Course:RES510/2022/Cleaning Up the Mess: The Problem of Point Reyes National Seashore

From UBC Wiki
Point Reyes National Seashore map.

Situated in Marin County, California, Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) is a coastal nature reserve maintained by the US National Park Service (NPS).[1] Authorized in 1962 and officially established in 1972, PRNS was originally designed primarily for public recreation, but federal legislation has allowed for commercial ranching within the seashore.[1][2] Agriculture has remained an essential part of PRNS’ development and economy since its establishment.[3] But since the PRNS’ establishment, conflicting management visions of land use have been revealed.

Historically, the Point Reyes peninsula was the homeland of the Indigenous Coast Miwok people.[4] But European colonization would begin pushing them out of their home in the 19th century to make space for cattle-ranching initiatives that would be introduced in the mid-1800s.[5] Up until the late 18th century, as many as half a million Tule elk also called this region their home, before nearly being hunted to local extinction by 1870, and before reintroduction initiatives restabilized their local population nearly a century later.[6] But even after a series of relocations within Point Reyes away from dairy ranches, dairy producers began to complain that elk were out-competing their cattle for forage, negatively impacting their economic viability and organic certifications, and causing property damage.[5]

Today, tensions have culminated in a continued disappointment by Coast Miwok representatives with NPS’ management priorities, which have allowed cattle ranching to cause ecological damage to their ancestral land, damaged their ancestral archaeological sites, and denied their attempted return to a governing steward role in the area. It has also led to a lawsuit against the NPS for their recent policy proposal which involved culling native Tule elk at Point Reyes.[7] Elk populations have already been dying out due to drought and lack of access to water and adequate forage, and so the elk’s suffering has led to a significant divide between the NPS’ proposed continual prioritization of ranching at the cost of elk populations, quality forage, local water quality, and Coast Miwok archaeological sites.[8][7]

Each of these actor groups discusses the same issues, but with conflicting narratives. The ranchers’ arguments are largely rooted in their history, in an apparent example of path-dependent entrenchment. Generational family ranchers blame their parents’ past mistakes for current ranch mismanagement, and say they are doing the best they can with the resources they are given.[9] Conversely, independent research has found significant levels of water and soil pollution, largely by fecal matter - both bovine and human.[10] There is evidence of raw sewage dumping into protected waterways, bulldozing and cattle wading in endangered species habitats, and even one occasion of human waste pooling under worker housing.[9]

With the NPS continuing to value ranchers’ interests over the Coast Miwok, our report looks to demonstrate how governance failures that prioritize conventional agriculture over ecological concerns and local Indigenous knowledge can lead to significant adverse ecological and social effects. Our objective for this case study analysis is to assess how the priorities and actions of stakeholders and governance entities with varying degrees of power have led to an ideological entrenchment of colonial ideals at PRNS, through an analysis of key moments of this land’s history. Finally, we will propose a set of recommendations for various actors on how to move forward in a sustainable and reconciliatory manner.


Establishment of dairy ranching and the Point Reyes National Seashore

Coast Miwok tribelets.

As the NPS website acknowledges, the Coast Miwok People have a deeper history in Point Reyes than any European settlement.[11] Going back thousands of years, the various tribes that make up the Coast Miwok have a conventional, ancestral claim to territory that includes not only what we now call Point Reyes, California, but a substantial portion of southern Sonoma county and all of Marin county as well.[12]

The NPS website continues to describe how Coast Miwok life “was intricately woven” to the environment, including adapting to the changing seasons and living off the land. But this historical account includes a significant gap in description between pre-colonization and the 1950’s, during which time the Coast Miwok were displaced from their ancestral lands by European settlers, often towards the south-east, where many became slaves in Catholic-run plantations in San Fransisco and San Rafael.[8] After the mission lands were ‘secularised and sold’ and some Coast Miwok people returned to their homelands, by as early as the 1830’s, the cattle ranching had already taken deep root.

