Is Senator Feinstein Speaking Out of Both Sides of Her Mouth on National Park Matters?

Sen. Feinstein: What's good for Joshua Tree National Park isn't necessarily good for Point Reyes National Seashore.

National parks very well may be one of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's loves, but oysters seemingly trump her view of national park values.

Case in point: Commercial oyster farming was well under way in Drakes Estero in 1976 when Congress designated the estuary that lies within Point Reyes National Seashore as potential wilderness. Interior Department officials, noting that the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. operation would run counter to official wilderness designation, directed the National Park Service to push for that designation in 2012 when the oyster farm's lease expires.

To that point, the Interior Department's Office of the Solicitor rendered an opinion that the oyster farm must be removed from Drakes Estero because it would be a "non-conforming use" under the Wilderness Act.

But that doesn't sit well with Sen. Feinstein, who earlier this year wrote Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to urge him to see that oyster company's lease be extended. Apparently concerned that the secretary wouldn't honor her request, Sen. Feinstein on Tuesday took a legislative shortcut to extend the company's lease for a decade by attaching a rider to that effect to a spending bill.

"The 10-year extension of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company's lease will preserve 30 jobs at the last remaining oyster farm cannery on the West Coast while making sure that the ecology of the estuary is protected," the senator said in a written statement obtained by the Los Angeles Times. "This is a family-owned oyster farm that has been in operation for more than 70 years, and it is a facility that predates the creation of Point Reyes National Seashore in 1960. This is an area with 15 historic dairy farms and cattle ranches, along with many roads running through it. It is not a remote wilderness."

Now, compare that tone to another letter the senator from California wrote to Secretary Salazar earlier this year. In it the Democrat urged the secretary not to approve a lease of "former railroad lands in the eastern Mojave Desert by the Bureau of land Management" for renewable energy projects.

"While I strongly support renewable energy, it is critical that these projects move forward on public and private lands well suited for that purpose," wrote Sen. Feinstein. "Unfortunately, many of the sites now being considered for leases are completely inappropriate and will lead to the wholesale destruction of some of the most pristine areas in the desert."

The senator went on to describe efforts to protect the lands in question, noting that "beyond protecting national parks (Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park) from development, the conservation of these lands has helped to ensure the sustainability of the entire desert ecosystem by preserving the vital wildlife corridors."

So, on one hand Sen. Feinstein has no qualms about flouting a proposed wilderness designation in an area of Point Reyes National Seashore deemed to possess wilderness qualities, and yet on the other hand she would block renewable energy projects from being based on "former railroad lands" to prevent "the wholesale destruction of some of the most pristine areas in the desert."

Comments

And this surprises anyone? She is as crooked as they come, but what do you expect, she is afterall a politician.

Sen. Feinstein has never been one of my favorite people, but as I read this, there is one significant difference. The cannery was there first and the designation was to try to turn an area that apparently was not wilderness into wilderness. In the latter (renewable energy) case, we are talking about new leases being granted.

I don't know who the cannery was leasing from before 1960, but if they were there before the initial designation, that should give them at least the benefit of the doubt in staying.

Mark

Agreed with MarkK.

Pt. Reyes would have been an ideal place to pursue the joint preservation of habitat values, and human values, side-by-side. The eco-elements of interest had survived heavy oppression for a long time, all that was needed was to cut them a little slack. We could have had & respected both - people & nature.

Pt. Reyes, wilderness? Phewey. It was hammered owl pellets. There are distinctive habitat & biome elements there - but zero wilderness.

Are Sen. Feinstein's antics a clue that the California Establishment is reconsidering the Pt. Reyes Wilderness experiment?

Sure, land in many locations & regions could be taken, humans chased off it, and cloak the operation under the Wilderness Act (some day, it will be wild again ... tho maybe not the wild it was before).

The Pt. Reyes taking was not a smart move, and did not advance the cause of habitat or biome preservation. On the contrary.

I agree with the previous posts, that Point Reyes as a whole and the estuary in question are NOT wilderness by a long shot. I've been to this park and found it scenic and well managed but didn't understand the national significance of it. It looked like lots of other stretches of coastal California that I've visited and suspect that it was made an NPS unit to stave off metropolitan development rather than any truly unique aspects which make it a natural treasure for the entire nation. If it is I can reel off a lot of places that should be national parks, just on the California coast.

I would say that most of the national seashores I've visited don't strike me as "crown jewels" but have been told that Cumberland Island in Georgia is a special place, if you can survive the vicious insects which inhabit this Atlantic sea island paradise. I hope to visit sometime this coming winter and I'll let ya'll know.

