Conservation groups, ranchers and the National Park Service have reached a settlement over the future of livestock in Point Reyes National Seashore.
The settlement announced Wednesday allows the Park Service to extend grazing leases to ranchers for five years. It also requires park managers to study impacts on the environment from decades of ranching.
The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed in February 2016 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by the Resource Renewal Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Watersheds Project. The suit alleged the Park Service was violating the law by renewing ranching leases without first looking out for the park's preservation.
The leases to about 20 ranches in the park previously had been extended for decades at a time.
Some of the biggest names in the Bay Area's organic meat and dairy industry lease land in Point Reyes, including Straus Family Creamery, Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman of BN Ranch, and David Evans of Marin Sun Farms. The ranches became co-defendants in the case with the National Park Service, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Worries about cattle recently escalated when a dip in the park's tule elk population was reported. The 700-pound animals, which were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s, were reintroduced to the park in 1978 and have come to compete with the cows for land and forage.
Both sides said they consider the settlement a victory.
"This is a win for those of us who don't want to see tule elk evicted from the park and for anyone concerned about damage to wetlands, streams and wildlife habitats from cattle grazing," Jeff Miller, with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
Ranchers said they consider the five-year lease agreement a win, because previous discussions had involved giving them only one-year lease extensions.
"West Marin farming is important to our local economy and environmental protection, food safety and food security," Stacy Carlsen, Marin County agricultural commissioner, told the newspaper. He said that 20 percent of farming in the county takes place in Point Reyes, representing about $20 million in revenue, and the majority of that is organic.