Around the 1830s, Mexican and early American rancheros introduced cattle ranching, expanded the livestock population and intensified dairy production on the land grants. With the pioneer dairy ranchers, Shafters and Howard, taking control of the vast acreage in the 1860s, Point Reyes became an important place to support dairy operation and agricultural practices in the newly established state of California.[13] By the 1870s, Shafter developed a network of 32 tenant-run ranches that were mostly named by alphabet letters, which marked the transformation of functional ranches into an ordered ranching industry.[2] In the latter half of the 19th century, Point Reyes produced the best-quality butter in the state, and its dairy production methods were adopted nationally.[14]

The process of Point Reyes becoming publicly owned land began in the 1930s, when a social movement in the Bay area requested more opportunities for outdoor recreation close to the city. [14] That decade, the National Park Service, a governing body responsible for the management of all national parks, surveyed Point Reyes and considered it as a potential location for a national seashore, eventually resulting in the establishment of the Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) in 1972.

The coexistence of commercial and recreational uses distinguishes PRNS to be defined as a national seashore rather than a national park. National seashores allow more human development and use, whereas national parks have more of an emphasis on preserving natural landscapes.[2] The law establishing the PRNS expressed clear congressional intent that ranching should remain within the seashore, designating within it a pastoral zone under private ownership.[2]

Authorized by this legislation, the NPS purchased several dairy and beef ranches from their private owners between 1963 and 1976.[14] Ranchers were then given the option to continue operating their land under 25-30 year leases, with special use permits for cattle grazing.[15]

Historic Recognition

The NPS has a diverse set of governance obligations to the PRNS, such as maintaining the aesthetic value of the scenery in the park as per the NPS Organic Act, and engaging various stakeholders in any policy-making processes that would have an impact on them as per the Administrative Procedure Act.[16] Notably, the NPS also has a duty to identify, inventory, and evaluate historical resources within the PRNS under the National Historic Preservation Act (1966).[14] Within this mandate, the NPS have identified historic cattle ranches as having key historical importance since at least the year 1980[14], though not much in the way of Coast Miwok heritage. But it’s worth noting that the NPS isn’t the only governing institution with a fraught history of recognizing the Coast Miwok, even around the mid-20th century: throughout the late 1950’s and 1960’s, the California Rancheria Termination Acts terminated the federal recognition of a number of federally recognized Indigenous Tribes, including Coast Miwok tribes, and selling their land once again to private buyers without consent on no more than a month’s notice.[17]

In 1980, the NPS implemented the first General Management Plan for PRNS. This plan established a zoning framework for PRNS, which divided the land into several purpose-focused zones, including a natural zone and a historic zone, based on the NPS’ joint objectives of wilderness protection and cultural heritage preservation, respectively.[18] The natural zone includes marine life reserves for authorized research projects, wilderness zones, and a natural environment subzone for visitor use, while the historic zone includes several preserved ranching complexes and is accessible to visitors. Current commercial ranching activities are concentrated in the Pastoral subzone of the Special Use Zone, which makes up about a third of the roughly 68,000 acres of the park.[18] But the historical preservation objective stated in this management plan only mentions that any of the local Coast Miwok archaeological sites in the area are to be “researched and investigated”, rather than preserved.[18] Interestingly, the NPS’ stated goal regarding ranches is preservation.

Indeed, the NPS appears to have had a number of different priorities to balance with managing the PRNS, including two separate historical preservation initiatives. And while the NPS was looking to prioritize the promotion and preservation of cattle ranching in Point Reyes, they had also been working with Sonoma State University in the 1970’s to commission a number of archaeological studies which had, conversely, determined cattle ranching was playing a role in destroying a number of Coast Miwok archaeological sites.[8] As a result, the Sonoma State anthropologists had “repeatedly urged” the NPS to protect the entirety of the PRNS as an Indigenous Archeological District within its National Register of Historical Places. Such a District registry would provide benefits such as funding and licensing assistance towards its preservation, and meaningfully prioritize Coast Miwok heritage in the history of the land.[19]