Diane may have actually got this one right, which is saying a lot coming from me.

MarkK:

Yes the cannery & oyster farm were there first. The owner of the cannery & farm & land sold the land to NPS in 1972, with a 40 year reserved use clause allowing him to continue the oyster operation that expires in 2012 as part of the sale. The 1976 law designated the area as wilderness, where unconforming use (commercial oyster farm & packing plant) must be eliminated when the reserved use clause expires.

A new owner bought the farm & packing operation a couple of years ago, knowing that the reserved use expired in 2012, at a price that certainly reflected that sunset on operations (even the 1976 wilderness designation should have been disclosed on the real estate transaction). The new owner has a sustained campaign to use political pressure from local officials and pr to rewrite the law, and obtain a windfall from an ongoing business where he paid for a sunsetting business. DiFi has been strongly supporting this rewriting of PORE management & now the law, whether from hearing from local chamber of commerce type folks or hearing from the new owners directly.

The situation for the ranches elsewhere in Point Reyes is a bit more complicated, with initial legislation protecting ranching, but there are current problems with violations of grazing limits, and a push for row crops as diversification (never mind that the UCD ag extension report arguing for continued commercial agriculture in PORE justifies ranching as providing ecosystem services and protecting native species argues for allowing ranchers to diversify to row crops, which obviously don't protect native species). My limited understanding is that at least some of the private inholdings have permanent ranching rights, and grazing allotments on NPS-owned land are the major issue, although I stand to be corrected on that.

Leaving aside the 1976 law (which can be overturned by congress, but should be done with debate, not as a rider), the broader question is priorities for public lands in Point Reyes National Seashore: is it more important to keep the last commercial oyster farm in the area or to have an area where the seals can haul out and birth unmolested and a coastal esturine wilderness? Are commercial oyster operations (with non-native oysters) a good replacement for the ecosystem service of water filtration previously provided by the massive (native) oyster beds that were harvested to functional extinction more than a century ago, or should funds go to restoring native oyster beds (a non-trivial undertaking)? Is it more important to keep more working farms & ranches in Marin County for historical & educational purposes as well as private profit, or to have some coastal wilderness? What do we want from our National Parks, and what do we want from Point Reyes National Seashore in particular?

Those who don't see the national significance or merits of wilderness designation obviously weren't there or did not look beyond the indisputable scenic values of Point Reyes.

The Point Reyes peninsula includes the prime California coastal prairie. Nowhere else the whole ecosystem is preserved virtually untouched, but on top of the cliffs and in the other exposed open lands. The Douglas iris has its largest habitat there, Lilium maritimum and Sonoma spineflower are endemic to Point Reyes, the two flowers - beautiful flowers I might add - do not grow anywhere else in the world. The Snowy plower has its greatest density of breeding pairs within the National Seashore.

The exposed open land on top of the cliffs and on the slopes are wilderness. It is untouched by man - other than the former dairy farms further inland in the center of the peninsula. If the deep fingered bay (Drakes Estero is not an estuary) should be wilderness, I will leave to marine ecologists, the use for oyster farming is not necessarily a reason against it.

I know Point Reyes NS well. Whether you designate it wilderness or not, it will still be there. If the only reason to designate it wilderness is to remove the oyster farm, it does not seem justified. Wilderness designation for a place that is well managed already is silly. It is a feather in their cap, but the public suffers from such designation, as the list of prohibitive acts grows with such designation. Management is the key. Let the oyster farm continue until you can get the funds to restore the area, but don't designate it wilderness unless you have a management problem that only such designation will correct. This is not that situation.

As far as the article showing the two sides of a senator I will say environmentalist groups do the same every time they try and shut a coal plant they go and would then sue to not allow a wind farm on the same lot.

I only wish we had politicians with ... (her guts) ... on the east coast to have prevented the issues happening on Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Editor's note: This comment was edited to remove some rather colorful vernacular.

I've read the 1976 wilderness laws that set aside parts of Point Reyes and other units as wilderness and potential wilderness. None of it mandates a schedule for conversion of "potential wilderness" into "wilderness". The only language is that once "nonconforming uses" are removed, it can be designated as wilderness. In fact this has happened before, and the new designation has been entered into the Federal Register.

http://www.nps.gov/pore/parkmgmt/lawsandpolicies.htm

The current "reservation of use" does allow the superintendent to renew it at his discretion. There's no law actually forcing the superintendent's hand to convert what's currently the oyster farm into wilderness. I suspect the Solicitor's opinion was just that - an opinion that hasn't been tested in court. After reading the law, it seems that "nonconforming use" could be continued indefinitely.

