Scrutiny On National Park Service and Drakes Bay Oyster Co. Ramps Up

While Congressional Republicans are investigating alleged misconduct of the National Park Service in its handling of an oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore, California officials are pushing the company to explain why it is out of compliance with its operating permit.

The inquires come as the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. nears the end of its 40-year lease, which expires in November, and while seashore officials are finishing an environmental impact statement examining impacts of the oyster farm on Drakes Estero.

In Washington, U.S. Sens. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, and James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, this week wrote Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (see attachment) with a request that he "explain why he consistently ignored serious complaints regarding the scientific integrity of the Director of the National Park Service Jon Jarvis, and why these allegations were not addressed during Mr. Jarvis' nomination process."

"We've seen facts manipulated and science ignored across the administration while they've developed policies with huge negative effects on the economy," said Sen. Vitter in announcing his probe. "We want the public to be aware of the administration's scientific gimmickry, because important policy decisions by the EPA and Interior shouldn't be based on guesswork or manipulated facts - and we want the agencies to be transparent and explain their methods."

The Park Service director is being pursued because he was the agency's Pacific Region director with oversight of Point Reyes before being appointed director. He has declined to comment publicly on the Point Reyes matter.

Over in the House, meanwhile, Rep. Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, also is looking into the Park Service's handling of the oyster company.

While the congressional investigations seem centered on possible misconduct within the Park Service, the California Coastal Commission is losing patience over its requests that Drakes Bay Oyster Co. explain why it seems to be out of compliance not only with where it is operating in the estero but also with a "Consent Cease and Desist Order" that company owner Kevin Lunny helped draft.

Specifically, the commission was referring to the company's use of a lateral channel in the estero that was specifically off-limits to its boats at certain times of the year (March 1-June 30) because of the harbor seal pupping season, and debris from oyster farm operations that washes up in the estero and nearby beaches. (Mr. Lunny has maintained that the debris is from operations under the company's previous owner and that his workers go out at least once a month to pick up the plastic apparatus used in oyster farming.)

In a February 1 letter (see attachment) to Mr. Lunny, the commission stressed that "you have known of our concerns on these two issues for more than four months, and we have yet to receive any written response. We feel that we have been very patient concerning resolution of these most recently alleged violations, especially in light of the many alleged violations we have brought to your attenion over the years," wrote Jo Ginsberg, the commission's enforcement analyst. "We are concerned that you have not responded to our letters, and we hope this failure to respond is not indicative of a lack of willingess on your part to resolve the outstanding alleged violations of the Coastal Act and the Order, and to comply with the Order in the future.

"Should this prove to be the case, we may have little choice but to seek such remedies as assessment of stipulated penalities and/or filing a lawsuit..."

On Tuesday, Mr. Lunny said he and his attorneys were working on a response to the commission, and that it had been held up while he awaited a response from Point Reyes Superintendent Cicely Muldoon over the Park Service's regulations concerning boats in the lateral channel. There long had been an understanding with the Park Service, he said, that the company's boats could enter a portion of the lateral channel on the western end.

The company's boats have "always shown there during pupping season, OK, so it’s not a new thing, and it’s not a thing we’ve ever have a concern about because it’s nowhere near the seals."

On January 23, a week before the commission's letter to Mr. Lunny, Superintendent Muldoon wrote him (see attachment) and stated that under the Special Use Permit granted Drakes Bay Oyster Co. in 2008, "During the breeding season, March 1 through June 30, the 'Main Channel' and 'Lateral Channel' of Drakes Estero will be closed to boat traffic. During the remainder of the year, the Lateral Channel and the Main Channel are open to boat traffic outside the (seal) protection zone."

"The plain meaning of this provision is that the entirety of the Lateral Channel is closed during the harbor seal breeding season (March 1-June 30)."

Those restrictions date to 1992, when protocols were established to protect harbor seals in the estero, and were recognized by the oyster company itself as recently as February 2009, according to California Coastal Commission records.

The interest in the fate of an oyster company that produces between 450,000-500,000 pounds of Pacific oyster meat a year for Bay Area outlets has been fanned by both U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, an ardent supporter of the oyster company and its small workforce, and environmentalists and conservationists who want to see the estero granted official wilderness designation.

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 encompassing the estero 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.

A year later, the Interior's Solicitor's Office conducted an investigation into whether the staff at Point Reyes had intentionally mishandled research data it collected to determine the oyster farm's impacts, if any, on harbor seals during pupping season. That probe cleared the staff of any criminal behavior or criminal misconduct in the matter, a finding that itself has drawn criticism.

Last November, the federal Marine Mammal Commission weighed in with its own report, which found that that seal behavior at Drakes Estero was "at least correlated" with operations of the oyster company. The commission also said more research was needed to determine a "cause and effect."

All the reports and investigations haven't seemed, though, to alter the fact that Congress in 1976 intended for the estero to become official wilderness, that the oyster company's lease is set to expire in November, something Mr. Lunny knew when he took over the operation in 2005.

Indeed, at various times Mr. Lunny publicly acknowledged the November 2012 expiration date. But he also hoped that by improving the operation that perhaps the Park Service would be willing to extend the lease beyond that date

"We know the plan is to shut us down in 2012," Mr. Lunny told the Pacific Sun in 2007. "We went into this knowing that that was a chance. We also knew that (oyster farming) could be done right. (Johnson's Oyster Co.) was a black eye for the park. The environmental community was up in arms about the way it was being operated.... We thought, well, if we could prove that we could do it right, maybe we could get a new look in 2012."

AttachmentSize
Vitter-NPS.pdf755.98 KB
NPS to DBOC 2012 Jan 23.pdf42.14 KB
CCC-Drakes Bay compliance .pdf449.87 KB

Comments

NPS actions at Drake's Bay is not an isolated incident, I believe. I've witnessed the same misuse of data, procedures and outrages personal bullying by the highest ranking individual in a park which resulted in his "preferred alternative." With all due respect for the daily faithful working inside NPS, sometimes they have no choice in administering their bosses or agency's ideology. Something that Roadranger posted to another NPT article I believe holds true in this matter and many others accross the NPS spectrum:


"Regarding the environmental movement. When it began in the early '60s the movement had about it an altruistic core that was embraced pretty much across the board by the political spectrum. Today, the movement has been captured by the anti-capitalist, unhinged left that has been adrift since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Although the NPS seems to have avoided open identification with the current movement, many of its employees are proud to identify themselves as part of the leftist elite and poised to ridicule those who are not in lockstep with their beliefs. This group needs to understand that there are millions of centrists and conservative environmental advocates - individual and corporate - who have supported the NPS mission in the past and will continue to do so. Such an acknowledgement would be good for the health of the NPS and help it survive the political swings from left to right and back again that are likely in our future."