The NPS did submit an application to the National Register in 2008, informed by decades of Sonoma State research and fulfilling their duty to identify historical resources under the Historic Preservation Act. But as the Pacific Sun article notes, this application would go on to languish in bureaucracy for 7 years, before finally being returned with some comments for revision. But instead of being revised, the NPS withdrew their own application in 2015, and then replaced it, that same year, with an application for a Point Reyes Ranches Historic District instead. And just three years later, in 2018, that ranching district application was approved.[8]

Interestingly, it appears that the NPS were also required to resubmit their dairy ranching application in September of that year. Only this time, it appears that they did so, and as a result the Historic Dairy Ranching District was approved just over two months later in November, as announced on the NPS website.[20]

More than just archaeological sites, the Coast Miwok, insofar as they’re represented by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria—the federally-recognized tribe of both Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo Indigenous people—have taken a substantial interest in other aspects of how the land has been affected by dairy ranching as well, along with a number of other interested parties.

Modern dairy institutions and land

In June of 2021, the FIGR sent a petition to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to reinstate the national register for an Indigenous District at Point Reyes. In doing so, they also asked the Secretary to instruct the NPS to develop an Indigenous stewardship plan that would better respect the wildlife of the area, with the petition firmly denouncing the ‘systematic killing’ of the land’s tule elk.[21] Many conservationist NGOs have also shared in this concern, denouncing how the NPS’s prioritization of ranching has come at the expense of local wildlife, including by filing a currently-ongoing lawsuit against NPS for their handling of tule elk populations in the area.[7]

Tule elk once inhabited the grasslands in PRNS but had become locally extinct in the 1850s due to hunting and habitat loss.[22][13] Influenced by the advancement of scientific awareness and understanding of natural ecosystems in the late twentieth century, ecological preservation and restoration became increasingly important in natural resources management.[13] So with the interest of bringing back native mammals overweighing local ranching, NPS proposed reintroducing the elk at the north end of the seashore in the 1970s. More recently, the 1998 Tule Elk Management Plan directs NPS to build fences to separate activities of the elk from that of the cattle,[23] but over the years, ranchers have reported that the elk trample the fences, compete for resources with livestock, and interfere with irrigation systems on the ranches.[24][25] The tule elk have returned to a substantial population to the point where herds must compete with cattle for resources in a climate where resources are increasingly sparse. Ranchers have pushed for the tule elk to be removed from the cattle grazing area and be kept behind the fences, but this in turn makes elk herds more vulnerable to the area’s frequent droughts.[25]

More recently, it appears that the NPS have swung back towards a rancher-favoured approach in response to these competing ecological interests. In their 2020 PRNS general management plan, the NPS lays out six potential approaches to managing elk and cattle management, with options including proceeding with business as usual, reduced ranching, or working to end dairy ranching entirely.[15] At this time, the NPS has most recently stated their support towards Alternative B,[26] which involves renewing ranching leases for a further 20 years and managing the elk population through lethal means if necessary.[27] The no-ranching alternative was not favoured by NPS claiming that cattle grazing activity is in fact a benefit to the ecosystem’s balance and health.[25][24]

Tule elk at Point Reyes National Seashore

And underlying all of this is a broader economic institutional framework of support, including from the NPS, for dairy ranching, California’s highest grossing agricultural commodity.[28] Ranchers at PRNS pay the NPS, on average, $7-$9/animal unit/month in grazing fees, while Marin County ranchers outside PRNS pay approximately double that amount.[29][30] There are also federal and state-level supports for dairy ranching. For example, federal insurance in the form of the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) Program is available, often at a subsidized premium, when production margins (the difference between milk price and feed cost) are less than $9.50/hundredweight milk, which happens often.[31] These subsidies act as buffers against variable economic conditions and stresses, allowing dairy ranching to remain viable in California and at PRNS.

