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.

Final_DEIS_Drakes_Bay_SUP_Peer_Review_Report_030112.pdf969.62 KB


Typical... "Best Available Science"

Come up with better science!!!

PRNS is not helping its cause when it doesn't conduct thorough, credible research and ignores existing studies (e.g., the value of shellfish to water quality). The peer review makes it look, once again, as though PRNS is trying to stack the deck against the oyster farm, instead of conducting an objective, scientifically-valid analysis, as a competent EIS would do.

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.
I keep on hearing this, but I don't see it supported in the law. Here's the law that established what's currently the Phillip Burton Wilderness:

One page. No mention of the oyster farm or "non-conforming uses". I've seen a copy of the wilderness plan map, and it does include most of Drakes Estero (save the tip of Schooner Bay) as a potential wilderness body of water.

Congress is actually rather skimpy when they dicuss what the heck "potential wilderness" is. I got curious and looked up the 1984 California Wilderness Act which established wilderness areas in Yosemite, SEKI, and several national forests. From what I understand, the Forest Service has never dealt with "potential wilderness" even though their wilderness areas contain what would have to be considered "non-conforming uses" such as dams that are controlled/maintained by water districts. The description of Yosemite and SEKI are that they will have designated wilderness and "potential wilderness additions" with attached maps and without any description of how the additions are to be made. Personally I'd love to see the maps which I'll try to get. I've heard varying claims that the obviously non-conforming High Sierra Camps are either in the potential wilderness or were effectively grandfathered in (which isn't specifically in the law).

Really - I'm trying to figure out who came up with the idea of "potential wilderness" when it was never defined by the original Wilderness Act. Someone should have put in a standard definition for what this means, how a "potential wilderness addition" is to be managed, and what this means regarding "non-conforming uses".

Congress came up with the idea that Drakes Estero was "potential wilderness." That's been confirmed both by the Interior Department's Solicitor's Office and the National Research Council (an arm of the National Academies of Science):

From the Solicitor:

On October 18, 1976, the Point Reyes Wilderness Act designated 25,370 acres as wilderness, and 8003 acres as potential wilderness. Public Law 94-544, Oct. 18, 1976. The area designated as potential wildness (2811 acres) for area 2 of three areas included the waters of the Drakes Estero and the adjoining inter-tidal land and upon which Johnson Oyster Farm operates a commercial oyster business.
Unfortunately, while that letter references "House and Senate discussions of the legislation in the Congressional Record," I haven't yet found that language, but I'm not going to doubt the Solicitor's Office.
And here's what the National Research Council said in a report it prepared after reviewing an early version of the Point Reyes National Seashore research: an appendix to its report on the Point Reyes studies, the National Research Council noted that, "The National Park Service and the Department of the Interior Solicitor’s Office read the 1976 legislation designating Drakes Estero as Potential Wilderness and strengthening the enabling act for Point Reyes National Seashore [P.L. 94-544 (Oct. 18, 1976) and P.L. 94-567 (Oct. 20, 1976), 16 U.S.C. § 1132 note] as eliminating the discretion of the NPS to authorize continued operations through a new authorizing instrument beyond the expiration of the RUO in 2012."
Here's the definition of "potential wilderness" from, a website maintained by the federal land-management agencies along with the University of Montana:

Potential Wilderness
A wilderness study may identify lands that are surrounded by or adjacent to lands proposed for wilderness designation but that do not themselves qualify for immediate designation due to temporary nonconforming or incompatible conditions. The wilderness recommendation forwarded to the Congress by the President may identify these lands as "potential" wilderness for future designation as wilderness when the nonconforming use has been removed or eliminated. If so authorized by Congress, these potential wilderness areas will become designated wilderness upon the Department of Interior Secretary's determination, published in the Federal Register, that they have finally met the qualifications for designation by the cessation or termination of the nonconforming use.

As for what is a "non-conforming use," it would be one not naturally found in the wilderness, no?

Kurt Repanshek:
As for what is a "non-conforming use," it would be one not naturally found in the wilderness, no?
Yes - I understand all that. However, there's a whole lot of confusion as to what that really means. What we have are a whole bunch of confusing precedents.

