You are here

Interior Department Releases Peer Review Of Oyster Farm Impacts At Point Reyes National Seashore


The National Park Service's draft environmental impact statement on an oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore was not perfect, but it was an "adequate analysis" in light of the "available scientific information," according to an outside consultant.

"Overall, the reviewers found the analyses to be appropriate, and that there is no fundamental flaw with the larger scientific underpinning of the DEIS," noted the evaluation prepared by Atkins North America. "The identified scientific misinterpretations, or lack of citation of appropriate literature are for the most part minor, and can be rectified if the NPS so wishes. This may also include making some additional adjustments to interpretation, and explicit acknowledgement of the lack of information on some key issues."

Interior Department officials, who released the report (attached below) Monday, said it will help the Park Service improve the final EIS on the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. operations at Drakes Estero in Point Reyes.

“The peer-review accomplished exactly what we were seeking – that is, specific recommendations on how to improve the final environmental impact statement to make it a better science product,” Dr. Ralph Morgenweck, Interior’s Scientific Integrity Officer, said in a prepared statement.

Dr. Morgenweck commissioned the independent peer review of the draft EIS in light of concerns over the science related to Point Reyes.

“We welcome these constructive recommendations that will help strengthen the final EIS,” added Peggy O’Dell, deputy director for operations of the National Park Service. “We will look to address the Atkins Report comments, as well as information contained in the public comments on the draft EIS as we work toward a more comprehensive and thorough final report."

Seashore staff have been crafting an Environmental Impact Statement to assess the oyster company's operations. The issue is timely, as 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 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.

To review the DEIS, Atkins North America retained five outside experts: Dr. James E. Wilen, who specializes in natural resource economics at the University of California, Davis; Professor Edwin Grosholz, who teaches environmental science at the University of California, Davis; Professor Dianna K. Padilla, who teaches in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, State University of New York at Stony Brook; Dr. Charlie Wisdom, a privately employed water quality specialist with nearly three decades' of experience, and; Dr. Christopher Willes Clark of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Many of the greatest concerns raised by the outside review centered on socio-economic analyses tied to the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. operations in Drakes Estero at the national seashore.

"... it is my opinion that the methods used to conduct an economic assessment of policy options do not follow accepted economic impact analysis practice," wrote Dr. Wilen. "The basic issue appears to be that the data required to conduct an economic impact analysis has not been gathered.

"That basic data would include, at minimum, measures of the value of gross sales and of the costs of labor and other materials for DBOC.  As a result of data deficiencies, the analysis is not able to quantitatively scale the direct first round economic impacts of the DBOC operations in a manner that is meaningful for judging overall economic impacts."

The report also found fault with Park Service conclusions that were either speculative or unsupported by peer-reviewed publications or which were "not reasonable based on scientific evidence." 

"It should be noted that data from studies specific to Drakes Estero for birds and other taxa including invertebrates, fishes are cited from three unpublished theses by Harbin-Ireland, Press, and Wechsler," noted Professor Grosholz. "These theses have not produced a single peer-reviewed publication.  Therefore, the conclusions from these studies should be viewed as very preliminary and with caution.

"The report relies too much on these studies," he added, though noting that that perhaps was understandable, "since there are really no other studies available."

At the same time, the reviewers noted, the Park Service overlooked dozens of existing, pertinent studies, such as "nearly a decade of studies" on how oysters can impact "water column productivity."

The failure of the Park Service to rely on such studies was a "remarkable oversight," they wrote.


Corey Goodman now has an allegation that the sound levels claimed by the EIS for the oyster boats and drills used by the farm are inaccurate and lifted from a federal highway construction noise report as well as a New Jersey police report on the sound level of jet skis that the department used.

Park service accused of manipulating data

I'm not sure about the "18 times" comment with regards to sound levels. Sound levels are a matter of perception. I don't know if he's referring to sound energy levels or perceived sound levels. The typical dB measurement is logarithmic and represents an approximate perceived increase in sound levels by the human ear. I'm guessing he meant absolute energy levels.


Honestly - with some things so inherently toxic due to bad blood (this oyster farm or off-leash dogs in Golden Gate National Recreation Area) I'm wondering how come NPS doesn't simply contract out the EIS to independent contractors. Or better yet, don't have NPS do it directly, but have DOI staff hire the contractors so as to not give an impression that they're going to people who will back up the NPS like attorneys hiring "expert witnesses" or tobacco companies paying for research results that minimize the harm of smoking.

A lot of these reports certainly read like preordained answers looking for "fact" to back them up.

The peer review is being widely misquoted. It didn't endorse either keeping or removing the oyster farm - (in fact the Park Service hasn't even made a formal choice on the issue yet). The peer review was simply a form of quality control to ask - is NPS looking at the right things and with the right tools? The answer is: for most things - right sort of analysis, but substandard use of data; for socio-economics - not even the right sort of analysis. This is very far from being a ringing endorsement for the NPS report. Its almost funny - folks on both sides are unhappy with the review - that's usually a good sign that the authors got it about right!

