Congressman Jared Huffman’s Bill Would Preserve Pt. Reyes Dairy Farms

Written By: Gary Quackenbush
Published: October 1, 2018

After years of controversy over the presence of cattle ranches and dairy farms within the Point Reyes National Seashore, advocates for keeping them there gained strong support from 2nd Congressional District Representative Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) who introduced a bill in the House on August 29 that would see these ranches and farms continue under terms of a sustainable management plan.

The bill passed the House Committee on Natural Resources by unanimous consent on September 4 and still must pass the full House and Senate before going to the White House for the President’s signature to become law.

In a press release announcing the proposed legislation, Huffman said, “Working ranches and dairies are part of the Seashore’s unique history, cultural, scenic and national values. This bill provides a measure of support for the continuation of sustainable ranches and dairies as part of the fabric of our spectacular Point Reyes National Seashore, without compromising any environmental standards and consistent with the current General Management Plan update process.”

Huffman said he was grateful to have bi-partisan support from Rep. Robert Bishop (R-UT) as cosponsor of this bill as well as from the many stakeholders he has consulted with over several years to inform the careful, narrowly tailored provisions in this legislation.

His bill clarifies Congress’ longstanding intent and makes good on former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s 2012 promise that existing sustainable ranching activities within the Seashore will continue and that ranching families will receive the benefit of long-term leases.

Huffman’s bill also clarifies the term “agricultural property” used in amendments to the Point Reyes National Seashore enabling act also includes certain ranches in the northern portions of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area which have long been managed by Seashore personnel under Park Service policy.

This legislation directs the Secretary of the Interior to manage agricultural properties consistent with Congress’ long-standing intent to maintain the Seashore’s working dairies and ranches. It also directs the Secretary to manage Tule Elk to ensure separation from working dairies and ranches on agricultural property to minimize conflicts, and further authorizes the Secretary to consider working with Native American Tribes as an option for managing Tule Elk herds and minimizing conflicts with agricultural property.

The bill directs the Secretary to complete the park’s general management planning process, including the National Environmental Policy Act review, and authorizes the issuance of leases or special use permits of 20 years, consistent with the Act’s purpose.

Huffman’s bill does not impact the General Management Plan amendment process that is currently underway or alter the environmental review process for this plan.

Albert Straus, Founder/CEO of Straus Family Creamery, said news of Rep. Huffman’s bill is “very exciting and can help revitalize agriculture and farming on Point Reyes.”

Straus buys certified organic, non-GMO verified milk from nine dairies in Marin and Sonoma Counties, including the Mendoza Dairy — the first dairy in the Point Reyes National Seashore to produce milk for Straus Family Creamery.

“My family has always been very supportive of this coastal national park that combines farmland and natural wilderness. However, in recent years support for the ranches and farms hasn’t been as strong among certain circles, and the park service has demolished about 130 homes. We’ve worked hard to keep agricultural communities on Point Reyes National Seashore.”

Straus said he is thankful for the Huffman bill and hopes it can help make farms on Point Reyes National Seashore even more viable through sustainable, best farming practices that can help reverse climate change.

The Straus Dairy Farm is developing a dairy farming model in Marshall, California. In 2013, Straus created a 20-year carbon farm plan in conjunction with the Marin Carbon Project. The plan reduces 2000 metric tons of CO2e every year on the farm. About 320 metric tons of CO2e is sequestered from the atmosphere back into the soil on the farm.

The process is called “carbon farming,” which involves adding compost to the pastures to increase organic matter, moisture retention and nutrients. This naturally increases the volume of pasture production and reduces animal feed costs for farmers. Straus’ goal is to have farmers replicate this model on other Marin County farms and across the nation.

According to the Marin Carbon Project in 2013, if farmers were to spread a quarter inch of compost on just 50 percent of California’s rangelands, 42 million metric tons of CO2e would be offset, equivalent to all of the electricity use for commercial and residential sectors in California.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported in October 2014 about experiments on grazing lands in Marin County and the Sierra foothills by bio-geochemist Whendee Silver, professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley. Her research showed that even a one-time dusting of compost substantially boosted the soil’s ability to store carbon. Silver observed this effect to be cumulative and persistent for over six years after the initial compost application.

Silver also noted that if compost made from green waste were to be applied to as few as twenty-five percent of the state’s grazing lands, the soil could capture and absorb (or sequester) three-quarters of California’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for one year from the farm and forestry industries — or the equivalent of removing six million cars from the road – due in large part to the one-time offset from waste diversion.

This simple process has also been shown to improve soil fertility, while enhancing plant growth and stimulating the ground’s ability to absorb and retain water by creating a positive feedback loop.

Silver and UC Berkeley colleagues Allegra Mayer and Zeke Hausfather, along with Andrew Jones of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, recently updated and reconfirmed these findings in an August 29, 2018 article entitled, “Improving Soil Quality Can Slow Global Warming” published in the online journal Science Advances.

“Our vision and goal is to always be good stewards of the land by helping to maintain and preserve the environment, and by reducing the harmful effects of GHGs through the adoption of sustainable and continuous improvement techniques.”

Straus said some 25 percent of the dairies in Marin County are located on Point Reyes National Seashore. He noted that if these were to be removed it would have a huge impact on farmers, feed companies and consumers in the form of lost dairy products. So far there have not been dairy farm losses in Marin, while a third of the dairies nationwide have been lost over the past decade.

“My sincere hope is that Rep. Huffman’s bill will advance through the national legislative process and become law. We need our dairy farms – and ranches,” Straus added.

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