Saving Point Reyes
How an Epic Conservation Victory Became a Tipping Point for Environmental Policy Action
Environment and Society
Sales Date: August 25, 2023
- Published: August 2023
- Published: August 2023
- Published: August 2023
The Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) is not only a stunning piece of land—the first large national park created from all private lands and the first large park adjacent a large metropolitan center—but the fight to save this fragile ecosystem in the 1960s was a key turning point in the environmental movement and helped transform the political landscape of California and the nation.
Saving Point Reyes is an environmental policy history that draws on archival materials, oral histories, and new interviews with veteran federal policymakers to understand how legislative bargaining and grassroots politics succeeded in achieving this victory for environmental protection. Gerald Warburgoffers the first political history focused on the battles to preserve the unique series of fragile ecosystems that surround San Francisco and the definitive study of exactly how Point Reyes was saved.
Most accounts of this story only focus on the 1962 bill that created the PRNS on 53,000 acres of private lands just north of San Francisco. But that was just the first act in the saga. The passing of the bill only established the park in theory, and the government only controlled 123 acres at Point Reyes. In the months following the signing ceremony, all three of the House, Senate, and White House champions of the Point Reyes legislation died, leaving the PRNS without the leadership necessary to secure the funding to purchase the rest of the land. What followed was an epic public policy battle to save Point Reyes. Local grassroots lobbying organizations arose to advance the cause of PRNS and other environmental campaigns, and their victory in 1970 laid the foundation for future environmental activism. With this new funding, the PRNS expanded to over 71,000 acres, which then grew to 87,000 acres in 1972 with the creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The legislative bargaining and grassroots politics in the fight to preserve Point Reyes helped create a tipping point, profoundly altering the national environmental movement. Warburg’s deeply researched case study of NGO activism and congressional action is developed through a compelling narrative that offers specific lessons learned and hope for future environmental challenges, from climate policy to public lands preservation.
“Gerald Warburg has written a fascinating account of the personalities and politics that managed to come together, over a long period of time, to protect the magnificent seashore at Point Reyes. This well-researched and inspiring study makes a major contribution to the history of both California and national environmental policymaking and offers important insights into how to better protect our natural environment.”—David J. Vogel, professor emeritus of political science, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, and author of California Greenin’: How the Golden State Became an Environmental Leader
“Gerald Warburg has written the definitive history of the titanic, and ultimately successful, struggle to preserve an irreplaceable seashore. Saving Point Reyes is a valuable account of the rise of the modern environmental movement as a formidable political force. Warburg captures the battle by which a determined coalition of preservationists prevails over the developers who viewed Point Reyes as a resource to be exploited rather than a national treasure to be safeguarded for future generations. A first-rate history of one of the most important public lands battles in the American experience that provides an accessible road map for how elected officials and community activists can collaborate to win lasting political victories.”—John A. Lawrence, author of Arc of Power: Inside Nancy Pelosi’s Speakership 2005–2010
“As a political science graduate student at Berkeley back in the 1990s, I visited Point Reyes countless times, never pausing to ask how this extraordinarily beautiful national treasure was conserved and protected from development. In Saving Point Reyes, Gerald Warburg not only offers a rich historical account of this remarkable victory, he also provides potent insights into how diffuse environmental interests are served in a political system that often discounts them. Warburg’s deeply researched, sophisticated account shows that no single factor is responsible for environmental progress. Instead, meaningful change occurs when grassroots coalitions, entrepreneurial leadership, issue framing, insider lobbying, political timing, and the evolving economic and electoral context converge to open new possibilities for governance. This is an insightful analysis of democracy in action that will captivate and engage students of politics and public policy for years to come.”—Eric M. Patashnik, Julis-Rabinowitz Professor of Public Policy, professor of political science, and chair of the Department of Political Science at Brown University, and author and editor of nine books, including Countermobilization: Policy Feedback and Backlash in a Polarized Age
“In Saving Point Reyes, Gerald Felix Warburg traces the absorbing, decade-long story of how relentless local organizing, careful coalition building, and shrewd DC lobbying created a sweeping, spectacular protected area next door to a major American metropolis. The strategies, themes, and many of the leaders of the campaign for Point Reyes National Seashore set a pattern for preservation efforts across the country and far-reaching changes in California politics. Warburg tells a story of cherished shoreline, wildlife conservation, and practical political lessons.”—David Sarasohn, retired editor and columnist at the Oregonian, author of The Party of Reform: Democrats in the Progressive Era, and co-author of The Green Years, 1964–1976: When Democrats and Republicans United to Repair the Earth
“You don’t have to be from California or have visited the beautiful Point Reyes Seashore to appreciate the breadth and mastery of Gerry Warburg’s history of the struggle to preserve this environmental jewel. It is a compelling story of politics, conflicting interests, and remarkable people who fought major odds, in a struggle that took many twists. This is a story about California, but also about the modern history of the environmental movement, and a lesson in how public policy is made.”—Norman Ornstein, emeritus scholar, The American Enterprise Institute“The Point Reyes National Seashore is one of my favorite places on earth. This is a fascinating book for anyone who loves our great outdoors and wants to see it preserved for future generations, and it’s also a superb roadmap for how environmental policy gets made. Saving Point Reyes is a story of how stakeholders big and small can influence politics and policy for the better.”—Tim Kaine, US Senator, Virginia
“Gerald Warburg’s Saving Point Reyes is an astonishing environmental history of how California’s great national seashore was saved in 1962. The spate of legislation that grew out of the preservation victory is remarkable. And Warburg provides a vivid cultural history of Point Reyes to boot. While this book is full of heroes—like John F. Kennedy, Barbara Eastman, and Harold Gilliam—it's the local save the seashore activists who shine brightest. The amount of research Warburg undertook is impressive. This is one of the finest books ever written about a treasured national park unit. Highly recommend!”—Douglas Brinkley is author of Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and the Great Environmental Awakening
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Saving the “Island in Time”
1. The Land and the People of Point Reyes
2. Point Reyes and the Origins of the California Conservation Movement
3. Mr. Miller Goes to Washington: The Fight in Congress for Point Reyes
4. The Battle That Had to Be Won Twice
5. Who Saved Point Reyes?
6. What Happened Next: Point Reyes and Environmental Politics
7. Lessons Learned: Point Reyes and Future Policy Challenges
Appendix: Key Documents Related to Creation of PRNS
About the Author