National parks very well may be one of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's loves, but oysters seemingly trump her view of national park values.
Case in point: Commercial oyster farming was well under way in Drakes Estero in 1976 when Congress designated the estuary that lies within Point Reyes National Seashore as potential wilderness. Interior Department officials, noting that the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. operation would run counter to official wilderness designation, directed the National Park Service to push for that designation in 2012 when the oyster farm's lease expires.
To that point, the Interior Department's Office of the Solicitor rendered an opinion that the oyster farm must be removed from Drakes Estero because it would be a "non-conforming use" under the Wilderness Act.
But that doesn't sit well with Sen. Feinstein, who earlier this year wrote Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to urge him to see that oyster company's lease be extended. Apparently concerned that the secretary wouldn't honor her request, Sen. Feinstein on Tuesday took a legislative shortcut to extend the company's lease for a decade by attaching a rider to that effect to a spending bill.
"The 10-year extension of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company's lease will preserve 30 jobs at the last remaining oyster farm cannery on the West Coast while making sure that the ecology of the estuary is protected," the senator said in a written statement obtained by the Los Angeles Times. "This is a family-owned oyster farm that has been in operation for more than 70 years, and it is a facility that predates the creation of Point Reyes National Seashore in 1960. This is an area with 15 historic dairy farms and cattle ranches, along with many roads running through it. It is not a remote wilderness."
Now, compare that tone to another letter the senator from California wrote to Secretary Salazar earlier this year. In it the Democrat urged the secretary not to approve a lease of "former railroad lands in the eastern Mojave Desert by the Bureau of land Management" for renewable energy projects.
"While I strongly support renewable energy, it is critical that these projects move forward on public and private lands well suited for that purpose," wrote Sen. Feinstein. "Unfortunately, many of the sites now being considered for leases are completely inappropriate and will lead to the wholesale destruction of some of the most pristine areas in the desert."
The senator went on to describe efforts to protect the lands in question, noting that "beyond protecting national parks (Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park) from development, the conservation of these lands has helped to ensure the sustainability of the entire desert ecosystem by preserving the vital wildlife corridors."
So, on one hand Sen. Feinstein has no qualms about flouting a proposed wilderness designation in an area of Point Reyes National Seashore deemed to possess wilderness qualities, and yet on the other hand she would block renewable energy projects from being based on "former railroad lands" to prevent "the wholesale destruction of some of the most pristine areas in the desert."