Regarding the MMC study, it is important to read Appendix F, which includes the reports from the panelists, that is, the actual marine mammal scientists who were asked to study the Becker paper (the highly flawed Park Service report that claims to find a correlation between oyster farm activity and harbor seal disturbances). The Appendix is here: http://mmc.gov/drakes_estero/pdfs/appendix_f.pdf

Not one of these scientists agrees with the conclusions presented in the "Report" part of the report.

I urge people to read it for themselves; the disparity is shocking. Some examples of what the scientists said:

"The population of harbor seals in Drakes Estero is currently healthy
and likely to be resilient to moderate variations in disturbance regimes along
the lines of what has been experienced under the current protective
measures."<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

"There is no reason why harbor seals, DBOC oyster growing activities
and other uses cannot coexist in a healthy and productive Drake's Estero
ecosystem."

"After review, it is my personal opinion that any discussion of
individual data points is irrelevant given the larger issues within the study
design, data analyses and proxies used for effort."

"My first concern is that using annual oyster production levels by DBOC
is not a reasonable proxy for boat activity and disturbances of seals on
haulout sites adjacent to oyster growing lease areas."

"The data are not sufficient to support the conclusion that a decline
was caused by the oyster activities. The period of comparison is too short, and
the bulk of the decline seems to have preceded the increase of oyster
activities on the sand bars."

Congressional intent is a strange thing. The primary authors of the Point Reyes Wilderness Act are still alive, and they claim there was never an intent to force the oyster farm out. C'mon Kurt - you even had an article on their support for a renewal of the lease.

http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/assignment_7&id=8325489

I went there about a week ago. The drive was spectacular as usual. My cooler got well stocked in a hurry. Drakes Estero was absolutely beautiful as I grabbed one oyster and my trusty oyster knife, and it enjoyed while watching the sun shine across the water. It was a beautiful day, and I can't think of a more perfect blend of nature and commerce.

If they have any issues, I hope they really iron them out. I know they try, but sometimes signals are crossed.

There have been a number of situations widely reported in the media about questionable behavior by NPS and the GGNRA units it operates in the Bay area. Specifally, there was an incident that involved a Law Enforcement Ranger using a Taser gun on a man walking his dogs off leash at the Rancho Corral de Tierra unit that was transfered to GGNRA in December 2011. According to GGNRA, the man was stopped for an off leash violation but tased for providing a false name and not complying with the officer's orders. A Congresswoman has asked for an independent investigation about excessive use of force. It's worth noting the incident because NPS has treated the incident just like the problems with Drake's Estero science abuse, by going into total defense mode with complete denial that the ranger may have overeacted or acted improperly. This incident added togeher with Sen. Feinstein's request for an investigation of Drake's Bay, as well as the separate request by Sen. Inhofe, and the preceding one by Rep. Issa makes for four separate congressional requests for investigation of GGNRA/NPS west region. Granted Congressional members grandstand all the time in such matters it's quite revealing adn rather troubling that there are management problems at the very least somewhere in the mix. All corporations and entities have there share of flare up but the examples I've cited here have a common thread and there needs to be some accountbility and, at very least, acknolwdgement there are matteres of breach of public trust at stake. Sorry to blather on, but these lands and wilderness areas belong to everyone and there are enough many groups calling foul on NPS not to give pause to their perspectives.

I was there three weeks ago. Usually I take Sir Francis Drake Blvd. all the way out--it's nice the way you go through the redwoods at Lagunitas and then when you come out and wind to the top of the next hill, there's Inverness Ridge in all its glory. This time I took the Fairfax-Bolinas road just for a change. Wow, what a ride! You take switchbacks up the mountain, then plunge down into a mossy glen, and you do it three times in a row!
y_p_w, if you are interested in comparing notes on DBOC, I would be happy to hear from you. Email me if you wish, sarah at sarahrolph.com

Mike R.:
There have been a number of situations widely reported in the media about questionable behavior by NPS and the GGNRA units it operates in the Bay area. Specifally, there was an incident that involved a Law Enforcement Ranger using a Taser gun on a man walking his dogs off leash at the Rancho Corral de Tierra unit that was transfered to GGNRA in December 2011. According to GGNRA, the man was stopped for an off leash violation but tased for providing a false name and not complying with the officer's orders. A Congresswoman has asked for an independent investigation about excessive use of force. It's worth noting the incident because NPS has treated the incident just like the problems with Drake's Estero science abuse, by going into total defense mode with complete denial that the ranger may have overeacted or acted improperly.
By all accounts, the intent was not to ticket. They've been trying to have some educational outreach efforts about the new dog leash requirements. They've been going to people and, asking that they leash their dogs without tickets. He apparently leashed the dog almost immediately when requested. I also heard the name he gave. It might not have been a real name, but it wasn't some off the wall totally fake name that he knew would raise eyebrows. Apparently an NPS spokesman says that they routinely ask for people's names, and not for any law enforcement reasons.

Whether or not he illegally gave a peace officer a false name is also questionable. Federal law enforcement are not considered California peace officers, although they can exercise peace officer authority on federal property if they are directly making an arrest or conducting an investigation. She apparently got suspicious at a name he gave when he wasn't being cited/arrested and there was no indication that it was an investigation. She also repeatedly refused to tell him if he was being cited/arrested/detained, and she shot him in the back. Personally - I'm thinking she could be held personally liable, as there is a court precedent that even with qualified immunity for the agency, there may not be immunity from lawsuit for the officer.

There were witness accounts too. Most of the witnesses were appalled that a non-violent person would be shot in the back with a Taser.

Didn't the NPS also have a payout in the case where a couple of people in Point Reyes Station (well off NPS land) were pepper sprayed for asking a couple of LE rangers what they were doing with a couple of friends they had busted (also well off NPS land) for pot possession. From what I understand, the NPS did eventually pay out a settlement, but didn't admit to any wrongdoing. What I remember about the incident was that the Marin County Sheriff's Department was adamant that they only deputized NPS LE rangers so that they could enforce state and county laws on NPS property, save something like a mutual aid request.