I gave my best to summarize who has contol over what with regards to the combined DBOC operations. I might have oversiplified a few things.

First of all - it's true that Johnson's Oyster (later DBOC) shore operations were effectively sold to NPS in 1972 and then more or less leased back to Johnson's. They are supposed to maintain certain permits from both NPS and I believe the California Coastal Commission. I believe I simplified that latter. I also read that Johnson's built employee housing on their site that may not have been completely kosher, but that former PRNS Super John Sansing just sort of let it slide. The land is clearly now owned by NPS, and it's pretty clear that it's not in any wilderness plan.

The management of Drakes Estero is complex. The water bottom leases are issued by the California Dept of Fish and Game with certain conditions which I mentioned. NPS can't control where the oyster racks or clam bags are placed, because that's decided by CDFG as well as the California Fish and Game Commission. Other agencies like the California Coastal Commission and NPS do regulate some things such as which portions of the waterways are used during different seasons when there are seal pups. I'm not necessarily comfortable that there seem to be shortcuts taken (DBOC claims that NPS has said certain boating channels are OK if they don't affect the seals) although it's really cloudy. So there are many different agencies regulating their use of Drakes Estero, but ultimately it's the CDFG that allows them to plant and harvest oysters.

If the peer review process instituted by DOI was supposed to allay concerns by certain segments of the public about misuse of science and bias by NPS it didn't accomplish its goal as far as I'm concerned. It promises to further fuel the controversy, and will ultimately be counter productive if the NPS goal was to promote wilderness character by terminating oyster farm operations off the coast of PORE. The NPS, apparently, would rather try and justify its decision to create wilderness using science rather than simply make the decision and evaluate the effects of the decision under NEPA.

The final peer review report by Atkins states the following in the summary:

Overall, the reviewers found the analyses to be appropriate, and that there is no fundamental flaw

with the larger scientific underpinning of the DEIS.

I find this incredulous given what I thought to be a scathing review provided by Wilen on economics (see appendix B). His review clearly specified that the DEIS did not use appropriate economic science methodology to evaluate the economic impacts of terminating the DBOC lease within PORE. Given the controversy, it seems odd that the NPS would short change such an important component in its effects analysis. It shows either a misunderstanding of the science surrounding the issue, the role of economics in NPS decision making, or clear bias that the information obtained through a standard review might might cloud a decision already made for other reasons. The NPS has likely spent hundreds of thousands over the years collecting scientific information to show whether the DBOC operations affect other PORE resources to the point that the lease should not be renewed. During that time, NPS has claimed that it collected this information in an unbiased scientific manner. Not collecting even rudimentary data in order to make economic analysis will subject the NPS to claims of clear bias and will prove the point being made by the opposition. Claiming agency discretion to perform this rudimentary economic analysis may be true in a legal sense but is not likely to counter this point. It seems ludicrous to me that NPS would claim agency discretion to perform a less than adequate economic analysis (as stated by Atkins) but not use that same discretion to simply make the management decision to create wilderness without the DBOC.

In addition, with such a clear disconnect between between the summary statements made by Atkins and the economic review by Wilen, it raises questions in my mind about the possible lack of independence of the peer review process itself with at least the appearance of NPS trying to manipulate the outcome (by DOI/NPS management reviewing Atkins draft report). Given that bias has been repeatedly charged by DBOC (and others) it would seem the government would have wanted to stay as far away from the outcome of the peer review process as possible. Once again, NPS shows a lack of understanding of how the scientific process is supposed to work and calls into question the objectivity of the agency. Unfortunately, having the DOI ethics coordinator bless this apparentlh flawed process questions the scientific integrity of DOI in general.


Richard Smith:
I know you are not supposed to ride bikes in the Wilderness at Point Reyes. My point was that people are violating that exclusion every day, so if you can't control the bikes, why mess with an institution that does not seem to be hurting a thing? It is not wilderness, nor will it ever be wilderness because you can't stop the mechanical devices from being in the wilderness.

  Legally, bikes aren't allowed in the vast majority of NPS trails even when there is no wilderness designation. They might be legal on wide fire roads like parts of Bear Valley Trail, which have tire tracks from NPS maintenance vehicles. Just because it's hard to control doesn't mean simply giving up on having rules in place.

However, I don't really see how bikes and the oyster farm are necessarily linked. The oyster farm has been there for over 80 years, and a large segment of the population has the opinion that it does more good than harm to the environment. There are of course differing opinions.

Human trail use is generally seen as a net loss to an environment regardless of whether or not it's someone on foot, horseback, or bicycle - due to erosion and the possible spread of plant disease. That doesn't necessarily mean they shouldn't be allowed, but I'm just putting that out there.

I know you are not supposed to ride bikes in the Wilderness at Point Reyes.  My point was that people are violating that exclusion every day, so if you can't control the bikes, why mess with an institution that does not seem to be hurting a thing?  It is not wilderness, nor will it ever be wilderness because you can't stop the mechanical devices from being in the wilderness.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments