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POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE, CA (AP)

Concerns about running cattle on federal land are reaching livestock owners in California.

A lawsuit filed this month by three environmental groups says that the roughly 20 private dairy and beef operations in the federally run Point Reyes National Seashore are receiving priority treatment from the government at the expense of a treasured landscape, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by the Resource Renewal Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Watersheds Project alleges the National Park Service is violating the law by renewing ranching leases without first looking out for the park's preservation. It calls for the Park Service to stop renewing ranch leases and void recent extensions, at least until the impacts of beef and dairy businesses are addressed.

'I think their obligation is to preserve the habitat and the wildlife,' said Huey Johnson, president of the Resource Renewal Institute in Mill Valley. 'But they seem to take great pride in running a ranch instead of running a park.'

Park officials declined to comment on the litigation but said that they're moving forward with a new ranch plan, which calls for extending leases across 28,000 acres of the 71,000-acre national seashore and nearby Golden Gate National Recreation Area while protecting the parks' integrity.

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.

In Olema, Mike Giammona said his livestock ponds support western pond turtles, while his cows help eradicate exotic thistle. His family also keeps a lookout for crime and other problems in Point Reyes and ranchers help stop development plans.

'What everybody's forgetting is that ranchers took care of the park before the park came,' Giammona said. 'There were plans for Highway 101 to go through West Marin and to build a bedroom community for the city. 'The land has stayed the same,' he said. 'It's really like going back in time here.'

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