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  • Writer's pictureStaci-lee Sherwood

California Coastal Comm. votes against saving the Tule Elk – was there a bribe?

Updated: Nov 13, 2022

By Staci-lee Sherwood

If you haven’t been following the crisis at Point Reyes National Seashore you’re about to read a true horror story about government corruption and stupidity. At the center of this storm are just a couple hundred endangered Tule Elk fenced off from freely accessing food and water. The National Park Service, which manages the park, has lost all integrity and are little more than blatant animal abusers dressed up as rangers. The Point Reyes National Seashore superintendent, Craig Kenkel, comes from Ohio where the park he used to manage also allows livestock grazing.

Rounding out the other players are Donne Brownsey, a lobbyist from Sacramento, appointed to the conservation sounding California Coastal Commission as Chair. The last main player is Governor Gavin Newsom, an ambitious career politician who sees himself as the savior of the state but clearly lacks the understanding of what true conservation is. Newsom is the person who appointed Brownsey to be Chair. The problem is the private owned cows and sheep grazing and pooping in the park at the expense of the small dwindling Tule Elk population. The park is home to many species of native wildlife that depend on access to the same land and water the livestock are given. For the Tule Elk life in the park is tragic. Their access to food and water lies beyond a fence they often get stuck in trying to escape their prison. Congressman Jared Huffman and Senator Diane Feinstein remain utterly useless choosing private industry over the health of public lands and welfare of endangered species.

The fate of the Tule Elk

California Coastal Commission

On September 8, 2022 the commission had a zoom meeting where the public was originally told they could sign up to speak for 3 minutes. The allotted time is standard for public comment though sometimes this is shortened to 2 minutes. When this happens, those who prepare a statement based on 3 minutes then have to scramble to shorten their talking points by 1/3 with maybe an hour’s notice. Many Commissions use the excuse of ‘too many speakers’ as a way to cut public comment time. This is a lie, this is only done because the commissioners, who often forget they signed up to be public servants, can’t be bothered to stay an hour longer.

The coastal commission started the September 8th meeting with the mention of a colleague’s passing. Sad news yes but the commissioners spent nearly an hour talking about her when the sympathies should have come at the end of the meeting. They did not cut into the time given to agenda items. They did not cut their lunch time short nor did they plan to stay late. Instead the Chair, Donne Brownsey, declared that public comment would be cut to 2 minutes.

Once the comments started it was clear most of the public was not in support of any more livestock grazing in the park. The public wanted that program to end immediately. There were scientific reports showing the degradation of the park and contamination of the water by the livestock. The commission didn’t want to hear it. Then Brownsey declared, as though she was queen, comment period was now only 1 minute because she said most of the comments were similar in nature. Even for a fast talker who has spoken at hundreds of hearings, I had to rush through just a few key points. What meaningful points can be made in 60 seconds?

This was by design a way to silence opposition and bypass the public will while still making it appear like open transparency took place. This was a scheme of corruption pure and simple. At the end of ‘meeting’ no surprise the commissioners voted in favor of continuation for ranchers to graze, and destroy, the park. Ignoring the poor history by park management the commission voted to trust the half baked plan by the park service to monitor the water and humanely manage the elk. Remove the cows and the elk and park wouldn’t need managing, nature would thrive without their meddling. Trusting the park service to clean up the pollution and care for the elk is akin to asking a burglar to please lock the door on their way out.

This is not the first time this commission has voted in favor of killing native wildlife or to continue policies that destroy the water/land/habitat they are charged to protect. In December 2021, in a close vote, the commission opted to allow the US fish & Wildlife (another agency turned anti wildlife) to use helicopters to drop poison (1.5 metric tons of cereal bait laced with an extremely toxic second-generation anticoagulant rodenticide) on the Southeast Farallon Island. Once again Brownsey voted for death in the most cruel and irresponsible way. Despite science, common sense and pleas by Jane Goodall the commission was bound and determined to make the worst decision they could. The death toll from so called non target species will run into the thousands but the real number will exceed far more than that.

When the Secretary of Defense thinks your vote is nuts you know you’re on the wrong side of things.

The non-profit In Defense of Animals tried to fight the insanity along with most of the public. Click here to read more

They don’t always make poor choices. In 2018 they voted to close a sand mining facility. In April 2022 they voted to close a Sea Lion nursery 6 months out of the year to give the nursing animals a break from human harassment, not a great decision but better than letting it remain open. The good choices seem few and far between.

In August 2018 the commission had a meeting about granting a permit for coastal oil drilling in Long Beach requested by Beach Oil Mineral Partners. Oil is a huge contributor to green house gases, water/soil and air pollution. Despite their website touting how they rely on science, encourage robust public participation and hopes for curbing green houses gas emissions and water pollution their actions say otherwise. During the meeting then Commissioner Brownsey had mentioned how she had read scientific papers predicting a worsening of wildfires and suggested that “the Coastal Commission should adopt a more activist position on those matters.” When it was time for action the commission voted to allow new drilling, actions = truth. The words coming out of their mouths = lies and hypocrisy.

Belching and farting from cows is also a big contributor to increased green house gas and water pollution. Just like the case of oil drilling when it comes to Point Reyes the commission gives lip service and little else when it comes to protecting the park, relying on science or giving the public a few minutes to speak. For a Governor claiming to be concerned about the effects of increasing green house gas emissions his appointee, Brownsey, sure makes him look like a fraud with her votes.