I currently don't know if the High Sierra Camps in Yosemite are in wilderness or potential wilderness. That's why I'd like to get the map from the Superintendent's office. However, I do know that the NPS keeps on renewing the concession permits to operate them. That means outhouses, permanent buildings, kitchens, and other clearly man-made items. Delaware North (a multi-billion dollar company) operates the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp in Sequoia NP well into the wilderness portion of the park. They have a pretty nice looking dining room and even have flush toilets. One is actually required to get a wilderness permit from the park to stay there, unlike the HSCs in Yosemite. It seems to me as if these places (if the same standards were applied as for the oyster far) shouldn't have their permits renewed at the first legal opportunity if these are in potential wilderness, and even more so if they are technically in full wilderness.

I guess a trail is another gray area, since animals have been known to produce their own trails. However, I've been to clear wilderness areas where there are such "non-conforming uses" besides what are clearly maintained man-made trails. I've seen signs, ranger stations, outhouses, bridges, fire lookouts, backcountry cabins, fences, cables (Half Dome being the most famous), chains, and even dams.

Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe has several dams, including this pretty big one:

It serves the El Dorado Irrigation District. Unlike NPS wilderness areas, Desolation doesn't have a spot of "potential wilderness additions". It's also not an area carved out of the wilderness plan like you'll see with several manmade lakes in the Sierra. It's clearly in the wilderness plan.

I do understand that once humans have rearranged rocks by blasting them with high explosives or pounding at them with metal tools, it's a little bit hard to restore them, so things like the carved path up to Half Dome can stay.

The only "non-conforming uses" in Drakes Estero are the oyster racks and clam bags. The farm itself and the boat docks are not in the wilderness plan, although removing the farm would effectively kill the California Department of Fish and Game water bottom leases (expiring in 2029), which have their validity contingent on the current shore operations being in place. The leases with DFG wouldn't allow them to remain valid if they tried operating off the shore of Tomales Bay, although that could get rather expensive with fuel costs.

I wanted to note that I have seen the wilderness map for Point Reyes. The majority of Drakes Estero is marked as potential wilderness except for a small part of Schooner Bay near the docks of the current oyster farm. None of the land area around Drakes Estero is in the wilderness plan except perhaps a tiny sliver of Limantour Spit. The oyster farm itself is clearly not in the wilderness plan. Theoretically the NPS could repurpose those buildings if they wanted to once the Reservation of Use expires.

As for "potential wilderness", I do understand the vague definition, but I don't see any solid guidance for what that means. The High Sierra Camps are reauthorized every few years. Again, I don't know if they're in full or potential wilderness, but the same standard applied to them as to the oyster farm would seem to call for NPS to deny any permit extension on the grounds that they're a non-conforming use that should be eliminated as soon as possible.

Also - what to make of the Little Yosemite Valley outhouse? It's a big 4-room building complete with holding tank and a solar-powered fan system to help break down waste. It's either in full or potential wilderness and it (or its predecessor building) is not mentioned as any kind of grandfathered facility in the California Wilderness Act of 1984. In fact, nothing is mentioned in that act as being grandfathered in. It only says there are X number of acres of designated wilderness, Y number of acres of potential wilderness additions, and refer to map ZZ-000 for the exact locations. I've seen mention in official NPS publications that the Merced High Sierra Camp and backpackers' campgrounds are in potential wilderness and they are thinking of closing them down. However, the rationale given isn't that they are "non-conforming uses" per se, but on the basis of the impacts to the environment. Heck - they even haul out waste there by helicopter.

y_p_w, I would wager that, like almost everything else, there are exceptions to the rule;-) Some uses could be grandfathered in, some might have obtained exemptions.

I'd heartily recommend you take a look at for some possible answers to your questions.

It's the agenda mindset, y_p_w, that uses the creative uses of law and intent to marginalize the value of human activity as most are liberally educated away from the experiences that actually supply the dollars that pay their salary. I understand completely because and have been aware of it since I was 12 years old when I was gaining real world experience getting stuck out in the mud flats (Only happened once) at low water, doing what kids should be doing instead of ingesting propaganda on the internet. People would move to my backyard building megahouses in areas that were sources of fresh water for the wild birds and then complain about me gathering some oysters or waterfowl hunting for a few weeks of the year. It's a sad culture we see now and it's getting worse but that's "Progressive," I suppose! People are wising up!

