Monday, August 22, 2016

Environmentalists ask park to freeze ranch plan, longer leases

Environmental groups suing the National Park Service over the Point Reyes National Seashore’s ranch management plan asked a judge last Friday to issue a preliminary injunction to freeze the process and prohibit new long-term ranch leases until the park updates its 36-year-old general management plan. The motion—filed in federal district court and brought by the Resource Renewal Institute, the Western Watersheds Project and the Center for Biological Diversity—alleges that the park’s decision to prioritize the ranch plan over a general plan up-date was politically motivated. It also points to what plaintiffs call the “mismanagement” of tule elk as one of the harms resulting from the failure to update the general plan, which the seashore worked on for about a decade in the 2000s. That plan was shelved in a virtually complete draft form, the environmental groups say, when park officials decided to pursue other projects. The seashore, plaintiffs say in their motion, has “intentionally delayed issuing a new or revised General Management Plan and supporting Environmental Impact Statement that gives due consideration to non-ranching or reduced ranching alternatives, while instead pursuing the [ranch plan] to cement existing expanded cattle ranching on the public lands of the seashore for another 20 years.” But the suit argues that it is illegal to issue the ranch plan—which the park has stated would support ongoing ranching and evaluate longer 20-year leases and di-versification, among other things—without an updated general plan that more broadly guides priorities and evaluates changes over the past couple of decades. That argument has led to fears among ranchers and their advocates that the suit could bring the downfall of ranching in the park, which has been ongoing for well over a century. By stalling the ranch plan and long-term leases, the preliminary injunction would burden ranchers who say they need long leases to secure financing for improvements and want to diversify operations to boost their financial sustainability. Ranchers are also eager for new guidelines for how the park will manage tule elk, which eat forage on ranchlands. A group of ranchers, the county and the federal government will respond to the injunction request in court by Sept. 9...more

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