The embers of the dying fire of controversy surrounding the future of agriculture on the Point Reyes National Seashore were stirred again last Thursday when former Santa Rosa Island Park Superintendent, Tim Setnicka, gave a lecture sponsored by the West Marin Chamber of Commerce, Alliance for Local Sustainable Agriculture (ALSA), and the Marin County Farm Bureau.
But Setnicka may have been comparing apples to oranges.
Setnicka expressed concern over the way in which the National Park Service (NPS) handled the final removal of the ranching operation on Santa Rosa Island. While the two areas do share some similarities, there are also significant differences both in the legislative language used to establish the Channel Island Park and the seashore and in the priorities of management assigned to each.
The first line in the establishing legislation for the Santa Rosa Island Park states that the Park is being created “in order to protect the nationally significant natural scenic wildlife, marine, ecological, archeological, cultural and scientific values of the Channel islands.”
While cultural aspects of Native Americans are singled out for protection there is no mention of preserving agriculture on the island. From the Santa Rosa Island Park inception the emphasis was placed on the ecological rather than the man-made aspects on the island.
No such language appears in the code establishing the Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS). It does refer to the duty of the Park Service to “maintain without impairment” the area’s natural values while providing for recreation, education, historic preservation, interpretation and scientific opportunities. In addition it provides for the possibility of hunting and fishing on Seashore lands and for the continuation of agricultural uses.
The Santa Rosa Island agreement called for a definite 25 year period of agricultural use, while the PRNS code establishes available leasing options offered after the initial occupancy period ends to be offered first to the “person who owned such land” at the time of acquisition. The NPS has interpreted this to mean that the families of the original owners have the first right to lease back agricultural, ranching or dairy producing lands.
The Point Reyes National Seashore Statement in Support of Ranching, published by the NPS between 2008-2012, shows grazing acreage within the boundaries has remained relatively stable since the PRNS was created. The report lists 22 operators and 34 permittees still working within the boundaries of the PRNS and the Golden Gate Recreation Area North District. Most of the leases are generally offered for a five-year term but can be renewed for an additional five-year term. They may be offered for a longer period if required to allow for financing of large capital improvements.
Only the families who owned them at the time the park was established do not currently operate two of the original ranches. The Lupton Ranch lease was terminated when the family did not wish to continue their ranching operation. At that time the land could have been designated for another use but instead it was leased to the adjacent permittees, the Stewarts, and continues to be used as grazing land.
When a family dispute ceased ranching activities on “D” ranch the Park exercised its right to remove part of the land from grazing to preserve two large freshwater ponds and a watershed area. However, more than 60 percent of the original ranch remains in agricultural use by two separate permittees (Nunes and Spaletta).
The report also lists investments totaling $2,650,000 in ranch management, water improvement, investments in infrastructure and maintenance of historic structures in the year between 1999 and 2008. These included extensive work on implementing Best Management Practices (BMP) to meet state required water quality levels, major road repair and wastewater system construction as well as preservation repairs to ranch structures. The years between 2009-2012 also show extensive financial assistance provided by the Park Service to the ranchers totaling $2,963,000 in historic structure preservation, rangeland resource and facilities management.
The agricultural activity within the boundaries of the park is clearly recognized for its historical significance and has a great deal of local support. Many of the ranchers working within the boundaries have maintained a viable partnership with Park Service staff. The wide range of comments submitted during the Park’s information gathering process over the past few months included a 32- page letter from the Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association as well as individual ranchers.
Agriculture in West Marin also has support from local, state and national politicians, the subject of the next installment in this series next week.
To get more background information and details plan to attend the next discussion series to be held on Tuesday, November 11, from 7 to 8:30 pm at the West Marin School Gym, 11550 State Route 1, Pt. Reyes Station. Speakers Nita Vail, chief executive officer of California Rangeland Trust, and her cousin, Will Woolley, will present a program on working landscapes within units of the National Park Service. They will share the history and stories of their family ranch, the last cattle ranch on Santa Rosa Island, part of Channel Islands National Park. A short question and answer period will follow the presentation. Sponsored by the West Marin Chamber of Commerce, Alliance for Local Sustainable Agriculture (ALSA), and the Marin County Farm Bureau. Free of charge. Spanish language translation provided.”
Dewey Livingstone contacted the Citizen to make a correction concerning the Vail discussion. He was erroneously listed as a speaker and the PRNS historian. Dewey is not the PRNS historian and is not a speaker at the event.