The National Park Service has released the final version of a report detailing how it wants to manage private ranching and tule elk herds in Point Reyes National Seashore and the north district of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The 250-page environmental impact statement describes six proposed plans for 28,000 acres of public land in Marin County. The park service said that it prefers the alternative that would “allow existing ranch families to continue beef and dairy operations under lease/permits with terms up to 20 years,” up from five years currently.

Opponents have fought to end private ranching in the park, saying it is an inappropriate use for public lands and leads to soil erosion, water pollution and conflict with wildlife, among other impacts.

As for the tule elk in the Drakes Beach area, the animals would be managed “at a stable and viable population threshold compatible with desired conditions for the planning area,” the park service said. The plan would limit the elk herd to 120, a number that would be reached by killing 12 to 18 elk a year, or relocation if possible, according to the report.

Critics call plan ‘disastrous’

The park service’s announcement Friday was instantly assailed by opponents who called the plan “disastrous” and said it favors cattle ranching and will harm elk and other wildlife in the beloved park lands.

“This is a disaster for wildlife and a stunning mismanagement of one of America’s most beautiful national parks,” Jeff Miller, senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

“The Park Service is greenlighting the slaughter of native wildlife in Point Reyes,” Miller said. “This plan is illegal and immoral, and we’re going to do everything we can to stop it.”

Asked to respond to Miller’s statement, Melanie Gunn, outreach coordinator for Point Reyes National Seashore, said in an email: “We believe the preferred alternative succeeds in protecting both natural and cultural resources. The new zoning framework is specifically designed to protect sensitive resources such as wildlife, wetlands, threatened and endangered species, archeological sites, etc.”

“We believe the preferred alternative succeeds in protecting both natural and cultural resources.”

Melanie Gunn, Point Reyes National Seashore

The plan would also allow ranchers to add chickens, goats, sheep and pigs to their farming activities, something that Miller said would endanger animals like bobcats, coyotes and foxes as well.

The environmental report emerges from a process that started in the fall of 2018 when the park service began soliciting public input on how it should manage private ranching and the tule elk in the park. Some 9,000 public comments were received during the process, the park service said.

The park service’s Friday announcement says: “The preferred alternative best supports the historic resources and cultural landscapes that are integral to the Point Reyes Peninsula Dairy Ranches Historic District and Olema Valley Dairy Ranches Historic District.”

The plan will be adopted by Oct. 16, Gunn said.