Point Reyes Sweetheart Cattle Leases are Illegal

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Monday, February 12, 2024
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028

Point Reyes Sweetheart Cattle Leases are Illegal

Dairy and Beef Ranches on Seashore Pay Far Below Fair Market Value


Washington, DC — U.S. taxpayers are losing millions of dollars due to leases for commercial dairy and beef ranches, along with associated buildings and residences, at California’s Point Reyes National Seashore set well below fair market value, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Both federal law and National Park Service (NPS) policy require that these leases recover fair market value, yet the leases at Point Reyes charge only a fraction of that amount.

Currently, 14 dairy and beef ranchers hold 21 leases that occupy approximately one-third of the entire Point Reyes National Seashore. The Seashore also manages ranches on 10,000 acres of the adjacent Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Together, these operations support 5,725 head of cattle, according to the Seashore’s 2021 decision to continue ranching for another 20 years.

These purely commercial operations serve no park purpose. While Point Reyes National Seashore draws well over 2 million visitors each year, barbed wire fences restrict park visitors from entering the leased dairy and ranch lands. Continuing ranching on the Seashore has been controversial and subject to litigation concerning its harm to natural resources, especially to native tule elk.

The grazing provisions of Point Reyes leases charge only $7/per animal unit (defined as a cow and a calf) per month. By contrast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture calculates the fair market value for an animal unit in California as $27.60/month per cow-calf for the latest year available.

In addition, their leases with NPS cover both land for grazing and, in many cases, multiple houses per ranch, as well as associated barns, sheds, and corrals. However, the operators do not pay anywhere near a fair market value leasing fee for residences and associated lands.

Point Reyes is in Marin County, which has some of the highest real estate values in the country. For example, one ranch has been leasing over 1,000 acres with five houses and grazing its 280 cattle on those lands for less than $2,000 per month. Moreover, these private businesses pay no property tax while generating substantial revenue.

“We estimate that these below market Point Reyes Seashore leases cost taxpayers around $3 million every year,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, noting the annual lease revenue is approximately $800,000 short of covering the Seashore’s estimated costs for administering the leases. “Taxpayers should not be obligated to subsidize these private businesses.”

PEER today requested that the Office of Inspector General (IG) for the U.S. Department of Interior (NPS’ parent agency) audit the Point Reyes leases, as well as the similar leases in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, to determine whether they are set at fair market value.

“The case for taxpayer support for the National Park Service is undermined by sweetheart deals such as those that have long been in place at Point Reyes,” Ruch added, pointing out that the leases for all the Point Reyes ranches and dairies expire in September of this year. “These commercial operations should start paying their fair share to use national park lands.”


Read the PEER IG audit request

Compare Point Reyes lease charges with fair market rates

View laws and policies governing NPS leases

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