In any case, the biggest problem for disturbances for the local seal population is probably kayakers and hikers making too much noise or getting too close. From what I've heard, the oyster farm employees know they have to take all possible steps to avoid disturbing wildlife because they know there might be negative consequences.

ypw -- I believe the issue regarding time may turn on when the lease runs out for the Oyster farm? Is that your understanding?

A national park superintendent would be operating inconsistently with both the Act of 1916 establishing the NPS, as well as the potential wilderness and publically-reviewed GMP decisions, wouldn't she/he, if they were actually to RENEW a lease?

Isn't a renewal of a lease in effect a decision by the NPS that the use IS conforming, and consistent with the purposes of the National Park System?? Generally I believe the NPS in law and policy only can enter into commercial agreements that are consistent with the purposes of the park system?

There are many places in the US where parks are established, while protecting "valid existing rights," I believe. If the right, such as with this lease, has a sunset date, then that date would mean the prior use would be terminated. Parks have been established with cattle grazing rights, as well, left over from their days under the BLM management, and those grazing permits generally are permitted to be continued as a valid existing right, or bought out if too damaging even to be grandfathered in.

My guess is part of the problem with NPS management of this Oyster lease is the way the NPS is coming around to dealing with "impairment" under policies developed in the 1990's. NPS was responsible to make sure there would be no 'impairment' from its activities or those it permitted to the park. So, if a superintendent wanted to build a visitor center in sensitive habitat, he would be challenged by Higher Ups, such as in the case of eagle habitat in the Upper Delaware, with a study demonstrating that the development was inappropriate, and stopped. But doing a study to determine if an Oyster farm is an impairment has the question completely backward. A commercial activity in any national park is not to be permitted at all -- much less in designated wilderness -- unless the commercial activity is needed to further PARK PURPOSES. The oyster farm was never made a park purpose by congress, just like most pre-existing commercial operations in parks are not designated as necessary for the park to be a successful park. But the superintendent or the NPS at Point Reyes got stupified in applying the idea of the study of impairment to an activity that in no way is consistent with a park. So, when the permit ends, it cannot be extended if we expect the park to be a park.

By doing the study, it did give the impression that if no 'impairment' were found, then the oyster farm would be OK, and seemed to hinge everything on a study that was looking at the wrong thing. And, clearly, the guy at the National Academy of Science, in just studying the relative health of an oyster farm as an oyster farm -- not as a matter of congressional policy -- way missed the point.

-- Finally, on Richard's point on Point Reyes being so well mapped it is not really wilderness, of course all wilderness study areas, even the ones in the most remote parts of Alaska, were already well mapped and well traveled when proposed as wilderness and designated by congress. What wilderness in a national park is really for is protecting the land from the National Park Service. Most other uses, including an oyster farm, would be a violation of the Act of 1916 (the NPS organic act). This is not so true with other public land agencies that permit oil and gas development or road development, but it is with a park. In a park, the danger of development almost always is because the NPS authorizes or initiates a development that compromises the integrity of the park.

That is why Congress created wilderness in parks even in the East Coast -- like at Fire Island National Seashore -- that had been intensively used over the years. At Katmai wilderness in Alaska, the NPS was going to build a suspension bridge over a tiny stream that the tour bus would drive through to take tourists to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, because very occasionally a flash flood meant the gravel road the forded the stream was unpassable.

The point congress is making is to direct the NPS to MANAGE the area as a roadless, untrammeled area. Wilderness designation is a LAW, not a primeval romantic, pre-human, condition. The congressional history of Point Reyes seems to indicate that congress expected the NPS to eliminate inconsistent developments over time, and the phased implementation of wilderness seems to have been a compromise way to achieve that direction to the NPS from Congress.

Otherwise, congress would have congressionally designated the oyster farm as a primary purpose of the park.

"The point congress is making is to direct the NPS to MANAGE the area as a roadless, untrammeled area. Wilderness designation is a LAW, not a primeval romantic, pre-human, condition. The congressional history of Point Reyes seems to indicate that congress expected the NPS to eliminate inconsistent developments over time, and the phased implementation of wilderness seems to have been a compromise way to achieve that direction to the NPS from Congress."

