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.
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
Chairman of the Board and President
Ocean Futures Society
Explorer, Educator, Film Producer
Dr. Tundi Agardy
Professor Edward O. Wilson
Museum of Comparative Zoology
Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy
The Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment