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How Ranches Became Part of National Seashore

The National Park Service (NPS) first considered the Point Reyes Peninsula for a potential park location in the 1930s, and later proposed as a National Seashore in 1959. President Kennedy signed it into law in 1962 when 15 privately owned and operated dairies and 10 beef ranches were situated on the peninsula, mostly run by families with multigenerational connections to the landscape.


The original plan for Point Reyes National Seashore was to provide beach and recreation access close to an urban population, and a 26,000-acre pastoral zone was included to allow agricultural uses of the land to continue. These ranches were intended to remain in private ownership. Senator Bible put the intent into public record saying the legislation fostered “long-established ranching and dairying activities which ... will not interfere with the public enjoyment” of Point Reyes. Senator Kuchel added that the pastoral zone would be “an equitable solution for preserving the local economy.”


Despite the early intention to keep them privately owned, by 1972 and1973, all of the ranches were acquired by the NPS, most with 20-year Reservations of Use and Occupancy (RUOs)  and in 1978, Congress passed additional legislation allowing agriculture to continue indefinitely.


 In the 1980 General Management Plan for the park, “Congress clearly intended that the ranches continue to operate.” The number of working ranches within the boundaries has dwindled significantly since the Seashore was established. Out of 25 original ranches, today there are only 11 -- 6 dairies and 5 beef cattle -- yet those face an uphill battle to stay put. Not the least of the financial burdens to some of the ranches is the current pattern of elk encroachment. Elk Fences Now.


Adapted from: "Point Reyes National Seashore and the Tule Elk: an Historical Background," Dr. Laura A. Watt - based on the presentation at the West Marin Chamber of Commerce’s Elk Forum in May 2014.


Dr. Laura A. Watt is an Associate Professor and Chair of Environmental Studies and Planning at Sonoma State University, and is currently completing a book on the history of management at PRNS, to be published by the UC Press




Map by: Dewey Livingston


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