September 21, 2023
1 Bear Valley Road
Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Subject: Comments on Scoping for Tomales Point Area Plan
Dear Superintendent Kenkel:
I am writing on behalf of over 2,500 members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition), who collectively represent more than 45,000 years of national park management experience. The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s National Park System. Among our members are former NPS directors, regional directors, superintendents, resource specialists, park rangers, maintenance and administrative staff, and a full array of other former employees, volunteers, and supporters.
On behalf of our members and followers, we support the park creating the Tomales Point Area Plan (TPAP). For decades, visitation at peak times, especially holiday weekends and summer months, has been a constant problem at Tomales Point. Also, we agree that the management of tule elk has been a major issue for the park since reintroduction. Future management direction must be developed. We believe that confinement of the tule elk, a species that is integral to the ecosystem, is incongruent with the basic tenets of National Park Service management.
Overall, the Coalition supports Alternative B: Unconfined Elk Herd and Pierce Ranch Core Area (NPS Proposed Action). We believe this is the only alternative that fully meets current law guiding the management of National Park Service (NPS) areas, the specific legislation for Point Reyes National Seashore, the Wilderness Act, NPS policy, and NPS Director’s Orders that tier from the Organic Act and “the Redwood Act.”
The following laws should be used as guidance for the planning effort.
The Organic Act of 1916 states the following: “The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” In 1978, Congress clarified and reaffirmed the Organic Act, through the “Redwood Amendment” to the 1970 General Authorities Act , which states “The authorization of activities shall be construed and the protection, management, and administration of these areas shall be conducted in light of the high public value and integrity of the National Park System and shall not be exercised in derogation of the values and purposes for which these various areas have been established, except as… directly and specifically provided by Congress.”
In addition, the Seashore’s enabling legislation requires that the park “shall be administered by the Secretary without impairment of its natural values, in a manner which provides for such recreational, educational, historic preservation, interpretation, and scientific research opportunities as are consistent with, based upon, and supportive of the maximum protection, restoration, and preservation of the natural environment within the area.”
Because the planning area is 85% wilderness by law (Public Law 94-544), we are concerned that current management is not consistent with guidance and sideboards set by NPS wilderness policy, applicable legislation, and NPS Director’s Orders. Because the park lacks an overall wilderness plan management for the Phil Burton Wilderness area, it has not met the intent of the Wilderness Act (Public Law 88-577) or the guiding principles of the park’s enabling legislation. We hope future planning will rectify this situation and the TPAP can begin the process.
We believe the longstanding issues at Tomales Point with the elk fence create an obvious conflict between the conservation of park resources and values and adjacent ranching. As stated in NPS Management Policies 2006, Section 1.4.3, “The fundamental purpose of the national park system, established by the Organic Act and reaffirmed by the General Authorities Act, as amended, begins with a mandate to conserve park resources and values. This mandate is independent of the separate prohibition on impairment and applies all the time with respect to all park resources and values, even when there is no risk that any park resources or values may be impaired. NPS managers must always seek ways to avoid, or to minimize to the greatest extent practicable, adverse impacts on park resources and values.”
We offer the following specific comments for the scoping of this TPAP.
The TPAP needs to set a carrying capacity for the planning area. Day use and overnight visitor use quotas should be established. Visitation already exceeds the capacity that promotes a wilderness experience on weekends, holidays, and summer months.
As directed by the National Parks and Recreation Act, the National Park Service is required to set a visitor-carrying capacity for all areas of a park. A visitor carrying capacity should be based on a set of desired conditions for this specific planning area. We also encourage the park to establish additional scientifically based and peer-reviewed indicators, standards, and thresholds for measuring visitor quality and resource conditions. The monitoring of these indicators will ensure success and public credibility as the TPAP is implemented in the future.
All future actions in the wilderness areas of Tomales Point must preserve wilderness character. The planning area is primarily wilderness (85%). As stated in NPS Director’s Order #41: Wilderness Stewardship and the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1133(b)), policy directs that “each agency administering any area designated as wilderness shall be responsible for preserving [its] wilderness character.” Wilderness character is the combination of biophysical, experiential, and symbolic ideals that distinguishes wilderness from other lands. The five qualities of wilderness character are (1) untrammeled, (2) undeveloped, (3) natural, (4) offers outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation, (5) other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value. Accordingly, each wilderness park will integrate the concept of wilderness character into park planning, management, and monitoring in order to preserve the enduring benefits and values of wilderness for future generations.”
The TPAP must conduct a wilderness character assessment. As stated in NPS Management Policies 2006, “Wilderness parks will conduct a wilderness character assessment, which includes identifying what should be measured, establishing baseline data, and conducting ongoing monitoring of trends. Each measure should be relevant to tracking change in an attribute or element of the park’s wilderness character, or relevant to tracking a threat to this attribute. Once a baseline is established, tracking change and reporting on the trend in wilderness character should generally occur every five years.”