If you asked any of those people who made comments about wilderness whether they knew the difference between a poem and a deed, they would have said yes.

But over and over they clearly confuse the term that "wilderness" means in their head with the Congressional act of designating a Wilderness.

While I think much of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights have poetic flow and epic narration, they make things less ambiguous and give a clearer structure for rights and discussion.

This is the same with the 1976 Wilderness laws http://www.wilderness.net/NWPS/documents/publiclaws/PDF/94-544.pdf , http://www.wilderness.net/NWPS/documents/publiclaws/PDF/94-567.pdf , http://www.wilderness.net/NWPS/documents/publiclaws/PDF/99-68.pdf. Unfortunately the supporting documents like maps and tables are missing.

Y_P_W's comments make no sense. If the PRNS superintendent really shouldered the choice alone, then the choice he should make is clearly directed to NOT approve a new reservation of use with Drakes Bay Oyster Company, that his choice is clear and the Oyster company should make plans for shutting down that include actions other than complaining and deceiving the public.

If the choice is all the superintendent's, then Kevin Lunny should have paid closer attention to the fact that before he bought the remaining reservation of use from Johnson Don Neubacher personally informed him that the park under his direction will not create a new permit of use (the term "new" reservation of use is important to distinguish here because the idea of an "extension" is a charade. One way is like a promotion, the other is like having to re-apply for filling a position of employment that your are filling temporarily. Feinstein's way is like giving the position to her favorite nephew in spite of the fact that the company knows it would benefit from cutting the job altogether.)

Lunny decided he could talk out of both sides of his mouth.

He decided that it wasn't Don's decision that it was the California Department of Fish and Game's decision, so he boldly ignored Don and made the purchase with full intention of subverting the goals of the park and of the people who designated the area as potential wilderness.

When he found that he and his legal adviser's advice about the DFG were wrong, he was caught in his own deceit.

Everything since then has been sideshows and charades to distract the public from that fact.

Because only Diane Feinstein's action can undo the public will of the Wilderness Act and the park designation, this is the route that was pursued.

Diane Feinstein is not only acting in the interest of a private businessman's interest (constantly confused with the term "family farmer" ) to subvert the Wilderness Act intention without public process and in contradiction to existing agreements, she is also doing it out of revenge-spite because a NPS staff member dared to challenge her ultra-diva, power-skewed opinion.

So we have Feinstein and Lunny behaving badly, breaking contracts with the public with premeditation and pettiness and screaming bloody murder how the NPS are bad and deceitful.

The park is saying that with the Park's designation and the Wilderness act, the oyster farm --recognizing the special place that it has in people's hearts -- has had its operation's extended for forty years.
It is now being consistent in saying that as those decisions were written up, the oyster farm --no matter how wonderful the product or how nice Kevin Lunny is -- is a non-conforming use as described and should end as soon as possible, with 2012 being a good date.

Why should the park be excited about making a promise to a person who basically flaunts their inability to honor a contract and good advice?
Why should one man be give special exemption from park management?

This rider basically rewards Lunny for crossing his fingers behind his back and then --in a slap to all our faces-- tells the NPS they have no right to make rules or policies that benefit the protection of the land they were mandated by Congressional act to protect?

Feinstein should butt out of this issue and we should not re-elect her.

Lunny should continue to benefit from the cattle ranching and farming on Point Reyes National Seashore lands and be a better spokesman of how the park has protected his livelihood.

Cape Hatteras!??? I could never figure out why anyone would NEED to drive on the beach when a couple hundred yards away there's a beautiful black topped road that takes you to all the same places. Go figure?

You'd be surprised what's in the enabling legislation. Part of it allows for hunting at the discretion of "the Secretary" (of the Interior?). I personally think that would be a non-starter to allow anything more than the current non-native deer culls, but that's actually in the legislation.

The fact is, there is an existing extension clause in the currently effective reservation of use. It's been pretty well known that it exists.

I personally think it wouldn't be inconsistent for the NPS to allow this use to continue. Whether or not this area is or is not considered "wilderness" - good management will have far more to do with the health of the ecosystem rather than some artificial designation. Human impacts will not be reduced to zero, as there's a road right on the edge of the estero and kayakers and boaters will still be allowed inside and hikers will still be allowed on the Estero and Bull Point Trails.

Feinstein has spent a lot of time on this issue. She's personally sat in on meetings with Lunny, Neubacher, and (I think) Jarvis. She's spent time discussion this with the media and even appearing on a radio call-in program on this subject. I think this is personal to her.