The NPS’ rangeland management and monitoring activities are also orchestrated to support ranching. Under their 1990 range management guidelines, residual dry matter (pounds/acre of forage remaining in fall) is monitored annually and used to determine appropriate stocking densities for cattle for the following season.[15] Non-native grass species (e.g., ryegrass) are planted regularly to maintain forage yields for cattle, and ranchers have sometimes seeded these directly into native grassland.[32]

But whereas many institutions’ continue support for ranching, and the NPS’s claim that cattle ranching is necessary for the area, the NGO-led lawsuit argues that ranching activity hinders access to public land and threatens the long-term condition of the seashore. The complaint argues that by allowing cattle ranching to make use of the land’s resources, the NPS is in direct violation of the Point Reyes act, specifically the part that states that the PRNS is designated as a national seashore “to save and preserve, for purposes of public recreation, benefit, and inspiration, a portion of the diminishing seashore of the United States that remains undeveloped”.[7] In a joint release, the plaintiffs imply that only 2.3% of the public support continued ranching, while over 90% are against it, and further posit that the NPS is prioritizing the historical ranching industry over its duties to the environment and its agreements with the people of Marin County, as well as ignoring the true history of the region by failing to protect Coast Miwok historical sites.[33] These lawsuits are still ongoing, and both parties are reluctant to discuss ongoing litigation beyond what is released in courtroom decision documents.

Compared to these NGOs, the FIGR’s priority seems to be more broadly focussed on Indigenous sovereignty and stewardship, with archaeological preservation and elk preservation forming two key pieces of those priorities. More recently, however, the FIGR has looked to try and achieve these goals once more in cooperation with the NPS.

Two months after their petition to the Secretary of the Interior, the FIGR agreed to a ‘government-to-government’ partnership with the Secretary of the Interior and the NPS, with a focus on jointly ‘restoring and enhancing’ the Coast Miwok’s ancestral lands.[34] There could be success in this kind of arrangement: last month, the FIGR agreed to a co-management plan with the National Seashore for Colay Lake, just north near Santa Rosa.[35]

Since that agreement, the FIGR have donated $20,000 to the seashore for new mineral blocks and water troughs for the fenced tule elk herd in Tomales Point,[36] a meaningful achievement that shows that the partnership could be headed in the right direction — only last year, the NPS had removed a set of water troughs that concerned citizen groups had placed in the Tomales Point area.[37] The FIGR are also currently negotiating a confidential agreement with the NPS in order to preserve the archaeological sites in the area.[8] Either way, it seems as though the FIGR are interested in trying to work with governing groups to come to an arrangement, while NGOs continue to pursue their lawsuit.

Core Analysis

Drawing on the background information we’ve established in the previous section, here we will elaborate on how various forms of ideological, political, historical, biophysical and socio-economic lock-ins[38][39] have entrenched various trends which have led to the consistent prioritization of cattle ranchers’ interests over those of the Coast Miwok, and at the cost of the local wildlife.


In this section, using the framework of Ecosystem Services (ES) by Daily et al. (2009),[40] we present some of the social-political lock-ins of the PRNS. First, we argue that the Coast Miwok group is marginalized by the NPS management, which is itself biased towards the economic valuation of ES in PRNS at the cost of other values.

Pre-colonial Coast Miwok dwellings

Influenced by the advancement of scientific awareness and understanding of natural ecosystems in the late twentieth century, ecological preservation and restoration became increasingly important in natural resources management.[13] The formation of the PRNS overlaps with the 1930s American conservationism and a growing environmental movement in the 1960s and 1970s. As the PRNS’ governing agency, the NPS conceptualized the new idea of national seashore and drove the formation of Point Reyes within that political-geographical conception. But the economic framing of PRNS land-use prioritization reinforces the monetized evaluation system, as demonstrated by the seashore’s land use allocation being institutionally designated to protect both dairy ranching as a historical entity and a current economic operation. As introduced in the background, the colonizing ranchers’ interests were addressed by the Congress from the initial intention of PRNS establishment, and ranching communities have since played an important role on the political stage. Corresponding to the latest general management plan,[15] a total of 28,000 acres, nearly 40% land of PRNS, are currently authorized under existing ranching leases and permits. In contrast, only 1.5 acres are dedicated to Coast Miwok history in the form of the Tule Loklo historical site.[41]

Over the years, significant political support has also been provided to the seashore’s ranching community. This can be seen in the NPS’s continued allowance of ranching parties to extend their ranching leases and their continued intention of allowing themselves to cull tule elk as much as necessary to allow ranching activity to continue unimpeded, in addition to announcing that they would continue livestock production leases in the seashore for another 20 years.

