Is it necessary that I emphasized the person in question is a local resident? You tell me. Although this is a national seashore, the ranchers and ranching advocates usually take the stance of this being a local issue and that the opinions that differ from their own must be from "outsiders".
This national seashore belongs to all the people of the United States of America, not the private businesses operating within at our expense, but that's beside the point. The locals don't agree with the ranchers either and slowly they are emerging from the cloud of fear and intimidation that the ranchers have cast over this community.
This letter to the editor at Point Reyes Light was submitted by a Point Reyes Station resident and is as good as I've seen in a while. I am sharing it here so more people can read the words of Richard Vacha.
"With the delay in negotiations over ranching in the national seashore, I decided it was time I made some public remarks about the issue. A hike out to the Drakes Bay headlands in a winter rainstorm is heartbreaking. Erosion is severe and there is only the most cursory attempt to control it. Overused cattle trails have turned into deeply eroded gullies washing down precious soils that clog up the most sensitive wetlands.
Fencing is haphazard and overgrazed fields are like deserts compared to the mixed meadows and chaparral. The ground is trampled by 2,000-pound cows, ripped up, laid bare, heavily suppressed and cut up by sprawling mazes of old ranch roads. Adjoining off-limits areas show wildly more abundance at all levels of life as the very ground itself begins to relax and heal.
Ranching in the park has never been a truly sustainable practice. The operations depend on constant financial assistance from the government, ever-deferred maintenance, undocumented immigrant labor, substandard housing conditions, subsidized property leases, favorable taxation, overgrazing, toxic runoff and consistent violations of the limits placed on them. It’s no different from average farming practices all over the earth, but this is a national seashore.
Food production as a rationale for keeping the ranches is a red herring, as it was with the oyster farm. With roughly 1 billion acres of farmland in America, the seashore ranches are a drop in the bucket. Too sensitive and remote to farm sustainably, they are marginal agricultural lands at best. Food insecurity for the global human population is not due to a lack of food but to wealth disparity and overpopulation.
Ranchers claim a historical legacy, but isn’t it obvious that the real legacy and history belongs with the Miwok and the wild animals who were here first? The Miwok were the true stewards of the land. If you grew up thinking that farms are a picture of a healthy landscape, you are biased. Take a closer look and you’ll see it is not so good. The ranches have inflicted more damage in 150 years than the Miwok did in their 10,000 years.
And Native peoples didn’t just go poof and disappear. Their land was taken. Removal by taxation was one of the great tricks played on the remaining few who hadn’t died from our diseases, though legalized genocide was the rule in much of early California. Many of the ranch structures are built atop ancient sites that have never been properly studied.
We have a grave responsibility to protect the earth. This is our true legacy. We should be proud and protective of the simplest of concepts for this park: clean water, clean land, intact ecosystems and the freedom to wander in unspoiled, well-protected wildness. But current administrators of the seashore ignore obvious violations. Recently, when staff were shown photographs of cows in off-limits wetlands, their reaction was anger that the photographer might have trespassed in sensitive areas and they claimed that creeping sand dunes were making it hard to keep fences up. I’ve hiked that area for over 20 years, and I’ve never seen any effective effort to contain the cows.
Profitability apparently precludes maintenance and responsible farming. And how is it possible that administrators were unaware of failed septic systems on the ranches, one draining directly into a cow pond, or the garbage and machinery dumps in hidden ravines? On top of this outrageous neglect is credible evidence that the ranches cost the park at least a million dollars a year to maintain.
Then there are the tule elk. I consider them to be a distraction, even though they have brought a global spotlight to the environmental violations. It is simply two agencies pursuing contradictory goals without coordinating the inevitable results. The preservation side attempts to forestall the disaster of our impact on the land, while the ranching lobby exerts its will through the park administration. Without extreme culling practices, the elk will expand and conflict with cattle. Simple as that. They are inherently incompatible.
In another 10 or 20 years, I expect the ranches to be gone, or at least seriously cut back to sustainable but financially unviable levels. They just don’t make sense anymore. And no matter how soon they are shut down, it will take many decades of persistent work to restore the damaged land. I apologize to all those who have a stake in the ranches, but no one is owed a living. In America, we go out and find something that needs doing and we do it. But we must do it as responsibly as possible, tending the world for long-term abundance. That is true freedom.
In a small community like ours, respect for each other is what makes us who we are and life good. However much I disagree with others, I try to treat them with respect, and I hope for the same in return. If you are among those who like to imagine punching someone you disagree with, just ask yourself first: Who am I and who do I become if I start down that road? The essence of American democracy is the right to express an opinion in a peaceful society. "
Richard Vacha is a Point Reyes Station resident and the founder of the Point Reyes Tracking School.
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