I understand there are exceptions. However, I'm wondering why there are no clear legislative clues as to what it means. Here's the act that created Desolation Wilderness:

Basically all it says about dams and manmade lakes is that existing hydroelectric facilities have a right of access (I suppose even with motorized transport), although it makes no mention on a non hydro-electric dam like the one at Lake Aloha.

And the California Wilderness Act:

There are clear grandfathered activies in the same law for wilderness areas under Forest Service control. The Carson-Iceberg Wilderness is allowed to have motorized vehicle access to service livestock grazing. Fire Roads in the Dick Smith Wilderness are allowed to be accessed by the Forest Service for administrative purposes. The Dinkey Lakes Wilderness is allowed to maintain dispersed recreation. The San Jacinto Wilderness is allowed to develop a corridor for an electrical transmission line if granted by the Secretary of Agriculture. There's even mention of a dam.

I mentioned the Merced High Sierra Camp in Yosemite. Apparently classified as potential wilderness. It's one short paragraph (page 9) in the California Wilderness Act of 1984 that describes the land but zero about any exceptions. They've got everything. Flush toilets. Permanent buildings. Kitchen facilities. Helicopters coming in and out to take out the waste. The law does say that potential wilderness can be moved to full wilderness status when uses incompatible with the Wilderness Act have ceased, but doesn't set a timetable for it. I've wondered why it's been interpreted that the ROU can't be extended in Point Reyes, but the contracts for the High Sierra Camps are extended on a regular basis and will appear to be so indefinitely.

Somehow this very "non-conforming use" stays despite the use of helicopters and a tremendous footprint. There's nothing in the law that says one way or another if there's a timetable, so NPS just continues to renew the contract. There's a phrase to describe this - "management decision".

What I sense is a huge double-standard. I can't count how many times I've heard the term "non-conforming use" and how it means the oyster racks have to go once the RUO expires. In the meantime there are several contracts in Yosemite that expire on a regular basis and somehow they get renewed. This is a commercial business. They have a large concentrated footprint in what would otherwise be a dispersed camping setting. They've got flush toilets and permanent cooking/dining facilities. They've got helicopters coming in to haul out their garbage and poop. If I didn't already know this photo was of Merced High Sierra Camp, I would have thought it was employee housing in Yosemite Valley.

YPW--You seem like a reasonalbe person. Do you have a vested interest in the oyster farm? I can't imagine what else would be driving your repeated comments on the issue.


I have no vested interest in the oyster farm. I'm only an occasional customer and have never met Kevin Lunny. I think I bought something like six last weekend at a local fish market. Actually - Kurt has asked me about my big interest in all things NPS, and he could comb through his emails for why Point Reyes in particular is special to me. Personally if it goes away, I'll probably just buy from Hog Island. Not bad, but I rather liked the little shack at DBOC rather than the more corporate looking digs (especially the two oyster bars) that Hog Island runs. I'm also not going to pay $10 a person just to use their picnic tables.

However, I always hear excuses for why this oyster farm must go when there are many existing cases of "non-conforming uses" are allowed to exist all across the county in wilderness areas without anything more than just executive decisions to keep such uses in place. I'd just like to hear someone say the real reason why there's a call to remove the farm is that it's a mangement decision. NPS has spent a lot of money trying to explain why the oyster farm must go rather than just cut to the point that it's a decision that could have been legally decided the other way if management decided differently.

I'm also wondering what might have happened if the previous (and recently deceased) Superindendent had stayed in place instead of retiring. My understanding is that he was considerably less hostile to the oyster farm than his replacement. Personally I think the farm gives Point Reyes some character that is lacking in many NPS units where it seems to be all about "preservation at all costs". It's a working farm, and feels like something that should be there. I like how the cattle ranches give Point Reyes a certain charm (even if some of the ranches are struggling due to the economy) and feel that the oyster farm is an aquatic counterpart.

Rock On, Y_P_W!

Maybe you should broaden your view, Mr. Smith. There's a lot of people out there that have very similar feelings on this issue and others. I'd be willing to say that what NPS is putting out there on this is a minority opinion.

