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Congress Wants National Academy of Sciences To Review Oyster Farm Studies At Point Reyes National Seashore


Showing little faith in the National Park Service's ability to conduct sound science at Point Reyes National Seashore, Congress has inserted language into an appropriations bill that calls for the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the agency's science into the impacts of an oyster farm operating within the seashore.

The battle over the future of the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. has been ongoing for a number of years. When the company's owner, Kevin Lunny, bought the operation from the Johnson Oyster Co. in 2005, it came with a 40-year lease that expires in November 2012. And since the oyster farm is located in an area of the seashore, Drakes Estero, that has been targeted for official wilderness designation, his ability to gain a lease extension has been impeded.

At issue is whether the oyster farm is adversely impacting Drakes Estero and its marinelife, particularly harbor seals. The estero long has been viewed for designation as official wilderness -- the 1976 legislation that set aside 25,370 acres of the seashore as wilderness cited another 8,003 acres that would be "essentially managed as wilderness, to the extent possible, with efforts to steadily continue to remove all obstacles to the eventual conversion of these lands and waters to wilderness status" -- and the oyster operation is seen as being incompatible with such a designation.

The Park Service's handling of the oyster company's future has been both contentious and embarassing for the agency. While a Park Service report on the oyster operation concluded that it was impacting harbor seals, the report at times has withered under scrutiny. In 2009 the National Research Council said the NPS report was skewed, "selectively" manipulated in several areas, and inconclusive overall.

When a House-Senate conference committee met last week to resolve differences in the appropriations bill that funds the Interior Department, the conferees added language stating, "(B)ecause of concerns relating to the validity of the science underlying the (draft Environmental Impact Statement), the conferees direct the National Academy of Sciences to assess the data, analysis, and conclusions in the DEIS in order to ensure there is a solid scientific foundation for the Final Environmental Impact Statement expected in mid-2012."
Last month the federal Marine Mammals Commission weighed in with its own report on the studies revolving around the oyster farm. While the commission found that seal behavior at Drakes Estero was "at least correlated" with operations of the Drakes Bay Oyster Co., it also said more research is needed to determine a "cause and effect."

Perhaps more importantly, the 70-page report said there's no solid evidence as to how disturbances to the seals affects them biologically.

Meanwhile, the House Oversight Committee under the direction of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., continues to pore through reams of Park Service documents to determine whether the agency "knowingly relied on flawed science" in previously opposing the oyster company's continued operation in the seashore.


I know nothing about this except what I've read in NPT -- but an independent review sounds like a good solution.  It just might put the controversy to rest.

Lee:  Or open the can of worms even farther shining the light on how selective use of PC Science is used throughout the Service to further ideology that often flys in the face of our cultural history.  Twisting of EI procedures to further a preconceived and personal preference of certain Superintendents who bully their underlings with veiled threats of their carreers being affected or completely destroyed.  All these issues must see the light of day to be corrected.  In many cases they have been exposed but reacted to by many that are insulated in their carreer positions as merely "someone digging up dirt."  
Transparency does sound good at this juncture to fully return to a respected agency.  Hard to take for many but is what is needed, I believe.

But if worms are found, regardless of which side has them, then maybe they can be dealt with in a proper manner.

It would be interesting to know, by name, who among the House-Senate conferees moved to insert the requirement that the NAS be involved in the final EIS. Is Darryl Issa involved? Diane Feinstein?
I agree that NAS involvement is a good idea, but nothing happens in Congress without a political agenda and I wondered where the politics on this issue are lining up. Is it one of the rare-as-hen's-teeth bipartisan agreements in recent years?

Theconfusion in misinformation continues apace.  the estero IS in wildnerness now and has been since 1976.  Full inclusion only awaits the removal of the structures associated with the oyster cultivation.  It would be a good step if before commenting 'journalists' would bother to read the relevant documents, all publically available.

Michael, can you point to the documents that show the estero currently is official wilderness?

The following comes from the National Research Council review of the Park Service's recent studies into the oyster farm:  "The National Park Service and the Department of the Interior Solicitor’s Office read the 1976 legislation designating Drakes Estero as Potential Wilderness.

Also, the public law passed in 1976 pertaining to wilderness at Point Reyes mentions "..potential wilderness additions comprising eight thousand and three acres..."

Finally, a solicitor's opinion written in 2004 states clearly that the official wilderness designation wouldn't be bestowed until the non-confirming uses are removed.

The situation is actually rather convoluted.

None of the oyster farm's shore operations are in any area that is designated as potential wilderness. In fact, none of the land area bordering Drakes Estero is potential or full wilderness. Only the water area (save a small part of Schooner Bay near the oyster farm's shore operations) was given potential wilderness status.

Technically, the State of California (Fish & Wildlife Service) confers the rights to DBOC for mariculture via a shellfish permit that expires in 2029. If the State of California allowed DBOC to cultivate and harvest shellfish from shore operations outside of Point Reyes National Seashore, there would be nothing that the NPS could do to stop them from continuing their operations in Drakes Estero. However, the permit extension from the State of California came with the contingency that the permits were only valid if they maintained the current shore operation at the edge of Schooner Bay. The NPS Reservation of Use under consideration for renewal doesn't apply to the oyster racks and clam bags that DBOC has in Drakes Estero, but only to the shore operations. If they lose the shore operations, then the State of California invalidates their shellfish permit.

California's Fish & Game director is on the record as a proponent of an extension. The state collects permit fees, and he's said that he believes it's a good use of the waters.

YPW: Always with the facts.  I always appreciate your posts!

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