Actually, over the past couple of weeks, I keep on going back to the area. I've probably taken all the different roads, including combinations of Sir Francis Drake, Lucas Valley Road, Point-Reyes Petaluma Road, CA-1, Tomales-Petaluma Road, and Nicasio Valley Road.

I'm also an equal opportunity oyster consumer. I tried Hog Island (they've got a broad selection including Atlantics, Kumamotos, and occasionally French) and Tomales Bay Oyster, but DBOC has a nicer location, better prices, and the best tasting product. Not that I don't mind some variety.

I'll do on the email.

One of these days I'm going to go there and do a taste test of Pacifics from all three. I look forward to seeing my kid's first raw oyster consumed there - hopefully with DBOC still around.

Great life you have going YPW! Wished there were more opportunities for citizens to interact in real ways like this throughout the Park System. Interp presentations have there most powerful effects with visitors when they connect in real ways. I believe that's the best value to our citizens than the "look but don't touch" approach. I sense that in some/many cases the insular/opaque side of NPS the visitors of these parks are an inconvenience and shouldn't interfere with their plans because they just know better. Not a blanket inditement but definitely a factor. Just bring back Mather and Albright and weed out the ....

I'm really unbiased on this one, as I really don't like oysters. I'm more of a mussel type of guy.
If there is no conclusive evidence of harm to the environment from the oyster farm, then it should stay there. It generates jobs locally and provides what seems to be a great service to our community. It seems that the NPS looked for the facts that supported its predetermined conclusion. I'm really no big fan of this new age environmental movement that seems to want to take us back to the stone age.
In terms of insularity, it seems that the NPS is like many governmental agencies that tend to defend their own regardless of the purported misdeed.

NPS lie..... you don't say? It's the same bunch of "BS" that's going on @ the Outer Banks of NC. This about sums it up, "We've seen facts manipulated and science ignored across the administration while they've developed policies with huge negative effects on the economy," said Sen. Vitter in announcing his probe. "We want the public to be aware of the administration's scientific gimmickry, because important policy decisions by the EPA and Interior shouldn't be based on guesswork or manipulated facts - and we want the agencies to be transparent and explain their methods."

Zebulon:
I'm really unbiased on this one, as I really don't like oysters. I'm more of a mussel type of guy.
If there is no conclusive evidence of harm to the environment from the oyster farm, then it should stay there. It generates jobs locally and provides what seems to be a great service to our community. It seems that the NPS looked for the facts that supported its predetermined conclusion. I'm really no big fan of this new age environmental movement that seems to want to take us back to the stone age.
They have mussels. Manila clams too. Occasionally even Kumamotos fished out of their regular Pacifics (I bought a few once, but it was very limited). They sell them at their retail counter, but they run out quickly. I think their other shellfish are mostly reserved for their wholesale customers. The other farms in the area do sell mussels, but it's complicated. Tomales Bay Oyster apparently gets their clams and mussels from out of state. $15 for a 2 lb bag too, which is outrageous. There are some oyster farms in the are that don't have retail counters - like Marin Oyster or Point Reyes Oyster Co. They might show up at farmer's markets.

"It generetes jobs loccally". Not sur about that. Look like a lot of saisonal workers from Mexico work for Lunny. Take a look at the Hog Island Oyster Farm, really different workers work here. I bet the wage is different between the two farms.

Phil61:"It generetes jobs loccally". Not sur about that. Look like a lot of saisonal workers from Mexico work for Lunny. Take a look at the Hog Island Oyster Farm, really different workers work here. I bet the wage is different between the two farms.
I don't think they don't have many seasonal workers at DBOC. Their retail business is small. I typically see Lunny's daughter working the counter. Their business is mostly wholesale to restaurants, markets, and wholesalers. Most of their workers are Hispanic immigrants, but the same goes for Hog Island. They harvest year round along with a canning operation. That's steady work, and they don't rely on their retail operations as a big part of their business.

What Hog Island does have is a much larger retail operation, where their counter staff is mostly white non-Hispanic. If you've ever been to their oyster bar in San Francisco, it's mostly Hispanic immigrant labor shucking oysters. Hog Island used to have a prominent photo of three workers (all Hispanic) on a boat hauling oysters back to their shore operation. Does this guy look white to you?

I will say there is something special about getting an oyster that isn't dry. I haven't had a dry or dead oyster from DBOC yet although I have when I bought their oysters from local markets and sometimes found they were almost dead and dry with barely any seawater left. Hog Island keeps theirs in tanks. I think they have tanks at their oyster bar in San Francisco, where I've bought some at the same price as at their farm.

Although the 1976 Congress wanted wilderness, the times have changed and I doubt Congress wants wilderness there now.

A lot of the workers at DBOC have been there for decades. Evvy Eisen, a fine arts photographer, has created some beautiful portraits, which are in a traveling exhibit; many of them can also be seen here: http://www.oysterfarmphotos.com/
A lot of the people who work in the processing plant are women whose husbands work on ranches. The oyster farm (which has been there for over 80 years) has historically provided much-needed work for the wives of farm workers in this agricultural community.
Veronica has been there the longest, I think, and has a small collection of pearls she has found over the years (they don't appear very often under these conditions, but they do happen!) One of Eisen's photos shows these pearls--look under Still Life.

Hmmm--

Drakes Bay Oyster Company Found Violating Harbor Seal Protection Regulations Since 2008
by Environmental Action Commitee of West Marin
Wednesday Feb 15th, 2012 11:26 AM
The California Coastal Commission has again strongly rebuked and warned Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) for illegally operating motorboats within a harbor seal protection area in Drakes Estero, a wilderness area within Point Reyes National Seashore.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 15, 2012

Contact:
Amy Trainer, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin (415) 306-6052 amy [at] eacmarin.org

Drakes Bay Oyster Company Found Violating Harbor Seal Protection Regulations Since 2008
Coastal Commission Says Full Scope of Company Violations Still Unknown

Point Reyes, CA. – The California Coastal Commission has again strongly rebuked and warned Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) for illegally operating motorboats within a harbor seal protection area in Drakes Estero, a wilderness area within Point Reyes National Seashore. DBOC recently admitted their motorboats have operated during breeding season within a seal protection area in Drakes Estero for at least four years. The controversial oyster company is seeking to extend its private use of the estero beyond its permit expiration this year, a move that would roll-back federal laws and policies intended to protect national park wilderness from commercial exploit.

The Coastal Commission sent a letter to DBOC earlier this month stating the company has violated the California Coastal Act and a 2007 Cease and Desist Order issued by the Commission, and warning of potential penalties and litigation if DBOC refuses to adhere to agreed-upon harbor seal protection measures.

