Re: NPS’s Water Quality Strategy; Agenda Item CD-0006-20 (NPS, Point Reyes
GMPA); Hearing on September 8, 2022
Dear California Coastal Commission:
I have a question for the California Coastal Commission. Why is there a sense that the ranchers (and park service staff) are owed another chance? Just answer that question. What is this foregone conclusion based on? It seems predetermined that we the public always owe ranchers, no matter what it is they have done and no matter how long they have been doing it.
Let’s be very clear about something. Over the last several decades as Point Reyes National Seashore made headlines for its water contamination, as ranching violations and shocking abuses to the land were revealed by citizens (not the park service) the ranchers themselves were NOT oblivious to these issues. These were not oversights. These were not accidents. On the contrary the ranchers were heavily engaged in their ongoing marketing campaign of being stewards of the land…small, local, organic, responsible, loyal, etc.
If any of those descriptive marketing words just mentioned in the paragraph above actually applied to the reality of these ranchers, then none of these violations would exist. Maybe some small issues here and there, but we are instead talking about violations that make one scratch their heads in disbelief. Responsible stewards would be out testing their own water and voluntarily contacting the CCC, Park Service, the county, etc. to find ways to make improvements rather than waiting to be shamed by citizens who took it on themselves to show the reality of the situation. No, these are instead people who chose the path of getting away with as much as they can as long as they can. This behavior is that of spoiled, entitled children who have never been spanked. The ranchers behave as though they operate with impunity, and with good reason, for indeed it seems that they do.
Reading historical documents over the last four years I noticed that the ranchers often refer to themselves as “loyal”. The “loyal dairy ranchers of Marin.” What does that mean, anyway, loyal? Loyal to who? These people engage in a for-profit business that hurts the land, water, plants, taxpayers, and animals all to put money in their own pockets. They are loyal to themselves and themselves alone.
We should be discussing reparations. We should be discussing how much money the ranchers will pay back to the citizens while they pack up and finally leave. We should be discussing how quickly they should be forced to exit to any of their multiple other ranches waiting for them outside the seashore. We should be discussing how much of the restoration process the ranchers will fit the bill for once nature finally has a chance to heal in their absence.
But instead we are discussing whether or not to put any limitations on their next reward. Yes, we continue to reward the spoiled child and, like a parent in denial, claim that things will get better. Or even worse, claim that nothing is wrong.
Perhaps worse than the ranchers themselves are those who supposedly manage the ranchers. Yes, for those who have forgotten, the ranchers are lessees under the management of lessers and the lessers are the Point Reyes National Seashore Park Service. In this case we can summarize “management” as turning a blind eye to violations while making excuses for the violators. The violations that are so egregious that they make the news are NOT the only violations. No, there is a seemingly bottomless pit of them as I have discovered by perusing documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act and there are numerous more waiting to be found although the park service is illegally refusing to release these. As for the violations that I have read, these appear to have all gone unpunished other than receiving a phone call.
I’d like to share one moment from my 2.5 hour phone interview with the Park Service's outreach coordinator, Melanie Gunn. After questioning Melanie about some of these violations (and she even volunteered to tell me about other ones) her response was, “You have to remember how long these people have been here and that they still think this is their land.” Tell me, whose job is it to make sure the lessee is aware that they are the lessee? Correct, that would be the manager. But this manager would rather make excuses for the tenant rather than evict the tenant. Heck, this manager won’t even make the tenant pay for punching holes in the wall of the rental unit.
As for the embarrassing excuse itself, are we really supposed to believe that after receiving a multi-million dollar payout and then signing new leases and operating permits each and every time these permits and leases need to be renewed, that these people actually think they still own the land? These same people who pay lobbyists to get their LEASES extend don’t know that they are lessees? How pathetic of an excuse is that? And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is the sort of excuse that the park service comes up with. Yes, the very people you are pretending we can trust to do better in future.
‘Better.’ What does that mean? Considering that the water quality is already the worst in the state we can only go up, right? Considering that everyone who has ever worked for the Department of the Interior in some capacity has looked at Point Reyes and said to me, “This is the most abused, mismanaged land I have ever seen,” I guess we can only go up. Hurray, how inspiring! The bar has been set so low by the ranchers and their buddies, the defunct Park Service, that it will actually be hard to do worse. So in a few years, if indeed any improvements do take place, perhaps this National Seashore will only be the second most polluted location on the west coast and only a few more threatened species will have disappeared. Let’s all cheer for the victory.
Put your fear of or loyalty to the ranchers aside for a moment and take a good look at who you are giving your blessing to.
While droves of wildlife die in horrific ways the park service constantly tells the public that they are actively monitoring the situation. The last several years are riddled with published quotes from the park service assuring the public how actively they monitor and manage Point Reyes. So if they already have been actively monitoring, on what grounds does the CCC, or anyone, think the park service can improve? They already claim to be putting in the work. Mind you, that every violation I read about in the FOIA papers was initially reported by a citizen. A birder, a hiker, etc. NOT the “actively monitoring park service”. Even the violations so terrible that you can read about them in the news weren’t found by the park service.
I’ve been documenting the damage caused by the ranchers and the suffering of the wildlife in Point Reyes National Seashore for the last four years. Never once have I encountered a park service staff member out in the field. Not once. Not even using my zoom lens to scan the horizon for anyone. Not once. Nor have any of my colleagues. How’s that even possible? One would think it must happen at least once, if not to me, then to someone else since the park service is out there actively monitoring. No, the park service staff only appear when it is time to police the citizens of the United States when those citizens have the gall to hold protests about what is taking place in the park that THEY own, not the ranchers.
So, CCC, somehow you expect the park service to do a better job even though they claim they have already been doing a great job. You expect the ranchers to do a better job even though they are currently hailed as “models for agriculture and nature coexisting.” Both parties involved already claim to be doing a great job, in fact, to hear their public comments, nothing is even wrong.
This blind hope that things will improve is a farce. The mindset that they deserve another chance to improve is a farce. Even giving this proposed plan a moment of consideration indicates that the CCC bows to the power of the ranchers and the politicians the ranchers control, the same way the park service does.
With that in mind let me share another moment from my conversation with Melanie Gunn. I said, “How can you expect the behavior to improve if you don’t ever hold them accountable?” She replied, “We have tried, but when we try to come down on the ranchers the politicians come down on us.”
And there you have it. The bottom line. This isn’t about whether or not the ranchers will improve or whether the park service will improve, this is about the fact that the ranchers, supposedly harmless little families, do in fact control politics. This isn’t about science. This isn’t about the water quality tests. This isn’t about conducting studies on native species populations. This isn’t about measuring residual dry matter on ranch land or making sure that more massive landfills aren’t dug in the future. This is about people who have too much power and have abused that power for too long. Please, CCC, be a source of inspiration for those still fighting the good fight. The evidence against the ranchers is overwhelming. The damage is overwhelming. The historical evidence that nothing will improve is overwhelming (and even if it did improve it would still be bad for the land and water and wildlife). You, CCC, can show the public that you care to restore health to the land of Point Reyes National Seashore simply by using the science and data in front of you to do what it is that data says you should do. Politicians and ranchers be damned, DO THE RIGHT THING!
#CCC #californiacoastalcommission #water #waterquality #pointreyes #ranchers #california #dairy #marincounty #pointreyesnationalseashore
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