Environmental Activist Drives Cross-country to Deliver Petition to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in Bid to Save Point Reyes National Seashore’s Tule Elk 

Environmental Activist Drives Cross-country to Deliver Petition to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in Bid to Save Point Reyes National Seashore’s Tule Elk 

For Immediate Release, June 28, 2021

Contact: Diana Oppenheim, action@forelk.org, 248-840-5684

Environmental Activist Drives Cross-country to Deliver Petition to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in Bid to Save Point Reyes National Seashore’s Tule Elk 

Point Reyes National Seashore, CA—On Monday, June 28, at 1:00 PM EST, Tule Elk activist and ForELK founder Diana Oppenheim will arrive at the doors of the Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland’s office in Washington DC to hand over petitions organized by For Elk, Turtle Island Restoration Network, In Defense of Animals and Renewal Resource Institute urging Sec. Haaland to take action to protect Point Reyes National Seashore’s native Tule Elk. To date, these petitions have cumulatively been signed by over 100,000 individuals. 

This action comes just weeks ahead of the July 14 court-ordered deadline for the National Park Service (NPS) to sign the Record of Decision for their General Management Plan Amendment (GMPA) for Point Reyes National Seashore. The Park’s plan further entrenches commercial beef and dairy operations by issuing unprecedented 20-year leases to them. These private, for-profit ranchers, who already occupy 30% of parkland managed by Point Reyes, will also be allowed to expand into other agricultural businesses. NPS, under this plan, will forcibly limit the elk’s interaction with ranching activity by culling one of the three Tule elk herd’s population to 120 animals. Secretary Haaland is the only person with the authority to dismiss the GMPA.  

As the July 14 signing date for the GMPA fast approaches, a diverse group of activists and organizations are working to prevent it from being signed. One such group, ForELK, is a grassroots campaign that has been supporting people on the ground and helping to educate the public near the park and across the country about the NPS management plan and process over the last four years.

“I never expected the campaign to grow to this size,” said ForElk’s Diana Oppenheim. “It started with me and a few friends in my living room, eating chocolate chip cookies, horrified that the National Park was going to kill the iconic Tule elk at the behest of ranchers. We went from outreach anywhere and everywhere, talking to people one by one, to film screenings, protests and demonstrations, and now billboards and other actions. After silence from the Secretary of the Interior’s office, I needed to make sure, to the best of my ability, that she understands how much is at stake here and how much people care about this particular place and these particular animals.”  

Oppenheim continued, “What I love about this campaign is that it has built so many bridges among individuals and groups from different causes. Whether you want to protect public lands from industry, restore the rare coastal prairie ecosystem, advocate for clean water and streams, fight climate change, advocate for indigenous people and culture, increase access to wilderness areas, or simply save the lives of the Tule elk, halting this GMPA signing matters to so many people. I am hopeful that Deb Haaland will hear us and help us.”  

The NPS plan has been highly contentious and extremely political. On the ground, we’ve documented poor management practices by both commercial ranches and NPS staff over the past several years. A few examples include:

  • No water quality testing has been done since 2013. An independent water hydrologist was hired by In Defense of Animals and Western Watershed Project in January 2021 and he discovered 40-times higher E.coli levels and 300-times higher enterococci bacteria levels than are deemed acceptable by local health standards. 

 

  • Ranches have been allowed to pump groundwater from sensitive wetland ecosystems without a permit and during a state-declared drought emergency. 

 

  • The largest herd of Tule elk in the world is trapped behind an 8-foot wire fence with inadequate food and water resources. Concerned citizens saw warning signs of a mass die-off last summer but were dismissed when providing evidence of this pending disaster to local NPS rangers. 

 

  • When the 2020 Tule elk census count came in, the population had plummeted by 152 animals — nearly one-third of the herd. Finally, after a year of intense public pressure, NPS agreed to provide supplemental water to the herd. We are still pushing them to remove the fence so these animals can roam free, and forage their own food and water.

 

  • Thousands of acres of annual, invasive grasses are planted as feed for the cattle. Still, supplemental feed is trucked in. These invasive grasses spread seeds and invasive plants into sensitive wilderness areas. 

 

  • Overgrazing and soil compaction have been documented, altering creek and stream habitat which negatively impact marine ecosystems, including endangered coho salmon.  

 

  • In 2015 the Park Service shelved the Point Reyes Peninsula Indigenous Archaeological District nomination and instead fast-tracked the nomination of ranches to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The public has weighed in heavily on this issue. During the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, over 90% of public comments opposed continued ranching at the Seashore. The California Coastal Commission, which narrowly issued a conditional compliance to the Park’s plan in a 5-4 vote, received nearly 45,000 public comments and 99% of those comments opposed continued ranching at the Seashore.  

“The American people have clearly stated that they envision a future for Point Reyes where ecosystems are restored and biodiversity rebounds,” said Chance Cutrano, Director of Programs at the Resource Renewal Institute. “The National Park Service’s plan stifled that vision; choosing instead to move forward with this reckless Trump-era plan to expand environmentally harmful commercial agriculture within the park despite inadequate analyses on climate, water quality, and drought impacts. Secretary Haaland still has time to reconsider this plan. We hope she meets the moment.” 

“The ecological and cultural values of Point Reyes National Seashore have been ignored in this General Management Plan and it is an assault on the public trust that must be remedied,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We are missing an opportunity to restore our amazing Seashore, fight climate change and honor the Coast Miwok people, the original stewards of these lands. We call on Secretary Haaland to send the Park Service back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that protects the environment and cultural resources.”

Theresa Harlan, descendant of the Coast Miwok Felix family, whose 19th century ancestral home is at Point Reyes National Seashore added, “Coast Miwok people, the original stewards of a healthy biodiverse ecosystem, witnessed and continue to witness the destruction wielded by ranches and cattle on their homeland. Colonial erasure of Indigenous peoples is at work when a 150-year rancher history is more important than over 10,000 years of indigenous Coast Miwok life, history and contributions.”  

For Elk, Resource Renewal Institute, Turtle Island Restoration Network and In Defense of Animals urge Secretary Haaland to reconsider this NPS’ plan promoted during the Trump administration, and instead choose an environmentally friendly alternative. We need a plan that phases out commercial ranching on public land and protects Point Reyes National Seashore’s native Tule elk and fragile biodiversity. 

About For Elk, Turtle Island Restoration Network, In Defense of Animals and Resource Renewal Institute: For Elk, Turtle Island Restoration Network, In Defense of Animals and Resource Renewal Institute are four Northern California-based environmental organizations with independent mandates. Their work overlaps on the issue of restoring and rewilding Point Reyes National Seashore. For more information, please visit their websites:

For Elk: https://www.forelk.org

In Defense of Animals: http://www.idausa.org

Resource Renewal Institute: https://www.rri.org

Turtle Island Restoration Network: https://seaturtles.org 

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