NPS Management Policies 2006 Section 22.214.171.124 states specifically “Whenever a park planning process that has the potential to affect wilderness character occurs, the park should determine how wilderness character can be both integrated into the planning effort and presented in the planning document.”
Again, this issue is important because 85% of the planning area is designated wilderness.
We believe the TPAP must ensure wilderness values will be protected and management actions will provide a primitive visitor experience that allows solitude. This plan’s management actions should ensure the preservation of wilderness character. As directed by policy, the “National Park Service will take into account (1) wilderness characteristics and values, including the primeval character and influence of the wilderness; (2) the preservation of natural conditions (including the lack of man-made noise); and (3) assurances that there will be outstanding opportunities for solitude, that the public will be provided with a primitive and unconfined type of recreational experience, and that wilderness will be preserved and used in an unimpaired condition. Managers will be expected to appropriately address cultural resources management considerations in the development and review of environmental compliance documents impacting wilderness resources.” (2006 Management Policies, National Park Service)
The TPAP must address long-term monitoring of resources and establish outstanding resource values, including for the marine systems adjacent to the planning area but within the Seashore. For the long-term protection of this biologically and culturally rich area, the TPAP should establish long-term monitoring programs to ensure management actions and visitor use are not adversely affecting wilderness. The Seashore was created to protect a wild coastal sanctuary, and the NPS should commit to a science program that ensures it remains wild and healthy. The monitoring program should include direct and indirect effects on adjacent marine wilderness areas that are adjacent to a National Marine Sanctuary.
As directed in 2006 NPS Management Policies 126.96.36.199 “In every park containing wilderness, the conditions and long-term trends of wilderness resources will be monitored to identify the need for or effects of management actions. The purpose of this monitoring will be to ensure that management actions and visitor impacts on wilderness resources and character do not exceed the standards and conditions established in an approved park plan. As appropriate, wilderness monitoring programs may assess physical, biological, and cultural resources and social impacts. Monitoring programs may also need to assess potential problems that may originate outside the wilderness to determine the nature, magnitude, and probable source of those impacts.”
The TPAP must address the long-term future and management of tule elk in the planning area. Reintroduced in 1978 and later in 1999 to the Limantour Area, a keystone species has been established that is critical to ecosystem health. Removing the restrictive fence has long-term positive implications for the health of the park’s entire ecosystem. The tule elk are instrumental in preserving a diverse biological system and natural biodiversity. We recommend that the herd be adaptively managed with carrying capacity population levels set in broad ranges, not one set number because of fluctuating climate and weather resulting in changing food availability. We also suggest the park continue and expand long-term monitoring of the elk population and overall health of the various herds. Current management of tule elk in a confined space with supplemental feeding is not consistent with NPS guiding legislation and policy.
Unless a visitor-carrying capacity is set that protects wilderness character and park resources, the Coalition does not support additional parking areas. Additional parking should only be made available if the wilderness values and resources are not degraded in the planning area. Additional parking may only encourage more visitation and discourage a visitor’s experience of solitude. In addition, two rare plant species deserve consideration in the environmental analysis. .Point Reyes Blennosperma (Blennosperma nanum var. robustum), is a plant classified by the California Native Plant Society as rank 1B.2 as rare, threatened or endangered in California and elsewhere and currently facing moderate threats. It grows in one of the overflow parking lots at Pierce Ranch and in other places in the Reserve. Also, California Meconella (Meconella californica), not classified by the California Native Plant Society, is known from very few populations in Marin County and occurs on Tomales Point.
We recommend any needed ecosystem restoration and trail maintenance projects, including minor reroutes of the trails, be identified and addressed in the planning process. This will allow compliance to be fully vetted and “shovel-ready” projects can be completed after the planning process is completed.
We encourage the continuation of education and interpretive efforts at the historic Pierce Point Ranch. The site is an excellent location for sharing the rich ranching history that once helped to feed the San Francisco Bay area.
We believe a Tomales Point Area Plan is key to meeting mandates established in the Point Reyes Foundation Document, Point Reyes National Seashore enabling legislation, and National Park Service policy and law. We strongly encourage Point Reyes National Seashore to ensure that cultural and natural resources are protected and that the plan is “supportive of the maximum protection, restoration, and preservation of the natural environment within the area.” We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments during this early stage of the planning process.
Michael B. Murray
Chair of the Executive Council
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
The Honorable Chuck Sams, Director, National Park Service
Frank Lands, Deputy Director for Operations
Billy Shott, Acting PWR Regional Director