The oyster company was warned by the Commission in September 2011 that ongoing illegal use of motorboats near sensitive seal areas poses “serious threats to marine habitats and wildlife” and was also put on notice for allowing thousands of pieces of plastic marine debris from its operations to litter the waters and beaches in the National Park. The Commission’s recent letter expressed concern that DBOC had failed to address their current and prior violations.

DBOC’s offered explanation for its repeated failure to adhere to harbor seal protections was rejected by the Commission as contradictory to the plain language of the harbor seal protections rules and agreement that DBOC signed as part of its special use permit with the National Park Service. The Commission noted DBOC’s previously written admissions of understanding what the protections require indicate “an admission of a longer violation.”

The Commission’s February 1st letter states: “as demonstrated by numerous photographs reviewed by Commission staff and corroborated by your admission during our meeting of January 4, 2012, DBOC has been consistently acting in a manner inconsistent with . . . .the 2008 special use permit that has been in place since April 22, 2008. As a result, DBOC has been in violation of the Order since April 22, 2008.”

Violations of the Cease and Desist Order could result in civil fines up to $6,000 per day, and any person who “knowingly and intentionally” violates the Coastal Act can be subject to civil penalties up to $15,000 per violation for each day the violation persists.

The Commission expressed its hope that DBOC’s failure to respond, “is not indicative of a lack of willingness on your part to resolve the outstanding alleged violations of the Coastal Act and Order, and to comply with the Order in the future. Should this prove to be the case, we may have little choice but to seek such remedies as assessment of stipulated penalties and/or filing a lawsuit, pursuant to Chapter 9 of the Coastal Act, to resolve the alleged violations and ensure compliance with the Order and Coastal Act.”

I certainly hope the NPS will renew the license for DBOC at Pt Reyes for the next 1000 years. This area has been a fishing and farming community for over 100 years and there is no indication, environmental or otherwise that the activiies of man cannot coexist with nature.

I find this contrast interesting.

A few days ago, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the campaign to close this modest business continues, even though:

"In 2009, a panel of scientists concluded that park officials had, in fact, made errors, selectively presented information and misrepresented facts in a series of reports about the shellfish operation. Last year, the Interior Department's office of the solicitor released a report outlining what it termed biased, improper, mistake-ridden work by park scientists, but cleared the researchers of misconduct."

Naturally, the opponents of the Drakes Bay oyster-farming operation include (was ever anything so predictable?): "the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Wilderness Society and the Marin Audubon Society[, which] have rallied to the park service's side. They argue that private commercial exploitation harms Drakes Estero."

http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/Drakes-Bay-review-inconclusive-on-harm-3829448.php#ixzz25RzDld46

That same day, the Chronicle reported about the assemblage of the economy's global commanders at Grand Teton National Park. The big lure is trout-fishing amidst luxurious accommodation:

"Every August, the world's financial markets shift their attention from the centers of global commerce - New York, London, Tokyo - to a mountain valley in northwest Wyoming. On Friday, they will hear a speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

"So how did Jackson Hole, Wyo., come to wield such outsize importance in global economic affairs?

"In a word, trout.

". . .

"The event now draws 140 people every year, including some of the biggest names in economics and finance. They come to enjoy breathtaking views of the Grand Teton mountain range and Jackson Lake, to hike and fish and to engage in intellectual combat in the halls of the Jackson Lake Lodge.

" 'Jackson Hole provides a nice opportunity for central bankers to let down their hair a bit - only figuratively speaking, of course - and mingle with other members of their tribe and a few academics in an informal setting,' says Eswar Prasad, a Cornell University professor who will speak on a Jackson Hole panel this year.

"One annual tradition is the Friday night barbecue. There, some of theworld's most high-powered economists don cowboy hats, string ties and other Western gear and sometimes join in a line dance."

http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/How-Jackson-Hole-hooked-economic-conference-3829090.php#ixzz25S0XZJtM

I have a suggestion. How about if the heroic crusaders for the temperance movement branch of modern environmentalism (which I hasten to add is not the only branch; other people work on serious issues like global climate change) teams up to close the luxurious Jackson Lake Lodge and restore the area to whatever it was before? And leaves the Drakes Bay Oyster Company alone?

Failing that, I hope that Sierra Club etc. members are showing solidarity with their crusading organizations' stance by refusing to eat any oysters. Oppose Big Oyster!

They argue that private commercial exploitation harms Drakes Estero."

Which part is harming the Drake Estero? The fact that it's a private enterprise or the oyster exploitation? It's pretty sad when ideology takes precedence over science.

Good point. If a government agency were doing the harvesting, would that be OK with the objectors?

I am certainly no expert on the situation at the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, but I believe it was the intent of Congress to set aside the area as a Marine Wilderness, at least that is the impression you get when you read the bill. It is also difficult to understand the oyster company agreeing to the terms of the lease, and then thinking that they might be able to change it down the road. I know this is a contentious issue and I can understand the complaints about the studies done, but it seems to me some protection of our coastal estuaries is a high priority. I have no answers, but it is an interesting issue.

Hi, Ron — Good points. The issue shows one of the big problems with the U.S. idea of formally designated Wilderness areas, a system that as far as I know isn't followed anywhere else in the world. Namely, that it's either-or. There's no middle ground. If an area is a Wilderness, you can't do anything in it but walk, fish, hunt under very limited circumstances, canoe, or ride a horse. No cottage businesses, no bicycles, no baby strollers, no nothing except the very few permitted activities.

And one of the problems is that people have come to believe that if an area isn't Wilderness, it isn't environmentally protected. In fact there's a range of less restrictive land designations that provide huge amounts of protection to areas while allowing some economic activity.

Of course, as this battle shows, the Wilderness designation has become problematic now that formally designated U.S. Wilderness covers an area larger than California plus about half of New England. So Congress has created all sorts of bizarre and ironic exceptions to the strange Wilderness rules, even to the point of allowing military operations in a number of Wildernesses. And even when Congress doesn't act, individual members of Congress become upset when the situation becomes ridiculous. An example is in Washington state, where Wilderness activists got a court order to tear down an historically important fire lookout, because Wilderness designation doesn't allow for any permanent structures (not even a hitching post!). Members of Washington's congressional delegation then put their foot down and told the executive branch to keep the lookout in place.

But generally the system is inflexible. If Congress doesn't create an exception, then, officially speaking, Wilderness can only be an area for 19th century forms of transient recreational activity, with no economic activities allowed except for luxury packstock dude ranch operations (and that's another big irony about Wilderness).

