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ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION – NO HARD COPY TO FOLLOW: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?parkID=333&projectID=108690

June 4, 2024

Anne Altman
Acting Superintendent
1 Bear Valley Road
Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

Subject: Comments on the Draft Tomales Point Area Plan/Environmental Assessment

Dear Acting Superintendent Altman:

I am writing on behalf of over 2,700 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 commend the park for creating the Draft Tomales Point Area Plan/Environmental Assessment (DTPAP/EA). 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 the 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, IMPROVED VISITOR AMENITIES, AND EXPLORE ADAPTIVE REUSE OF PIERCE RANCH CORE AREA (NPS PREFERRED ALTERNATIVE). The Coalition offers comments for improvements and to meet legal requirements for the proposed plan and environmental analysis.

The following laws and policies apply to this planning process and are the foundation of our comments. 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 percent wilderness by law (Public Law 94-544), we are concerned that current management is inconsistent with guidance and sideboards set by NPS wilderness management plan guidance, applicable legislation, and NPS Director’s Orders. Because the park lacks an overall wilderness management plan 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 that 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 DTPAP/EA.

As we stated in our scoping comments, the DTPAP/EA needs to set a visitor capacity for the planning area. For effective management, day-use and overnight visitor-use quotas should be established and a data-based monitoring system should be in place. Several of our Coalition members have observed visitation already exceeds the visitor capacity that promotes a wilderness experience on weekends, holidays, and summer months. Parked cars often are seen outside designated parking areas, as well as crowding on the Tomales Point Trail. 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 scientifically based and peer-reviewed indicators, standards, and thresholds for measuring visitor quality and resource conditions. Monitoring these indicators will help identify issues that may need to be addressed as the DTPAP/EA is implemented. The DTPAP/EA states the carrying capacity has not been exceeded; however, there is no data to substantiate this claim and no carrying capacity number is presented.

The DTPAP/EA dismissed performing a visitor-carrying capacity study. We disagree with the park’s decision. This alternative action dismissed would have initiated a visitor carrying capacity study to help the NPS set a carrying capacity for day use and overnight camping visitation to protect the Seashore’s resources to ensure public access on Tomales Point does not diminish resource and wilderness values. Visitation of the park has grown steadily since its inception and is expected to grow by 2 percent per year; setting carrying capacity is a requirement of applicable law and policy. Since the park has not shared any visitor use or capacity data, nor any visitor experience quality data, there is no evidence that the park is not exceeding current capacity, what the visitor capacity of the area is, and whether resources are not being degraded. Observations by members of the Coalition have seen heavy use of Tomales Bay beaches, especially on weekends and holidays, that may be exceeding wilderness capacity (which has not been set) and damaging coastal ecology.

The DTPAP/EA has not met policy and applicable law for wilderness management. All future actions in the wilderness areas of Tomales Point must preserve wilderness character. The planning area is primarily wilderness (85 percent). As stated in NPS Director’s Order #41: Wilderness Stewardship and the Wilderness Act [16 U.S.C. 1133(b)], NPS policy and law 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 DTPAP/EA 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 states, “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.”

The DTPAP/EA 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 impacts on marine wilderness areas adjacent to a National Marine Sanctuary.

As directed in 2006 NPS Management Policies “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. This monitoring will 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 DTPAP/EA does 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 that is critical to ecosystem health has been established. Removing the restrictive fence has long-term positive implications for the health of the park’s entire ecosystem. Additionally, the removal of the fence would meet the California State goal to “Reduce the number of confined (Tule elk) herds” (CDFW 2018). The Point Reyes herd is one of the last remaining confined herds in the state, and this unnatural isolation has resulted in Tule elk in the Reserve experiencing four population irruptions and crashes since their introduction. 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.

We are unsure why the development area has been expanded, considering the DTPAP/EA indicates no parking expansion or additional visitor amenities except a new restroom. Please provide the area expansion rationale and give the size of the expansion in acres and what the impacts are.

As the DTPAP indicates, a wildlife-friendly fence is installed to keep any animal stock out of the wilderness area once the high elk fence is removed. Please indicate in the final plan how that will be constructed. Coalition members have indicated that the recent fence installed along Sir Francis Drake Hwy to the Lighthouse and fencing at Blue Line Creek is not wildlife-friendly.

We recommend the Seashore not conduct any parking improvements and major trail projects until additional compliance and public input are undertaken. The Coalition agrees that a vault toilet is necessary to alleviate resource degradation.

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 support engaging appropriate Tribal entities to enhance resource knowledge and co-stewardship efforts. However, we would be remiss if we did not express our concern about the public statements made by park officials regarding 50-50 cooperative management of the park with a Tribal entity. We believe that Congress only has delegated to the Secretary of the Interior and the Director of the National Park Service the legal authority and responsibility for managing the National Park System units and that authority cannot be redelegated outside NPS. We believe Tribes can be excellent partners and consultation should be conducted with them as applicable law requires. However, as your agreement with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria states, “Nothing in this Agreement shall be understood to preempt the Tribe’s or NPS’s responsibilities under regulation or law.” (General Agreement Number GPORE210001PS, 2021). Therefore, any Tribal views or traditional ecological knowledge the Tribe wishes to be applied to the Seashore must be reviewed and determined to be consistent with those laws and adopted by you as the product of NPS’s careful consideration, documentation, and final decision-making. Such determinations must be a matter of public record.

We believe a Draft Tomales Point Area Plan/EA with revisions 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 protect cultural and natural resources and wilderness values and that the plan supports “the maximum protection, restoration, and preservation of the natural environment within the area.” We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments during this stage of the planning process.


Phil Francis signature.



Phil A. Francis, Jr.
Chair of the Executive Council
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks

CC: Anne Altman, Acting Superintendent, PRNS
The Honorable Chuck Sams, Director, National Park Service
Frank Lands, Deputy Director for Operations
David Szymanski, Regional Director