Why We Care

The Battle to Preserve the Vanishing Wild

There is a war going on in the United States between private interests and the public good.

Since the late 19th century, with the founding of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, preserving natural habitats for the enjoyment of the whole population has been considered part of the public good. Private interests in the form of logging, mining, ranching, and real estate development have done whatever they could to encroach on that for the benefit of a few.

The tule elk, native and unique to California, once probably numbered in the millions from the grasslands and marshlands of the Central Valley to the grassy coastal hills of Point Reyes. By 1870, they were thought to be extinct. Then, miraculously, in 1874, a single breeding pair was discovered in the tule marshes of Buena Vista Lake in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Conservation measures were taken to protect the species in the 1970s. Today, the wild population is just over 4,000, with fewer than 300 in the Point Reyes National Seashore from 10 animals who were introduced there as part of those measures.

Ranching is an ongoing threat to this iconic species because of fencing that limits their access to water and foraging territory and the pollution of the available water resources. It is also, quite frankly, neither picturesque nor historically significant. It is unsightly and when you are downwind of it, smelly.

It is ironic that the farsighted people who fought against real estate interests to get the park established had to accept a compromise that leaves it vulnerable to the depredations of cattle ranching, now poised to expand into pig and poultry raising as well. This on the land that was once grazed by the elk.

But it is not just about the elk. Over fifty species of animals at Point Reyes are listed by the state or federal government as threatened, rare, or endangered. These include the beautiful Myrtle’s silverspot butterfly, the Point Reyes mountain beaver, the Point Reyes jumping mouse, three kinds of bats, the tricolored blackbird, two kinds of hawks, the bald eagle, and the northern spotted owl. Ranching alters the landscape, reducing the natural habitat for all these creatures.

Point Reyes National Seashore is also a jewel in the California Floristic Province—one of 25 regions of the world where biological diversity is most concentrated and the threat of loss most severe. The broad range of plant communities supports over 900 species of vascular plants that represent about 15% of the California flora. Three plants are considered endemic to Point Reyes.

Preservation and protection of biodiversity is imperative when it comes to enabling a stable climate. It was through billions of years of evolution that the flora and fauna evolved the infinitely complex interrelationships that, 10,000 years ago, finally stabilized our climate. It was this climatic stability that provided the environment in which human culture and society as we know has flourished. 

With temperature swings that result in extended droughts or mini-ice age; tornadoes, cyclones, and hurricanes of unprecedented magnitude and frequency; changes in the Gulf Stream that leave billions of humans without water, etc…  is the real threat to human survival. Without enough protected, preserved, or restored intact biological and ecological systems, it doesn’t matter how much carbon we can sequester or if we stop using fossil fuels, humans and many of the other creatures we share the planet with will not survive.

As native systems have been altered in other areas of California, many native plants have been pushed to the brink of extinction. Point Reyes National Seashore serves as a refuge for an astonishing number of these rare plants. Over 50 plants at Point Reyes are currently listed by the Federal government, State government, or the California Native Plant Society as being rare, threatened, or endangered. These are not plants that can easily survive, whereas cattle and the grasses that feed them plague the terrain.

Reclaim and Restore Point Reyes is devoted to making Point Reyes National Seashore a safe home for native species and the kind of haven for nature lovers that national parks are meant to be.