Ron Mackie:
I am certainly no expert on the situation at the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, but I believe it was the intent of Congress to set aside the area as a Marine Wilderness, at least that is the impression you get when you read the bill. It is also difficult to understand the oyster company agreeing to the terms of the lease, and then thinking that they might be able to change it down the road. I know this is a contentious issue and I can understand the complaints about the studies done, but it seems to me some protection of our coastal estuaries is a high priority. I have no answers, but it is an interesting issue.
I don't get the impression you get from reading the Point Reyes Wilderness Act. Here' it is:

http://www.nps.gov/pore/parkmgmt/upload/lawsandpolicies_publiclaw94_544.pdf

It doesn't really say anything about a timetable. I've noted that the High Sierra Camps in Yosemite are in potential wilderness, and they continue to exist even when previous wilderness plans could have called for their removal. Their impacts are large, with a permanent footprint in a potential wilderness area with buildings and waste removal provided by helicopter.

Also - the terms of the "lease" (technically the reservation of use) were drafted in 1972, before the Point Reyes Wilderness Act in 1976. The Johnson's sold their 3 acres of land to NPS under the threat of eminent domain and made arrangements that would allow the farm to stay in business. That was a 40 year term, but the RUO has a specific clause that allows for renewal via a special use permit, although that's been contentious. Apparently former Supt Neubacher was OK with Kevin Lunny taking over the operations until he brought up the subject of possible renewal.

The other tricky thing is that technically NPS is only considering those 3 acres shore operations for "lease" renewal. DBOC only pays NPS to rent out the 3 acres on the shoreline. The water bottom leases are from the California Dept of Fish and Game and were renewed by the California Fish and Game Commission in 2004. The water bottom leases are tied to the shore operations. If DBOC loses the shore operations, the water bottom leases are no longer valid. The Fish and Game Commission has made a statement (from their May 2012 meeting) encouraging DBOC and NPS to work things out.

http://www.fgc.ca.gov/meetings/2012/052312summary.pdf

13. CONSIDERATION OF A COMMISSION RESOLUTION REGARDING STATE WATER BOTTOM LEASE NO. M-438-01, DRAKES BAY OYSTER COMPANY, DRAKES ESTERO, MARIN COUNTY.
Received public testimony.

THE COMMISSION INDICATED ITS CONTINUED SUPPORT FOR DRAKES BAY OYSTER COMPANY AND URGED THE PARK SERVICE TO CONTINUE ITS MANAGEMENT PARTNERSHIP WITH THE COMMISSION OVER THIS WATER BOTTOM LEASE.


And here's the video:

mms://media.cal-span.org/calspan/Video_Files/CFG/CFG_12-04-12/CFG_12-04-12.wmv

Bill Bagley has a very well reasoned pleading to the CFGC starting at about 3:33. He wrote the law granting rights to Drakes Estero to NPS, and he makes it clear that the only NPS issue is over "land use" - not water use.

You can download all 598 MB here:

http://www.cal-span.org/calspan-media/Video_Files/CFG/CFG_12-05-23/CFG_12-05-23.wmv

y_p_w, another group, the National Research Council, also agrees that it was Congress' intent to have the estero designated as official wilderness. They cite that in their latest report:


Drakes Estero is part of the Point Reyes National Seashore (henceforth referred to as “the Seashore”) which was established by Congress in 1962 (Point Reyes National Seashore Enabling Act, 16 U.S.C. § 459c–459c-7). In 1972, the mariculture property was sold to the National Park Service, in exchange for a 40-year Reservation of Use and Occupancy (RUO) and Special Use Permit allowing continuation of commercial shellfish operations until expiration. In the Point Reyes Wilderness Act of 1976, Congress designated 25,370 acres of the Seashore as wilderness and 8,003 acres as potential wilderness. The latter includes approximately 1,363 acres of tidal wetlands and subtidal waters within Drakes Estero utilized by DBOC operations (Point Reyes Wilderness Act, Public Law 95-544). The current RUO and SUP will expire by law on November 30, 2012, thereby terminating DBOC operations in Drakes Estero. The removal of this sole nonconforming activity would result in conversion of Drakes Estero from congressionally designated potential wilderness to congressionally designated wilderness, becoming one of eleven marine wilderness areas in the U.S. and the first on the west coast.

Again, I've linked to interviews with John Burton (who authored the Point Reyes Wilderness Act), and he claims that the intent was never to set the 2012 date of the 40 year RUO as a firm deadline for removal.

As for "marine wilderness" on the west coast, I keep on hearing that talking point about Drakes Estero becoming the first, and I wonder if the people who repeat that know how to look at a map. Rocks and Islands Wilderness was established in 2006, with Oregon Islands Wilderness and Washington Islands Wilderness established in 1970.

Rocks and Islands Wilderness (BLM):
http://www.wilderness.net/index.cfm?fuse=NWPS&sec=wildView&WID=703
http://www.wilderness.net/map.cfm?xmin=-13801272.5125&ymin=4859714.5692&xmax=-13801272.5125&ymax=4909033.9387

Oregon Islands Wilderness (FWS):
http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=13599
http://www.wilderness.net/index.cfm?fuse=NWPS&sec=wildView&WID=430
http://www.wilderness.net/map.cfm?xmin=-13795566.5072&ymin=5160752.7573&xmax=-13795566.5072&ymax=5821552.5885

Washington Islands Wilderness (FWS):
http://www.wilderness.net/index.cfm?fuse=NWPS&sec=wildView&wname=Washington%20Islands
http://www.wilderness.net/map.cfm?xmin=-13823981.0978&ymin=5963835.8801&xmax=-13823981.0978&ymax=6170836.0879

Also I've brought up the High Sierra Camps. They are the sole nonconforming use in certain areas designated as potential wilderness. They contain permanent structures, tent pads, cooking facilities, septic tanks, etc. NPS just put out a bid for a 1500 gallon polyethylene septic tank to be buried at Sunrise HSC in the middle of potential wilderness, as well as a new grease interceptor system. As I indicated, they service their waste disposal using helicopters that inevitably fly over full wilderness to get to these areas.

This is their chance. The HSCs need capital improvements to prevent further damage to the wilderness characteristics of the area. NPS could simply say to heck with this - it's now our opportunity to get rid of these camps and convert the areas to full wilderness. They don't, and they don't because it's a policy decision.

