Old dump site prompts park investigation

09/08/2021

A Point Reyes ranching family is facing an environmental investigation by the National Park Service spurred by an alleged violation of its lease at the E Ranch. Park officials said the Nunes family allowed debris to accumulate in a former silage pit at their ranch in the Point Reyes National Seashore. 

“While it is common for ranch operations to have a small area of material storage, the nature and scale of this accumulated debris is concerning,” said Melanie Gunn, a spokeswoman for the park. “Based on the initial review and pending further investigation, the accumulation of debris is in violation of the lease/permit.” 

Jocelyn Knight, a local nature photographer and member of the Restore Point Reyes National Seashore coalition, alerted the park to the dump on Aug. 25, Ms. Gunn said. The pit is visible in satellite images dating back at least 18 years, and much of the debris—including rusted-out vehicles and equipment—appears to be decades old.

“If the park service knew about it and did nothing, that’s negligent,” Ms. Knight told the Light. “If the park didn’t know about it and they’re not aware of what the ranchers are doing, that’s negligent.”

Ranchers in the seashore are responsible for removing litter and trash from the land, and they are required to do so promptly, according to their lease agreements. Ms. Gunn said the park is working with the regional environmental protection specialist to plan a cleanup of the site and determine if any contamination occurred.

After Ms. Knight alerted the nonprofit Resource Renewal Institute—one of the three groups that sued the park over its management of the ranches—the group’s programs director Chance Cutrano drafted a letter to park leadership. The letter comes on the heels of another sent by the nonprofit that raised concerns about a lease violation at the Home Ranch.

The letters from R.R.I. show the group ramping up its activism as the park approaches the deadline for a record of decision on its amended general management plan. The deadline, which was put off to Sept. 13, will mark the park’s final decision on whether to extend 20-year ranching leases, among other changes to its management of pastoral lands. 

“There’s a real concern about stewardship of federal land,” Mr. Cutrano said last week. “E Ranch has probably the most egregious dump site, but that’s not the only ranch.”

The Nunes family, which began ranching on the peninsula in 1919, has a grazing lease at the E Ranch, where several structures the family built when they owned the ranch still stand. William Nunes, who helps run the operation, said his family would give no comment on the investigation. But he said environmental groups are exerting more pressure on ranchers as the management plan deadline approaches. 

“They’re just trying to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks,” Mr. Nunes said.

The family’s main operation takes place at their dairy at the A Ranch, which supplies milk to the Straus Family Creamery. Mr. Nunes acknowledged that by comparison, their operation on the E Ranch was “run down,” but he declined to specifically address the dump site.