The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore has a long history as a working landscape, with dairy and beef ranching, fishing, and oyster farming; yet, since 1962 it has also been managed as a National Seashore. The Paradox of Preservation chronicles how national ideals about what a park “ought to be” have developed over time and what happens when these ideals are implemented by the National Park Service (NPS) in its efforts to preserve places that are also lived-in landscapes. 

Using the conflict surrounding the closure of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, Laura Alice Watt examines how NPS management policies and processes for land use and protection do not always reflect the needs and values of local residents. Instead, the resulting landscapes produced by the NPS represent a series of compromises between use and protection—and between the area’s historic pastoral character and a newer vision of wilderness. A fascinating and deeply researched book, The Paradox of Preservation will appeal to those studying environmental history, conservation, public lands, and cultural landscape management, and to those looking to learn more about the history of this dynamic California coastal region.


"Laura Watt casts a remarkable and highly significant new light on the process of creating our national parks, monuments, and seashores. Her astute, critical analysis of the history of Point Reyes National Seashore reveals how private grazing and farming remained within this potential 'wilderness,' while 'cultural' artifacts were allowed to deteriorate. A must-read for anyone interested in the complex meanings and histories associated with the nation’s public lands."
— Carolyn Merchant, Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics, University of California, Berkeley

"Point Reyes National Seashore is both a fascinating and a contentious place, and Laura Watt is not afraid of contention. I happen to come down on a different side of some of the controversies she discusses, but I do not disagree that the controversies are real and important. She knows the park and its history as well as any scholar and writes about them with power and feeling. This is an important book."
Richard White, Professor of History, Stanford University


Canoes at Abbotts Lagoon, a 250-acre designated wilderness surrounded by working ranches.

Canoes at Abbotts Lagoon, a 250-acre designated wilderness surrounded by working ranches.