Secondly, we argue that NPS neglects the cultural and historical identity of the Indigenous Coast Miwok, whose values are not integrated into the ES management of PRNS, which furthers the ideological entrenchment of seashore management. The Coast Miwok people are both ancient and returning actors on the land, and their identity remains intertwined with the geographical location despite the many governance priority changes that have taken place at Point Reyes over time. As said in Sokolove et al. (2002), “Claiming places is a process whereby a group is defined and its identity is recognized by others”.[42] But the colonial era eviction, Termination Act-era forced dissolution and re-eviction, and denied historical recognition attempts of the Coast Miwok have all made it deeply challenging for them to be able to reclaim their place in Point Reyes.

In 2000, the Coast Miwok group was federally restored the legal status and recognized as the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria,[11] yet its existence makes it difficult to correct the injustice of history. The mindset of prioritizing environmental protection has given rise to a new attitude toward historical facts, namely, the domination of Western thinking, while little room is apportioned in the seashore management plan to integrate the cultural meaning of Coast Miwok as well as the traditional ecological knowledge. As articulated in a report by the Center for Biological Diversity (2021),[21] the NPS appears to be actively erasing the cultural DNA of native Coast Miwok, and replacing it with the much-touted ranching culture. As an influential governing agency equipped with political power, this leaves one to wonder whether the narratives exemplified on the NPS website are being spun or altered, with much of the media attention being consciously steered towards issues concerning park aesthetics or artificial wilderness, instead of unravelling the human use history.

Path Dependency

Dairy ranching at PRNS is an excellent example of path dependency, where increasingly industrial and intensified agricultural practices become self-reinforcing. Each newly adopted and more intensive practice is associated with a high upfront cost in equipment and labour, and it becomes necessary to scale up production in order to recoup those costs.[39]

The expansion of commercial dairy has been ongoing since the early 1900s.[31][14] The first dairy certification bodies in the state of California were established in the early 1920s, when the Grade A/B system was formed.[14] At this time, the entire dairy industry was reformed, where “market milk” (milk for beverage use rather than for further processing) could only be certified through Grade A dairies. A Grade A certification required milking barns that met specific drainage and sanitary conditions, and changed the waste disposal and barn cleaning procedures at PRNS.[14] In the 1970s, expensive improvements to manure disposal infrastructure at PRNS were required, and these contributed extra costs due to the labour required to sustain the mandatory cleaning schedules.[14] At this time, the number of farms also decreased in Marin County, from 200 to just 22,[43] while the number of cattle per farm increased, demonstrating greater intensification.[14]

Cheese produced from Point Reyes cattle being sold in a San Francisco store

Government subsidies also reward more intensive production. Since 1969, California’s milk marketing order has been unique compared to the rest of the USA. Under this program, farms that deliver larger quantities of market milk have higher quotas, and are thus eligible for more support.[31] Specifically, those producers with more quota can withdraw larger amounts from the producers’ pooled revenue. While at first the value of quota fluctuated depending on the demand for fluid milk products.[44] California milk producers can now earn quota based entirely on the quantity of their production, regardless of demand.[31] Meanwhile, premiums for federal insurance through the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program are heavily subsidized for the first 5 million pounds of milk produced on a farm per year (which requires at least 200 cows).[31] This has incentivized smaller farms to expand.[31] Thus, It’s clear that a number of federal and state economic incentives exist to continually intensify production in ranching lands like Point Reyes, sometimes regardless of demand, and at times regardless of consequences.