Imtnbike makes a great point. The wilderness discussion seems to trump common sense. AFAIK, the oyster farm does not harm the environment and provides economic activity and an appreciated product locally. Why can't we leave the farm alone? Somehow, that question is not answered.

The question, Zeb, revolves around what is allowed in officially designated wilderness. One thing that is not allowed are commercial operations, of which the oyster company is one.

Other countries' national parks and protected areas with cottages and villages are quaint, but there's a good segment of the outdoors society in the U.S. that looks forward to entering a wilderness area and experiencing that protected landscape.

As to imtnbike's point, the counterpoint could be that an area equal to just 5 percent of the entire United States, and just 2.7 percent of the coterminous U.S. is officially designated wilderenss.

Is it really an affront to society that such a tiny parcel of the country is intended to be preserved as it always was?

Going back to the oyster company, I have no idea why Congress ever decided (and y_p_w maintains it didn't, but other arms of the federal government certainly have the impression that it did) to see the estero designated as official wilderness. We'll have another chapter on that odyssey tomorrow, when we take a look at just the latest review of the science the Park Service is relying on in trying to come to a decision on the oyster company's fate.

Kurt Repanshek:
Going back to the oyster company, I have no idea why Congress ever decided (and y_p_w maintains it didn't, but other arms of the federal government certainly have the impression that it did) to see the estero designated as official wilderness. We'll have another chapter on that odyssey tomorrow, when we take a look at just the latest review of the science the Park Service is relying on in trying to come to a decision on the oyster company's fate.
It was made part of the wilderness map as potential wilderness because there was a nonconforming use. The same goes for the High Sierra Camps. You can pore through the California Wilderness Act of 1984, which established the wilderness areas in Yosemite, SEKI, and several national forests. The "potential" label was only applied to NPS wilderness areas. The Forest Service wilderness areas are described with specific exceptions where they still considered it full wilderness despite nonconforming uses such as motorized recreation/maintenance and commercial uses of the land.

There is nothing in the Point Reyes Wilderness Act that sets any kind of timetable for removal of nonconforming uses. I've mentioned Yosemite as an example where potential wilderness stays that way as a policy decision. I don't believe there's anything that keeps them as potential wilderness except for those policy decisions. There have been some very public calls that they're a blight on the wilderness characteristics of the area and that the maintenance backlogs are a good reason to eliminate them rather than spend money, time, and effort replacing what's essentially a "nonconforming use".

Kurt Repanshek:
The question, Zeb, revolves around what is allowed in officially designated wilderness. One thing that is not allowed are commercial operations, of which the oyster company is one.
Certain types of commercial operations are allowed in officially designated wilderness. Hunting, fishing, and backcountry guiding services are typically commercial in nature. Grazing is still allowed. Certain commercial services such as the HSCs I mentioned are allowed because the "potential wilderness" status remains indefinitely while those services remain.

http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/nv/field_offices/winnemucca_field_office/programs/black_rock_desert.Par.1667.File.dat/Wilderness%20Grazing%20Guidelines.pdf

They have an interesting policy on grazing:

1. There shall be no curtailments of grazing in wilderness areas simply because an area is or has been designated as wilderness, nor should wilderness designations be used as an excuse by administrators to slowly "phase out " grazing.

Kurt,

I don't understand how seeing a few acres of oyster farm in Point Reyes is such an issue that one cannot enjoy the area. Any reasonable human being probably finds the farm to be a non issue. It's only an issue for the ultra wildernuts who want to kick the farm out so that they can claim another wilderness victory, regardless of the farm's environmental impact. It's not like current Wilderness areas were devoid of human activity 100 years ago since this seems to be the period that we aim to recreate via Wilderness designation.

Furthermore, that 2.7% of the lower 48 is a very misleading number. When we had that debate a couple years ago, we concluded that somewhere between 10 to 30% of all public open spaces were now under a wilderness designation, which is actually quite scary. I bet that if the Sierra Club and its ilk had its way, we'd see that number go up many folds.

Re 2.7 percent, that's what I found at wilderness.net. If you can find 10-30 percent (which in itself is a pretty wide margin), love to see it!

YPW, thank you for spelling "pore" correctly and not spelling it "pour" as many people do!

Kurt wrote:

"The question, Zeb, revolves around what is allowed in officially designated wilderness. One thing that is not allowed are commercial operations, of which the oyster company is one."

However, Wilderness has commercial operations aplenty. A big one is grazing. I've heard that in Colorado sometimes you can barely find the designated trail because the cattle or the cattle trucks have created spiderwebs of tracks all over the fields. Another one, which YPW alludes to, is luxury horse and packstock outfitting operations that lug in sedentary folk with supplies of alcohol, gourmet food, and tents that sound more comfortable than the semipermanent ones at Yosemite Valley. As the flatlanders are conveyed to their daily resting spot, the giant mammals tear up the trails and annoy other visitors. All for a buck. I do hope that the wilderness adventurers remember to bring along their satellite phones so they can sell or buy quickly depending on what the New York Stock Exchange is doing that day.

Regarding grazing again, let me quote from my 1987 edition Carson–Iceberg Wilderness map (this Wilderness is in the Sierra Nevada):

"During your wilderness trip, you are likely to see cattle or sheep grazing . . . .

". . . .

"Gates and drift fences [which I might mention are permanent structures and installations banned by the Wilderness Act of 1964] control livestock to prevent overgrazing and reduce conflicts with wilderness visitors. . . .

". . . .

"You may see vehicles in the Wolf Creek area. The [law] provides for continued motorized access by grazing permitees." (Boldface added.)

And indeed, I've seen pictures of wide and entirely unnatural-looking graded dirt roads in that Wilderness. The same roads that, if a cyclist rode on them, she could and presumably would get a ticket for trammeling the untrammeled pristine area and showing a lack of stewardship-sustainability sensitivity. (Please pardon both the alliteration and the invocation of buzzwords currently in vogue.)

I hear that it's the same at Point Reyes. Lots of cattle, lots of roads. But no oyster farm, thank you.

As always with Wilderness, the ironies abound. If the federal government could agree on anything, we'd get an update to the Wilderness Act to fix some of them. But if it happens, it'll probably be either (a) after our lifetimes or (b) because the Republicans took over the Presidency, the House, and 60 Senate seats and simply abolished the Wilderness Act and returned these areas to multiple use. Which no one should wish for, but which Wilderness-purist temperance-movement attitudes invite.