National Park Service/Point Reyes NS

A century ago the park service had a policy of killing wildlife inside national parks. That eventually changed and the parks became a haven for wildlife in the line of fire by hunters, developers, ranchers and the energy/mining companies. Of all the agencies under the Department of Interior the National Parks was considered the jewel of the department and the country. National parks are supported by the public for the benefit of all. Over the years that policy has been eroded by self-serving ranchers seeking to gain more access to public lands so they can graze their cows and sheep on the cheap.

The Point Reyes National Seashore is a shining example of what not to do if conservation is your goal. The park has heavily polluted water from all the livestock pooping in it. Much of the vegetation has been trampled by these non native animals not designed to co-exist there. The public overwhelmingly has spoken against having livestock in the park. All of this has been ignored by those that run the park, the state and the Department of Justice who represents the National Park Service in court in a multitude of lawsuits concerning the Tule Elk.

Craig Kenkel is the current superintendent of the park. Before coming to Point Reyes he was in charge of another park that allows private livestock grazing, the Cuyahoga National Park in Ohio. If the name Cuyahoga sounds familiar that’s because Ohio became notorious for having the Cuyahoga River spontaneously set itself on fire from all the flammable chemicals dumped into it.

Over the past five years the park service has gone back to their old ways of last century. Instead of having true conservation policies they have shifted to a radical pro killing anti conservation policy across the board. The agency has now become openly hostile toward wildlife using a myriad of excuses to remove or kill them. They are also hostile to anyone voicing concern or opposition to their policies. They make unsubstantiated claims of overpopulation to starving from lack of food or claiming non native status of native wildlife. This agency should be stripped of any power or authority when it comes to our wildlife and public lands. They demonstrate on a daily basis they have zero integrity. They have done or in the process of doing the following:

* Allowing outside trophy hunters to kill native Bison inside Grand Canyon NP

* Allowing outside trophy hunters to kill native Mountain Goats inside Grand Teton NP instead of relocating them to another park that wants them

* Rounding up native wild Horses inside Mesa Verde NP

* Experimenting on native wild horses in Teddy Roosevelt NP

* More about the history of Tule Elk in Point Reyes NS

it comes as no surprise the park service continues to advocate for fencing off the native wildlife while yielding for private ranchers. Here is the excuse the park service uses for having our public lands destroyed by private grazing. Just because another country does something does not mean it should be emulated. ‘While farming in a national park is an unconventional idea in America, that is not the case elsewhere in the world. In Great Britain, for example, over 90% of national park land is privately owned. Not only is it considered natural and normal to live within the park boundaries, farming is considered the only practical way to maintain the openness, beauty, and diversity of the countryside.’

The pretty pictures of the Tule Elk the NPS puts out cover up the ugliness of the callous cruelty, biased attitude toward ranchers and blatant lack of ethics

Impacts of farming

The grazing program is a losing program for the federal government as ranchers pay pennies for the privilege of using public lands as their own. The damage done by livestock to water, soil and vegetation is often permanent and jeopardizes the habitat of many endangered species forced to share with these privately owned animals. Eleven of our national parks now allow grazing which is subsidized by taxpayers, though most have no clue this goes on.

A water quality study conducted by the non-profit Turtle Island Restoration Network found ‘water pollution dangerous to public health and the environment persists at the seashore.’

More findings from other studies found:

* A Heal the Bay Report published in June 2022 gave an F grade to numerous beaches on the seashore due to poor water quality.

* Inspections by Marin County Environmental Health Services at two private dairy ranches found raw sewage being dumped in the national seashore and pooling beneath ranch worker housing. Further inspections by Marin County Environmental Health Services discovered that septic systems were out of compliance or nonexistent at seven of the 16 ranches inspected.

“The degree of pollution is astounding, especially considering it is occurring on the California coast and in a National Park,” said Scott Webb, advocacy & policy director with the Marin-based Turtle Island Restoration Network. “I don’t care if it’s commercial agriculture or natural gas development, we need to stand up to private industry that continues to profit off destroying public land, hard stop.” Click here to read the press release with links to the studies mentioned

NOT the bastion of environmental stewardship

Take away the celebrity fitness books, yoga studios and smoothie cafes and California policy toward drinking water, public lands and wildlife looks a lot more like pro-business Texas. It is far from the image they want to project of a shining example of working for the greater good. Some of this state’s policies seem to come right out of the handbook of industry. Did you know that much of the fruits and vegetables grown, at least in central California, is irrigated with oil drilling wastewater? I bet most of the public did not.

When it comes to true stewardship and conservation don’t be fooled by the state’s greenwashing. While they have been leaders in many areas they are as backwards and corrupt as the rest of the country in many other policies. They have a long way to go before achieving the image of great stewardship they project. For the Tule Elk let’s hope they can hang on long enough to survive the stupidity, corruption and callous cruelty of those in charge of their welfare.

If you would like to contact the people making these bad decisions:

Coastal Comm. Chair Donne Brownsey email -

(415) 904-5202

Point Reyes NS Superintendent Craig Kenkel - 415-464-5102

House Rep Jared Huffman (202) 225-5161 DC office & (415) 258-9657 local district office

If you would like to contact the groups trying to save the elk:

In defense of animals

Tree Spirit project (to help bring water to elk)

Read more about the elk and their struggle here

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