enabling legislation for the NPS authorizes hunting in some types of park units, such as national seashores and national preserves.

Press noted “hunting will not likely be an option for PRNS given the history of West Marin community advocates who are against all hunting. Controlled reduction of herd size will be addressed in our new management plan. We don’t have answers to that now, that is another reason why we need a new Elk Management Plan,” he concluded.

Currently there are 21 herds of tule elk in California, with numbers estimated at about 3,800 animals. PRNS is home to 708 animals or 19 percent of the state’s tule elk population, according to CDFW.

Interestingly, herd management plans for all of the other tule elk relocation areas in California include hunting. But they are managed by CDFW, with decidedly different policy mandates than the NPS. Last year, 12,537 applications were received for 125 hunting permits. The highest demand for permits was for hunting at Grizzly Island, where over 2500 hunters applied for two permits.

Ranchers are not pushing for a park hunt. They want all the elk in the Pastoral Zone to be relocated to either the existing fenced Tomales Point Wilderness herd, or they suggest the NPS could build a new fenced area that would prohibit movement onto Pastoral Zone pastures.

And, they want action now. As one rancher noted, “We don’t have the luxury of waiting another two years for another management plan—a plan we don’t think we need because NPS already has an elk management plan. The feed costs we are incurring now because elk eat the pasture our cows used to eat are going to run us out of business. We don’t have the option of cutting herd size to accommodate elk, we must maintain an economically viable cow herd size. The elk herd has been growing at 12 percent per year since we first asked the NPS to get the elk out in 2000. You figure those 70 or so elk out there right now are eating about what 70 cows would eat. We are in the Pastoral Zone, and no elk should be in that zone according to our original deal with the Government.”

by Ann Miller. Published December 2013

The importance of play

Living and working on a farm these past ten years, I have become increasingly convinced that we modern humans have much to learn from the animals around us – both wild and domesticated. One of the unavoidable lessons of farm life is that young animals play. While our mature cows tend to focus on activities like eating, protecting their young, and grooming, calves spend their time frolicking, chasing one another, and generally testing things out. While the casual observer might consider their activities trivial, by observing them over time one can easily see how play helps prepare animals for later life.
With human children, the importance of play has sometimes been underestimated. Many classrooms for young children have tended to emphasize academic preparation, especially as we’ve entered the computer age. “All too many of us believe even young children should be working, learning to read, and doing arithmetic, and perhaps a few beginning computer skills,” notes Dr. David Elkind, professor emeritus of Child Development at Tufts University. Elkind believes that a young child’s most important learning comes instead from “self-created experiences.”
Dr. Alison Gopnik, a psychologist at University of California, Berkeley, has spent years researching how play affects learning. She compares children at play to “pint-sized scientists testing theories,” and says the best stimulation for learning is to let preschoolers pretend, explore, and play.

Nationally recognized Marin County-based child psychologist Dr. Madeleine Levine would likely agree. Levine has written extensively about the problems she encounters in teenage patients who have been pushed too hard and too early. Asked recently how a parent should best discover a child’s interests and abilities, Levine answered:  “Let them play. That’s where they learn about sharing, problem solving, getting along with others, and being creative.”
The play-based learning philosophy is warmly embraced by Bolinas’s preschool. Laura Di Stasi, the Bolinas Children’s Center’s head teacher, describes the school’s approach as “loosely based” on Reggio Emilia ideas, which originated in post-World War II Italy. Rather than being the targets of instruction, children are considered to have a very active role in their learning.
Important parts of the approach include exposing the children to nature, extended outside playtime, and allowing children to follow their own instincts. Di Stasi, who has been involved in preschool education for over three decades, says that it’s important for teachers to provide materials and an environment for learning, then “step back and let the children take it from there.” Such an approach is sometimes difficult for adults but Di Stasi believes it is the best way to teach children how to take personal responsibility for the choices they make.

She feels that the Bolinas preschool’s space is especially well suited for the school’s play-based philosophy. “Movement is so important. Some schools are deliberately set up to restrict it. But I want them to feel they have the freedom to move – both indoors and, especially, outdoors.” The school’s indoor area has a large, open middle space, surrounded by a half-dozen areas, each dedicated to specific activities. There’s an area for puzzles, one for drawing and writing, an area for dramatic play, blocks, one for drawing, writing and other crafts, and another area for truck, trains and cars. A large easel is continually set up, allowing three children to paint alongside one another. Outside, the school has a large grassy yard, sand box, climbing structure, swing-set, vegetable garden, and a track for tricycles and other vehicles. A significant part of every day, except those with very inclement weather, is spent outdoors.

Recently, the school set up its science discovery table with plastic insects. Some children took the bugs outside, giving them histories and adventures. “It has been fascinating to watch them create insect families and story lines,” Di Stasi reports.

Ultimately, Bolinas Children’s Center director Ward Young and teacher Di Stasi believe they are providing children an environment that will not only engage and entertain the children, it will prepare them well for life. “Although it is counter-intuitive, the more children learn from their own play when they are young, the better prepared they are to learn from academic instruction when they are older,” Dr. Elkind has concluded.