Yes, yes, yes, there are exceptions to everything, including commercial horse packing in the high country of Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. Two points, though:

1: The language concerning commercial operations in wilderness areas states (and you should know this, imtnbke, being a lawyer), "Except as specifically provided for in this chapter, and subject to existing private rights, there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area designated by this chapter and, except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this chapter (including measures required in emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area), there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area."

2: The Wilderness Act, naturally, contained exceptions to commercial use, stating, "Commercial services may be performed within the wilderness areas designated by this chapter to the extent necessary for activities which are proper for realizing the recreational or other wilderness purposes of the areas."

So concerning those high sierra camps in Yosemite, they would seem to be allowed even if the potential wilderness were made official wilderness.

We live in a world of exceptions, many created out of necessity, more than a few created out of political might. And some exceptions were simply grandfathered in, as I suspect more than a few of those grazing leases that can be found in use in wilderness areas were.

The oyster company's situation is somewhat a horse of a different color, in that it can be argued to be a private existing right, but also a right that had a well-defined life of 40 years. And it certainly would seem to be within the purview of the NPS, or Congress, to redraw the proposed wilderness area around the oyster company's operations. Or the NPS and Congress could change directions, and propose making the area a Heritage Area, which we're seeing more and more of around the country.

Stay tuned. The fat lady ain't sung yet on this matter.

There's commercial horse and mule packing throughout many wilderness areas. That is a case where the 1964 Wilderness Act says that a "commercial enterprise" may exist to serve recreational opportunities.

However, that's not what addresses preexisting "nonconforming uses" in potential wilderness areas. The Wilderness Act itself doesn't address the concept of "potential wilderness". That's some brilliant idea from some member of Congress, and to my knowledge it has only been used in NPS wilderness areas. There is no way the High Sierra Camps will remain and they simply declare the areas full wilderness. The fact is, Congress declared these places potential wilderness because they didn't feel they were sufficient as a type of "commercial service" that might qualify for the exception. They're more than services that bring people in and out without making a permanent impact on the land. They're permanent structures, septic systems, etc. It looks like parts of Curry Village were dropped into the middle of the wilderness.

y_p_w, while the verbiage "potential wilderness" might be unique to the NPS, similar landscapes exist elsewhere in the public lands kingdom. The Bureau of Land Management refers to such potential wilderness as Wilderness Study Areas, defined as: "...roadless areas of five thousand acres or more and roadless islands of the public lands, identified during the inventory required by section 201(a) of this Act as having wilderness characteristics described in the Wilderness Act of September 3, 1964 and shall from time to time report to the President his recommendation as the suitability or nonsuitability of each such area or island for preservation as wilderness..."

Furthermore, "In general, BLM is required to maintain the wilderness characteristics of each WSA until Congress decides whether it should either be designated as wilderness or should be released for other purposes."

This is an incredibly contentious issue in Utah, where the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has identified millions of acres of "potential wilderness" on BLM lands as being suitable for wilderness designation.

I don't know why the High Sierra Camps wouldn't qualify for an exemption to allow continued operation in official wilderness, as they certainly could be construed as being " necessary for activities which are proper for realizing the recreational or other wilderness purposes of the areas."

Hi, Kurt,

Yes, I agree with your summary of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the various policy and political considerations that have resulted in exceptions being carved out of the idea of wilderness, both in the act itself and as a result of agency decisions. I also agree that the oyster farm controversy brings a number of important issues to the fore, and it will be enlightening to see what happens. I note that you've published a new article today about the oyster farm, and I'll read it with interest.

Kurt Repanshek:
I don't know why the High Sierra Camps wouldn't qualify for an exemption to allow continued operation in official wilderness, as they certainly could be construed as being " necessary for activities which are proper for realizing the recreational or other wilderness purposes of the areas."
I think they could meet an exception and still be "full wilderness" if there were anything in the original wilderness designation legislation or later modifications to the wilderness legislation that specifically noted that. I've seen dams at Desolation Wilderness in the Lake Tahoe area. I've also read the original wilderness legislation. It states that the operators of previously licensed hydroelectric facilities shall have reasonable access to operate/maintain those facilities. Strangely enough the legislation doesn't specify that they're allowed, but I think that's implied because no legislation is going to be able to remove a dam serving a region's water supply without the water district agreeing to it. We all know how hard San Francisco will fight to save the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, and that's in a wilderness area.

http://www.wilderness.net/NWPS/documents/publiclaws/PDF/91-82.pdf

However, I just don't see that with the HSCs. I see the exception for "commercial services" in the original 1964 Wilderness Act as something that would logically only refer to temporary commercial activities in wilderness areas. I don't see the language as referring to permanent structures that serve some recreational purpose. I've mentioned guiding services. I could imagine maybe a catering service setting up temporary cooking facilities for a day in a special wilderness location. That there are permanent structures is obviously why they were marked as potential wilderness in the wilderness maps.

Here's an interesting article about conflicting uses in NPS wilderness areas:

http://www.justice.gov/enrd/3165.htm

What's interesting in looking at the map of Cumberland Island National Seashore http://www.nps.gov/common/commonspot/customcf/apps/maps/showmap.cfm?alphacode=cuis&parkname=Cumberland%20Island is that a road cuts through the heart of the seashore's wilderness area, and so the borders of the wilderness have been drawn to effectively cut the road out of the wilderness area.

So it would seem that a precedent has been set that would allow for wilderness in Yosemite in the area of the HSC, with donut holes cut around the HSCs to exclude them from the official wilderness.

Kurt,

The 10% to 30% figures comes from an article you wrote a couple years back (can't find it anymore) in which we discussed how much open public space there was in the lower 48 and how much of that was wilderness or treated like wilderness.

I tried googling it, but could not find it.

YPW, I'd like to thank you for posting that revealing excerpt from the BLM website about how members of Congress feel about grazing in Forest Service and BLM Wilderness. Here it is again for those who missed it. It's worth skimming:

http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/nv/field_offices/winnemucca_field_office/programs/black_rock_desert.Par.1667.File.dat/Wilderness%20Grazing%20Guidelines.pdf

When I see stuff like this, i.e., the huge amount of accommodation members of Congress would like to afford grazing operations in Wilderness, I become even more baffled that the federal agencies continue to insist that bicycles cannot be allowed on Wilderness trails. The Wilderness Act doesn't support that view and neither does any sound policy consideration.

OK, I know not everyone's going to click on the link, so let me excerpt from the congressional statement of intent:

1. "There shall be no curtailments of grazing in wilderness areas simply because an area is or has been designated as wilderness, nor should wilderness designations be used as an excuse by administrators to slowly 'phase out' grazing."

