OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – Environmentalists and cattle ranchers struck a deal with the federal government this week that will let ranchers continue leasing land at Point Reyes National Seashore for five years as the park studies the impact of eliminating ranching.
The Resource Renewal Institute, Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project sued the U.S. National Park Service and Point Reyes superintendent Cicely Muldoon in February 2016.
The groups claimed the 71,000-acre park in Marin County, north of San Francisco, kept leasing land to ranchers under an outdated management plan from 1980 in violation of environmental and land management laws. They say ranching hurts water quality, exacerbates erosion and contributes to climate change.
A group of cattle ranchers, who say ranching has been an important part of the land going back 150 years and one that Congress intended to protect, intervened in the lawsuit to protect their ranches.
On Wednesday, all three parties filed a notice of settlement in federal court. The proposed deal would allow the Park Service to extend leases with existing ranchers and their family members for up to five years.
In exchange, the Park Service will issue an environmental impact statement that will study the effect of eliminating ranching and dairy ranching, or reducing ranching within the park.
Under terms of the deal, the park must update its decades-old management plan and issue the environmental assessment within four years.
The settlement also places limits on lease extensions for existing ranchers, prohibiting them from introducing new livestock or opening new businesses, like bed-and-breakfasts.
In a 2014 letter regarding the park’s proposed management plan update, the Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association asked the park to start issuing leases with at least 20-year terms, repeal limits on livestock, support designating ranches as protected world heritage sites, let ranchers offer tours to visitors, and allow family members to inherit lease permits.
The park began developing a Ranch Comprehensive Management Plan in April 2014, holding public meetings and receiving more than 3,000 public comments. But it never released a draft version of the management plan, which was in expected in early 2016.
U.S. District Judge Sandra Brown Armstrong, in Oakland, approved the settlement on Friday.
President John F. Kennedy designated Point Reyes as a national seashore on Sept. 13, 1962, according to the National Park Service.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys and Point Reyes spokeswoman Melanie Gunn did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Friday morning.
The environmental groups are represented by Elizabeth Potter of Advocates for the West in Portland, Oregon, and by Jeffery Chanin and David Rizk of Keker Van Nest in San Francisco.