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Environmental Heavyweights Urge Interior Secretary To Remove Oyster Farm From Point Reyes National Seashore

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Some environmental heavyweights -- E.O. Wilson, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Sylvia A. Earle, Thomas E. Lovejoy, and Tundi Agardy -- have urged Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to see that an oyster farm is removed from Point Reyes National Seashore when its lease ends this fall.

Their letter, released Thursday by the National Park Service's Washington office, comes as Point Reyes officials are crafting a final environmental impact statement examining the impacts of the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. on Drakes Estero.

"You are now in a position to protect the only marine wilderness area on the West Coast for the benefit of the public and generations to come," reads a portion of the letter. "This policy decision does not require Congressional or Presidential approval, providing you with a unique opportunity for a significant conservation victory in today’s challenging political climate. We urge you to please seize this significant opportunity."

The oyster company's 40-year lease runs out in November, and Congress long ago said the estero should be designated as official wilderness once all non-conforming uses are removed from it. 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 draft EIS was released for public review back in December, and the final EIS is expected later this summer.

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 letter from Professor Wilson, Mr. Cousteau, Dr. Earle, Dr. Lovejoy, and Dr. Agardy is below in its entirety.

Dear Secretary Salazar:

We are writing to you about a policy decision you will be making regarding the protection of the only marine Wilderness area on the West Coast: Drakes Estero in Point Reyes National Seashore. We urge you to protect this critically valuable estuary as long intended by the public and Congress.

When Drakes Estero was designated as a Wilderness Area in 1976, Congress allowed the existing oyster farming business to continue until its operating rights expired in 2012. This compromise meant the public would have to wait nearly 40 years for Drakes Estero to receive the conservation protections afforded by wilderness designation. For years, the leasing deal has been honored by the people of the country despite growing awareness of the immense benefits derived from protecting natural areas like the Estero.

You are now in a position to protect the only marine wilderness area on the West Coast for the benefit of the public and generations to come. This policy decision does not require Congressional or Presidential approval, providing you with a unique opportunity for a significant conservation victory in today’s challenging political climate. We urge you to please seize this significant opportunity.

The new owners of the company understood the terms of the lease when they acquired the business from the original owners in 2005, and now seek a new permit to continue private use of this public resource. Granting a new permit would be poor public policy and weaken the integrity of the Wilderness Act. We urge you not to do this.

Drakes Estero can be restored to its natural beauty and biological productivity. A commercial oyster operation fostering non-native species within such a sensitive, rare habitat is in direct conflict with the Seashore’s mandate of natural systems management as well as wilderness laws and national park management policies.

The National Park Service’s environmental review concludes that the “environmentally preferred alternative” is to designate wilderness this year once the operating permit expires. Additionally, tens of thousands of American’s have called on you to fulfill the promise of a protected marine wilderness at Drakes Estero. Thank you for your public service and for your efforts to safeguard America’s great outdoors.

Sincerely,

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle
Former Chief Scientist, NOAA
National Geographic Explorer in Residence
Founder Mission Blue
Former Member, National Park Service Advisory Council and Co-Chair Scientific Committee

Jean-Michel Cousteau
Chairman of the Board and President
Ocean Futures Society
Explorer, Educator, Film Producer

Dr. Tundi Agardy
Executive Director
Sound Seas

Professor Edward O. Wilson
Harvard University
Museum of Comparative Zoology

Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy
Biodiversity Chair
Former President
The Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment

Comments

This is a strikingly beautiful letter, and I am pleased to see that top conservationists see the value in protecting the only marine wilderness on the West Coast. I agree that it is good policy, and would like to see Secretary Salazar uphold this long-standing plan to grant protections. It's time for the shellfish industry to end their campaign to reverse law and policy. Our national parks deserve better than these pointless attacks.


It is time for the oyster farm to honor the agreement and vacate the irreplaceable Drake's Estero.  This is the public's land and we've more than paid our dues for it: waiting  for decades to gain access to the land unimpeded by this commerical enterprise.  Do the right thing and honor the original agreement to make this land a publicly accessible wilderness area for all.


Oh yah, beautiful letter.  Reminds me of of someone else with similar eloquence and ....ignorance, sorry!  All the lofty titles don't mean anything in this real world and in many cases destructive in the end.  So, what does Harvard mean anymore, Krugman, Bell, OB, Holder ?  How about Oregon State or some other University that has some practical connection to reality.


With all respect to achievement by these notables, I am always scepticle of the titles and lofty accolades used in todays deceptive political speak atmosphere.   Vurtue and character have been bystanders in so much of what is going around.  
http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/assignment_7&id=8599796


Those letter writers have never visited the area, are uninformed about this specific issue, and know nothing about how PRNS has behaved throughout this process. It's impossible to believe that they would have signed that letter had they known about the manipulation and outright distortion on the part of the NPS and PRNS in service of a predetermined agenda. The signatories to the letter are, for these purposes, willing if ignorant puppets for narrowminded environmental extremists who are operating in direct contravention to the position of the vast majority of West Marin residents, including the local organic-food movement.
The shellfish farm has been in that location for approximately 80 years, long before a national park was ever contemplated. It is surrounded by dairy and cattle farms -- all within park boundaries -- that will not go away even if the mariculture operation is forced out of business. Aside from the fact that shellfish filter water and are demonstrably beneficial to the marine environment, removing the farm will not make Drakes Estero a wilderness, regardless of what it's called.


The oyster company's 40-year lease runs out in November, and Congress long ago said the estero should be designated as official wilderness once all non-conforming uses are removed from it. 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.

           Again Kurt, where do you get this? That might be in the Congressional debate, but it's not part of the law. Here's the entire law. Outside of the wilderness plan map attached to the law, this is it.