YPW great insight, but these ideas of what is wilderness, proposed wilderness, etc... are all left open to interpretation that when applied in a court of law always lean biased towards the environment. The rules of what is natural and not does not apply to the elitist who created and use the trails, lodgings, etc... It is kind of like why are roads, parking lots and restrooms allowed in Yellowstone? They do not appear naturally do they? You have a boardwalk built around Old Faithful for Gods sake and yet they claim only things that appear in nature are allowed. I could go on for days on the hypocrites make the rules from thier armchairs...

YPW great insight, but these ideas of what is wilderness, proposed wilderness, etc... are all left open to interpretation that when applied in a court of law always lean biased towards the environment. The rules of what is natural and not does not apply to the elitist who created and use the trails, lodgings, etc... It is kind of like why are roads, parking lots and restrooms allowed in Yellowstone? They do not appear naturally do they? You have a boardwalk built around Old Faithful for Gods sake and yet they claim only things that appear in nature are allowed. I could go on for days on the hypocrites make the rules from thier armchairs...
I get your point, but I also understand the point of wilderness preservation as defined by the Wilderness Act of 1964. I did find it special that I could walk into an area where pretty much the only semi-permanent signs of human activity were a few signs and maintained trails. I deeply enjoyed being on top of Half Dome (even with a view of the Ahwanee Hotel), Clouds Rest, Mt Tallac, or even Mt Wittenberg at Point Reyes.

I'd like to see the farm stay, but then again I'd also like for all sides to come to some conclusions about certain issues. I'm not going to ignore that there have been issues with where their boats have traveled during seal pupping season, the placement of oyster racks that may choke off light to eelgrass, the use of pressure treated wood, and other things. However, it's also pretty clear to me that those advocating for the removal of the oyster farm also pick and choose their facts if they feel it bolsters their arguments, and we all do. However, wildlife is thriving in Drakes Estero and anyone visiting Point Reyes would see that Drakes Estero has all the characteristics of a wilderness waterway save the oyster racks. To me, the argument seems to be less about the impacts of oyster farming but rather "wilderness" as some sort of idealogical purity. Is the guy fly fishing with his family in some small lake any more disruptive to the wilderness ideal than a bunch of workers in hip waders pulling bags from oyster racks?

Also - I think there needs to be a distinction between what is designated wilderness and what is not. Yellowstone has no designated wilderness. Neither does Grand Canyon NP or Glacier NP. It's rather ironic, because these parks are examples of what many people feel are wilderness ideals - remote locations with nary a sign of permanent human activity. Most of Yellowstone is de facto wilderness even if Congress hasn't designated it as such. However, the boardwalks and paved trails around Old Faithful will never be designated wilderness. Neither will Yosemite Valley, Paradise at Mt Rainier, Zion Canyon, etc. The most heavily visited areas are generally unsuitable for wilderness designation, although there are some exceptions such as the Mist Trail or Half Dome in Yosemite.

I for one see some wilderness proponents advocating that places such as the High Sierra Camps should stay, but somehow Drakes Bay Oyster Farm can not. They're all commercial enterprises meant to make money for their owners. They all use permanent or semi-permanent structures in potential wilderness areas. They use transportation sources that would otherwise not be allowed if they were full designated wilderness areas. However, with Neubacher in charge at Yosemite now, I'm not sure that the HSC permits are going to be renewed.

Why can't we just get along with having an oyster farm? What good does this designation do? Potential or full wilderness - who cares except some policy wonk that wants to restrict your actions? Can the staff at Point Reyes tell me how many bikes per week ride on the trails that are desigated wilderness?

Richard Smith:
Why can't we just get along with having an oyster farm? What good does this designation do? Potential or full wilderness - who cares except some policy wonk that wants to restrict your actions? Can the staff at Point Reyes tell me how many bikes per week ride on the trails that are desigated wilderness?
There are some restrictions. Yosemite has trailhead quotas on backpackers. Some Forest Service wilderness areas have quotas (Mt Whitney Zone being a prime example) while others require a self-issued permit although without any quotas per se. Yosemite wilderness areas have no set limit on day use except for going up the Half Dome cables.

Actually - bikes aren't allowed in any wilderness area in Point Reyes. The legal bike paths are all fire roads and aren't in designated or even potential wilderness. They don't really control how many can access the fire roads, but that's somewhat governed by the side of the parking lots.