Organic certifications also play a role in path dependencies that reinforce intensive dairy farming at the PRNS, as all six dairy operations at the seashore are organic.[15] Currently, while organic milk is worth more on the market, sourcing organic feed can be cost-prohibitive. Per hundredweight, organic feed is $1 more than the average price premium for organic milk.[45] In addition, the USDA’s organic standard requires that all cattle older than 6 months of age obtain 30% of their dry matter intake from pastures for 120 days of the year.[46] This necessitates more dependence on pasture-grazing, and by extension, more forage production activities with non-native species. Requests for intensified forage production have been proposed and considered for the park in both the 2014 and 2020 management plan revisions.[15][47]

Measures of Success

There are many ways to measure the success of agriculture projects, and the choice of metric reveals different ideas of “success”. When political support is influenced by “strong” performance, it is important to ask “strong according to which indicator?”.[39]

‘Overgrazing’ and metrics associated with it are known to be value-laden; they depend on the management objectives applied.[48] The NPS’ annual vegetation and rangeland health monitoring activities are oriented around productivist ranching priorities, and are only conducted on species used for forage by cattle.[48][15] Their goal is to optimize the production of forage vegetation, and in turn, optimize cattle stocking rates. However, more conservation-oriented monitoring, which involves assessing overall species composition in the spring, was only conducted irregularly between 1987 and 2011, at which point it was discontinued.[15]

Biophysical Lock-ins

With approximately 5,000 cattle total inhabiting PRNS, [15] manure management has also become a challenge. Manure is washed into slurry ponds for storage and is then applied to pasture, with the NPS currently allowing manure application on 2,500 acres of land in the dairy ranching zone.[15] Pollutants and pathogens from cattle manure have made their way into nearby watersheds via runoff, with independent water quality research finding levels of faecal coliforms and other bacteria far above federal and state guidelines.[10] This water pollution issue has been explicitly linked to cattle manure, with a study going as far as to identify which specific ranches were the most likely source of the contamination.[10]

The over-application of manure to pasture has become a significant lock-in, and in order to prevent further detriments to water quality it will likely become necessary to intensify manure storage infrastructure. The costs of that infrastructure may then necessitate further expansions to production, and by extension, increases in the amount of cattle and manure at PRNS. Furthermore, the high number of cattle at PRNS has led the NPS to designate 36% of the land ‘overgrazed’.[49] Correspondingly, flooding and erosion control due to cattle grazing have been a concern since the early as the 1980s.[14] Since overgrazing reduces viable forage for cattle, and thus the rangeland’s carrying capacity for cattle, overgrazing also poses a threat to productivity and starts a lock-in cycle.[39] To keep stocking densities at their current level, more non-native grasses have to be planted. New forage production areas have already been proposed in several alternatives of NPS’ most recent management plan,[15] and these were also proposed in the 2014 management plan.[47]


Despite some parties involved in the Point Reyes National Seashore having diametrically opposed positions, there are some steps that could be taken to alleviate the situation politically, socially, and environmentally.

The first step taken should be the NPS preserving both the environment and the culture by acknowledging the claim of the Coast Miwok people to the PRNS. The current rhetoric used by the NPS (considering the PRNS as a historical ranching community) can mask that people were living on the peninsula much earlier than the ranchers, and that this community was forcefully expelled by settlers that later began ranching. Acknowledging the entitlement of the Coast Miwok people to the PRNS and bringing them into the conversation is a starting point for reparations and healing. Involving them in decisions regarding the protection of the land’s cultural assets ensures that there is no erasure of Indigenous history at the expense of the preservation of more modern ranching history. The recent partnership between the NPS and the FIGR is a great first step towards this, and we recommend taking this partnership seriously and working to involve other Coast Miwok representatives and entities wherever possible. This should be a part of a larger movement by the NPS towards including all stakeholders in the conversation: official public opinion polling has been non-existent regarding the ranching issue, with only ranchers and a select few NGOs being consulted by the NPS in any official capacity (excluding lawsuits). Marin County residents have the right to be heard on what they expect to be done with the park they actively maintain through taxes.