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

Public Law 94-544 94th Congress
An Act
To designate certain lands in the Point Reyes National Seashore, California, as wilderness. amending the Act of September 13. 1962 (76 Stat. 538). as amended 16 U.S.C. 459e-6a). and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That, in furtherance of the purposes of the Point Reyes National Seashore Act (76 Stat. 538 16 U.S.C. 459c), and of the Wilderness Act (78 Stat. 890: 16 U.S.C. 1131-36), and in accordance with section 3(c) of the Wilder- ness Act, the following lands within the Point Reyes National Sea- shore are hereby designated as wilderness, and shall be administered by the Secretary of the Interior in accordance with the applicable provisions of the Wilderness Act: those lands comprising twenty-five thousand three hundred and seventy acres, and potential wilderness additions comprising eight thousand and three acres, depicted on a map entitled “Wilderness Plan. Point Reyes National Seashore”, num- bered 612-90,000-B and dated September 1976, to be known as the Point Reyes Wilderness.
SEC. 2. As soon as practicable after this Act takes effect, the Secretary of the Interior shall file a map of the wilderness area and a description of its boundaries with the Interior and Insular Affairs Committees of the United States Senate and House of Representa- tives, and such map and descriptions shall have the same force and effect as if included in this Act; Provided, however, That correction of clerical and typographical errors in such map and descriptions may be made.
SEC. 3. The area designated by this Act as wilderness shall be administered by the Secretary of the Interior in accordance with the applicable provisions of the Wilderness Act governing areas design- nated by that Act as wilderness areas, except that any reference in such provisions to the effective date of this Act, and, where appro- priate, any reference to the Secretary of Agriculture, shall be deemed to be a reference to the Secretary of the Interior.
SEC.4 (a) Amend the Act of September 13,1962 (76 Stat. 538), as amended (16 U.S.C. 459c-6a), as follow:
In section 6(a) insert iinmediately after the words “shall be admin- istered by the Secretary,“ the words “without impairment of its natural values, in a manner which provides for such recreational, edu- cational, historic preservation, interpretation, and scientific research opportunities as are consistent with, based upon. and supportive of the maximum protection, restoration, and preservation of the natural environment within the area,”.
(b) .Add the following new section 7 and redesignate the existing section 7 as section 8:
“Sec. 7. The Secretary shall designate the principal environmental education center within the seashore as ‘The Clem Miller Environ-
mental Education Center’, in commemoration of the vision and leader- ship which the late Representative Clem Miller gave to the creation and protection of Point Reyes National Seashore.”

         

There are competing environmentalist heavyweights who favor an extension of the ROU for the oyster farm. Notable among them is Pete McCloskey, who was a co-founder of Earth Day and a sponsor and co-author of the Endangered Species Act. Here's a position piece by Gary P. Nabhan, who was also a former member of the National Park System Advisory Board.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/12/17/INLQ1MCVA1.DTL

By all appearances, the Park Service is using the environmental impact study to achieve its desired outcome to remove the farm. The current environmental review process must be suspended, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar must require the recalcitrant Park Service leadership to support, rather than disrupt, sustainable shellfish production in Drakes Estero.

Notably, all across the country - with the exception of Point Reyes - the Park Service is committed to working with fishers, farmers and ranchers to demonstrate how sustainable food production is essential to biodiversity conservation. Bagley's archival evidence should be sufficient to restore Park Service memory of the original intent of the seashore and the understanding of the authors of the Point Reyes Wilderness Act that shellfish aquaculture and wilderness were in fact compatible.

      
I'm also wondering how a "mandate of natural systems management" fits with the cattle ranches in the pastoral zone.

I also don't believe for a second that there's any kind of equitable treatment. Delaware North or its predecessors managed to renew their permits to run the Yosemite High Sierra Camps and the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp in Sequoia NP in what's designated as potential wilderness via the California Wilderness Act of 1984. The impacts at the HSCs is arguably greater than the oyster farm's impacts in the potential wilderness area. They've got permanent structures, flush toilets, tent cabins, cooking facilities, and (strangest of all) regular hauling of waste via helicopter. If the Wilderness Act demands that all non-conforming uses not specifically mentioned in the enabling legislation (and there's a lot of that used to describe pre-existing non-conforming uses in Forest Service wilderness areas) be halted at the first available opportunity, then where's the call to have the permits for the High Sierra Camps allowed to expire at end of their current terms?


Brent:
It is time for the oyster farm to honor the agreement and vacate the irreplaceable Drake's Estero. This is the public's land and we've more than paid our dues for it: waiting for decades to gain access to the land unimpeded by this commerical enterprise. Do the right thing and honor the original agreement to make this land a publicly accessible wilderness area for all.

    Do you have any idea what you're talking about?

#1 - The oyster farms's shore operations and docks are not in the wilderness plan; they are located in the pastoral zone, where there are currently several cattle ranches where there is no access to the public. These ranches include feed lots, barns, and milking facilities. Unlike the ranches, the oyster farm isn't squeamish about people walking around their grounds. I've walked into the area near the water, and nobody cared that I was there as long as I didn't mess with their equipment. Try doing that in the cattle ranches and see how long it takes to be kicked out.

#2 - Drakes Estero is publicly accessible right now. OK - maybe not right now since the NPS institutes a ban on public boating during the seal pupping season from March 1 to June 30. The wilderness plan for Drakes Estero only includes the water, so the only way to get into Drakes Estero is either to swim or take a kayak. Some people have been known to take their kayaks right up to the oyster racks. A good many kayakers appreciate that the road to the oyster farm is the best way to get to the launch point, and the oyster farm itself is the primary launch point for kayaks entering Drakes Estero.


y_p_w, I've explained in the past where I got that section pertaining to intended wilderness at Point Reyes. You can find it attached to the your previous question on the matter from an earlier story.


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