As for what good evicting the oyster farm would do, I'm in agreement. I think it really is more idealogical purity about what should or shouldn't be there.

ypw said it best. Unless the oyster harms the environment, which it does not seem to do, I would like to see it stay in business. Wilderness fanatics couldn't care less if that farm is good or bad for the environment, or whether their actions will put people out of business. It's pretty sad that we let the ultra drive the debate.

I visited the Cape Verde islands in 2009. Unlike our sterilized vision of Wilderness portions of national parks, stripped of all historical context as though no native people or 19th century trappers ever lived in them, the majestic volcanic national park on the island of Fogo has residents living in it and making a living through agriculture. Not just for show, either.
See this link:

Similarly, in Switzerland, there are high-elevation hotels reachable only by helicopter (for resupplying) or by singletrack trail (for the cyclists and hikers who stay in them). They would be in Wilderness areas in the U.S.

We ought to rethink our laws. Ours is not the only model, and it is not necessarily the best one either. Also, a conservation model based on a rigid U.S. statute that hasn't been modified for decades is a poor way to go.

I'd have to disagree that here in the U.S. we have a "sterilized vision of wilderness." There are places you can go where you'll see not only old vestiges of human activity, but prehistoric vestiges in the form of petroglyphs, pictographs, and cliff dwellings.

And let's not compare apples (wilderness) with oranges (non-wilderness). Are those places you cite in Switzerland and the Cape Verde Islands wilderness?

There also are places here in the National Park System where preservation and habitation continue. I just returned from Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and Navajo families still have homes and farms inside this NPS area. Heritage areas are another example.

There's a place for official wilderness...just as there are places for landscapes with less "rigid" regulations.

That's interesting about Canyon de Chelly. Great place, isn't it? I was there once, years ago.

Of course we shouldn't compare apples with oranges. And on that point, of course the areas in Switzerland and Cape Verde are not "Wilderness," because that's a U.S. legal construct with few equivalents elsewhere in the world (a fact that might alert us to something). However, U.S. Wilderness is now larger than the surface area of California and much of New England if you include Alaska Wilderness areas. And those hundreds of thousands of square miles of U.S. territory have indeed been sterilized of all permanent settlement, including by indigenous peoples, and of almost all activity except walking, paddling a canoe, or riding a horse.

The debate will continue!

There are certainly Congressionally designated wilderness areas in the US where there was specific legislation that allowed certain preexisting used to continue. Quite a few wilderness areas were built around areas where water districts established rights to the water and are required by law to have motorized access to maintain their equipment even through a wilderness area. Even if legislation doesn't specifically state it, wilderness legislation can't override other laws like the Raker Act (Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite).

As for Point Reyes, it's really complicated. In my experience discussing it, quite a few people (myself included) have been or still are confused by the convoluted process of what is and isn't wilderness, and what is and isn't under the control of NPS, California Fish and Game, and the California Coastal Commission.

The only area where NPS has pretty much full jurisdiction is the land portion of the oyster farm. That's not wilderness and will probably never be wilderness. I remember getting that out of Neal Desai when he posted an article to NPT. That was purchased from Johnsons Oyster Company back in 1972 and "leased" back to JOC via a 40 year "reservation of use" that included language that it could be renewed. At the time the agreement was signed, there was no indication that there were any conditions that would preclude NPS from renewing the "lease", much like the cattle and dairy ranches had original 25 year terms with the NPS allowed to renew them for five year terms afterwards.

What was named "potential wilderness" (under the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act) includes most of Drakes Estero. California still maintains fishing and mineral rights in perpetuity. They currently issue water bottom leases to what's now the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, and the term of the lease is until 2029. This is the "wilderness area" that's in dispute. The National Park Service does not issue leases here or have any direct control over the mariculture activity.

Where NPS control comes in is that the state water bottom leases were tied to the oyster farm's current shore location. I don't know the official reason why this was the arrangement. I'm guessing CDFG doesn't want them processing oysters from some barge in the Pacific or perhaps a facility on the shores of Tomales Bay. I don't think it would make economic sense, and I'd think there's a risk of a transfer of invasive species now seen in Tomales Bay. If NPS evicts the oyster farm from their shore facilities, the conditional terms of the state water bottom leases are not met, and the leases are void.

Excellent summary, ypw. That's the clearest explanation I've read anywhere of Point Reyes's jurisdictional background and how it impacts on the oyster farm. Thanks.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.


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.