2. "The maintenance of supporting facilities, existing in an area prior to its classification as wilderness (including fences, line cabins, water wells and lines, stock tanks, etc.), is permissible in wilderness. Where practical alternatives do not exist, maintenance or other activities may be accomplished through the occasional use of motorized equipment. This may include, for example, the use of backhoes to maintain stock ponds, pickup trucks for major fence repairs, or specialized equipment to repair stock watering facilities. . . . [I]t may be appropriate to permit the occasional use of motorized equipment to haul large quantities of salt to distribution points. Moreover, . . . occasional use of motorized equipment should be permitted where practical alternatives are not available and such use would not have a significant adverse impact on the natural environment."

3. "Such motorized equipment uses will normally only be permitted to those portions of a wilderness area where they had occurred prior to the area's designation as wilderness or are established by prior agreement." But given legislators' enthusiam for intruding in Wilderness for grazing generally, what agency employee is going to take this statement seriously?

4. "The construction of new improvements or replacement of deteriorated facilities in wilderness is permissible . . . ."

5. "The use of motorized equipment for emergency purposes such as rescuing sick animals or the placement of feed in emergency situations is also permissible."

And yet no bicycles. Or baby strollers. Or game carts. Incredible. Actually, I fault the mountain bike community for not making this more of an issue. Why should we expect anyone else to wage this battle for us? I would bet the average member of Congress has no idea about the bizarre restrictions on human-powered travel. But no one seems to be informing him/her about them, even though there are various mass lobbying efforts by cyclists in Washington, D.C. every year. If we want to blame someone, we can look in the mirror.

Here's a question. Given the legislators' statement of intent that YPW linked to earlier, why couldn't a mountain biker be hired by a grazing tenant who operates in Wilderness to monitor the tenant's livestock by bicycle?

Since the congressional statement says motorized conveyances like pick-up trucks are OK for animal husbandry in Wilderness, why would a bicycle not be suitable?

Of course, since Kurt has pointed out that I'm a lawyer, I hasten to add that this comment does not constitute legal advice or representation or any effort to counsel, recommend, encourage, or advocate the violation of any law. It's just food for thought. Indeed, the grazing employee who would contemplate or be expected to do his/her work on a bicycle should seek legal advice before engaging in that work.

Zeb, I'd be surprised if I speculated that the amount of official wilderness equaled one-third of the country's landscape....but you have pointed to one of the flaws of our search engine;-)

Kurt,

No, your percentages are accurate. My point is/was that a percentage of the total landscape is misleading as it includes everything (including urban areas, etc.). The 10 to 30% numbers are percentages of public open spaces. I remember that your pulled some numbers that broke down the total country landmass in terms of uses (cities, parks, fields, etc.) that we then went on to debate. :)

Debate? Us?!???;-)

If I can find the time, I'll see about digging up that story. Yet why shouldn't the overall percentage include urban areas? They once were wilderness...The point is that not as much land is really locked up as wilderness when you consider the overall land mass....and all the exceptions/allowances cited by y_p_w and imtnbke.

Another interesting figure, though no one has likely calculated it, is what percentage of the public empire is inaccessible to bikes or horses, or even casual hikers, due to its steepness/ruggedness?

As an aside, for all my mountain bike friends, check out this story about a nearly 500-mile-long single track in the Appalachians:

http://www.vabike.org/the-virginia-mountain-bike-trail/

I wonder if they allow hikers?;-)

I've had trouble with the NPT search engine too. But Google or Bing seem to find the text.

It must be a hassle being a site administrator and having to figure these things out.

Kurt Repanshek:
So it would seem that a precedent has been set that would allow for wilderness in Yosemite in the area of the HSC, with donut holes cut around the HSCs to exclude them from the official wilderness.
I've mentioned these kinds of things all the time. Look at a map of the Sierra with wilderness areas, and somehow man-made lakes ringed with developed campgrounds, roads, and lodges are surrounded by wilderness areas. There's the Dusy-Ershim Off-Road Trail. Even at Point Reyes NS, there's a road leading to Pierce Point Ranch that is a narrow strip where it's official wilderness on either side and surrounding the ranch and parking lot. Limantour Road is about the same from Bayview to near the hostel. Sky Trail (more like a fire road) is a piece that's not in wilderness surrounded by wilderness, and where bicycles are allowed. Several trails from Five Brooks to Wildcat Camp are left out of the wilderness area. It's nothing new, but these weren't declared potential wilderness.

However, someone decided that the HSCs and Drakes Estero would be marked as "potential wilderness" and would convert to official wilderness if and when the nonconforming uses cease. The real issue is in interpreting the intent. Was that meant to remove the nonconforming uses at the first available opportunity or was it meant to allow those uses to continue until such time that they cease due to a policy change or the operator gave up. I personally think it's the latter. Some argue the former to try and influence what really a policy decision.

Kurt:

Walk to your heart's content on the VA Mountain Bike Trail: the bikers are always hiker friendly!

Thank you Kurt and others for a very interesting discussion. I remember well having a small part in drawing the wilderness boundaries of Yosemite National Park. It was quite contentious, many issues did arise as pointed out by other comments. If I remember correctly, at least in the case of Yosemite, much that was done in drawing the wilderness boundaries so tightly, was, in some part, a reaction to a park planing effort in the early seventies that included 500 new rooms at the Ahwahnee Hotel, a tramway from Curry Village to Glacier point, well the list was quite lengthly. This plan was shelved, a change in administration was implemented, and a desire to insure minimal development of the park took hold. The general management plan of 1980 basically laid out the concept to be followed, more or less, in the park until the 1997 flood recovery effort (this effort also the focus of much contentious litigation, in fact the park is still working on a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs). There were many issues, the City of San Francisco inholdings in the Hetch Hetch area, the cables on Half Dome, the High Sierra Camps, road corridors (the Tioga Road splits the Yosemite Wilderness in half), developed areas, etc. As both imtnbke and YPW point out it was a complex and not perfect process. On the other hand, it did protect 95% of the park from new development including roads, hotels, etc. Looking back on it, that was the primary focus of the working group drawing the boundaries which were incorporated in the 1984 act establishing the wilderness area for Yosemite. On balance, it has been very effective, though the debates do continue including the Half Dome Cables, the High Sierra Camps, removal of the Hetch Hetchy Dam, etc. Thanks again Traveler for another informative discussion.