An important step in this process that could be taken is designating the Coast Miwok Archaeological District as a registered historic place. Ongoing efforts in regard to the co-governance between NPS and Coast Miwok seem like a promising direction. By carrying out a co-management plan, it is expected that new language will be added by the legislation to ensure that the measure does not infringe on religious liberty and conscience protections for the Indigenous group. This would enshrine protections for the Coast Miwok archaeological sites for future years and bring a larger, federally relevant player into the discussion on the side of the underrepresented Coast Miwok, giving them greater bargaining power than they have enjoyed for the past century and helping to level the playing field.

While economic subsidies for dairy ranching are handled by higher levels of government than the NPS, the NPS would do well to reflect on the role this framework of support has played in entrenching the hegemony of the ranchers at PRNS. The economic importance of dairy to the state of California has been repeatedly used as a justification for continuing ranching activities at the seashore,[26] but it should instead be reframed as an obstacle to meeting the seashore’s obligations to preserve natural and cultural heritage. One incremental step that the NPS should take is to raise monthly grazing fees for the PRNS’ ranch owners so as to match or exceed the grazing fees in the rest of Marin County. Broader forms of retribution for the destruction of Coast Miwok archaeological sites and breaches of state water quality standards, which would likely be imposed by state-level bodies in conjunction with the NPS, would also be an avenue worth pursuing.

Finally, the NPS should reevaluate its metrics for determining the ecological status and health of the PRNS. Currently, metrics revolve around the productivity of commercial ranching activities, such as the quantity of forage remaining at the end of each grazing season. Evaluating an entire ecosystem using productivist metrics overly simplifies the situation and leads to poor decisions being made due to a lack of information. The NPS has performed several comprehensive impact assessments, including a 2013 assessment which identified dairies and grazing as the major impacts on water quality and coastal habitats.[50] These findings should be acted upon, with increased monitoring and decreased ranching, rather than the inverse. Moreover, from the long term perspective, PRNS is facing climate change impacts such as drought, wildfire, and ocean degradation. Demonstrated through a multi-layered vulnerability assessment, Hameed et al. (2013) report that the future climate can exacerbate existing pressure exerted on PRNS biological communities.[51] It is imperative to call for management amendments to strengthen and protect the local ecosystems.


The formation of an identity centred on environmental protection inevitably leads to a conflict between different identities of Indigenous people, contemporary citizens, and environmentalists, because the exclusivity of the environmental protection priority centred on the cultural differences between these three groups appears in the form of an opposition and leads to an opposition of value meanings. Not only that, the modernization process of environmentalism extends this antagonism of the value meaning of the only rightness to a global scale. Any good doctrine or consciousness must not only present a self-cultural identity, but also embrace the distinction between self and other and the differences of the other; therefore, an absolute, unique, and exclusive sense of environmental priority can easily go into a dilemma.

Whenever there is a significant change in how land is used, some stakeholder is bound to be upset. Making decisions as to who and what gets prioritized is never a simple decision, and the more stakeholders that are involved in the decision the more complex and nuanced the issue becomes. However, this is not a reason to simply remove certain stakeholders from the conversation. The National Park Service has shown a clear prioritisation of ranching activity over the other environmental and social issues surrounding the Point Reyes National Seashore, and its effects are clear. Coast Miwok history has been sacrificed in order to preserve the more current (and more financially lucrative) beef and dairy industry. This hierarchy is kept in place by trends that extend far beyond the PRNS, as well as by the Coast Miwok people’s and activists’ limited resources. The ideas of reparations, returning exploited land, and prioritising environmental protections are all relatively new whereas the ranching and agricultural lobbies are grandfathered in and about as old as the government whose lands they are ranching on. Having a serious conversation about the PRNS and whom it belongs to and what its purpose should mean acknowledging that the ethical framework which has governed American society since its inception is fundamentally flawed, and that the system of land and labour management must be scrutinized. This is a conversation that is not up to the NPS, but with activists suing them in multiple states simultaneously, it is likely to be a conversation they have to participate in sooner rather than later.


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This resource was created by Curtis Seufert, Hugo Dignoes, Charly Phillips, Ming Cao.It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.