Wednesday, December 05, 2012

California oyster farm sues U.S. government to keep business

A California oyster farm on Tuesday sued the federal government, challenging a U.S. Interior Department decision last week to end its 40-year lease on public land. The suit by the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, located on land an hour north of San Francisco, pits environmentalists eager to create the first West Coast marine wilderness outside Alaska against sustainable and local agriculture groups who see the operation as striking the ideal balance between using and preserving nature. The family-owned company on Tuesday sued Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, saying he based his decision to close down the operation on a faulty environmental impact statement. “Secretary Salazar’s decision was a final agency action in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act,” the complaint reads in part. The oyster farm site and surrounding ranches were sold to the federal government 40 years ago in exchange for long-term leases. Salazar said he would renew leases to cattle ranchers at Point Reyes National Seashore, but not the oyster farm. Environmentalist Neal Desai, associate director of the National Parks Conservation Association, said the family was trying to steal a national treasure. “This lawsuit is clearly an attempt to privatize the estero (bay),” he said by email. Salazar’s decision was preceded by a fight about whether the farm hurt local wildlife and what rules governed his action. Lawyers for Lunny and his company have derided the government’s scientific efforts, and on Tuesday they argued Salazar ignored other reports...more

 About Interior's science, U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-La.) issued the following statement:
Interior just flat out killed this oyster farm and its jobs by using misleading science and ignoring economic impacts, Vitter said. The most ironic part about the Drakes Bay permit is that the Interior official, Mary Kendall, who should have been investigating the allegations of scientific misconduct, is under investigation herself for involvement in a separate issue involving faulty science used to implement the drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The Drakes Bay Oyster Co. is on federal lands and part of a controversial scientific review by the National Park Service and the administration. In April, Dr. Corey Goodman, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, filed a Scientific Misconduct Complaint with the Department of Interior.
 And about the National Academy of Sciences review of  Interior's science,  Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) wrote to Interior and had these quotes from the review:
 National Park Service “selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific information on potential impacts of the oyster mariculture operation” (p. 53). 

 the Academy’s finding regarding the “lack of strong scientific evidence that shellfish farming has major adverse ecological effects on Drakes Estero at the current levels of production and under current operational practices.” (p. 5)

“gave an interpretation of science that exaggerated the negative and overlooked potentially beneficial effects of the oyster culture operation” (p. 53)

 “selectively presents harbor seal survey data in Drakes Estero and over-interprets the disturbance data which are incomplete and non-representative of the full spectrum of disturbance activities in the estero” (p. 2)

Researchers also found that the Park Service had “no acknowledgement of the historical baselines of the natural ecosystem before humans caused the functional elimination of the native Olympia oyster in Drakes Estero during the mid 1800s to early 1900s” (p. 58). This is important because Olympia oysters “were part of the historical ecological baseline condition of Drakes Estero” and could have played a “significant role in the biogeochemical processes of the estero” (p. 5), performing the same functions for water clarity and nutrient fixing provided by the oysters cultured in the Estero today. If the Park Service forces the cessation of the mariculture operations, it may well be eliminating conditions that were an important part of the ecosystem as it existed long before the park was established.
And concerning Dr. Goodman's complaint, Greenwire reported earlier this year:
The Interior Department's inspector general appears likely to join the growing scrutiny over whether the National Park Service falsified data in an environmental review of a California oyster farm. Scientific integrity officials at Interior -- which houses NPS -- are already reviewing allegations that officials purposely misled the public by using 17-year-old data from New Jersey police boats to represent sound levels at the farm. The numbers appeared in a draft environmental impact statement that NPS developed to help determine whether to renew the farm's lease in a national wilderness area (Greenwire, March 27).  But yesterday, scientist Corey Goodman submitted a formal complaint to Interior IG Mary Kendall, asserting that the Park Service "should not be involved with an investigation of itself." In recent weeks, he said, NPS Scientific Integrity Officer Gary Machlis restricted access to sound files from a microphone that was placed near the farm in 2009 and 2010. That data was used in a study referenced in the draft EIS. The case is one of the first to test Interior's new scientific integrity policy, which stipulates that investigations into scientific misconduct be handled by a Scientific and Scholarly Integrity Review Panel. The policy directs cases of fraud, waste and abuse to the IG. In his letter yesterday to the IG, Goodman asserts that the oyster farm complaint "goes beyond scientific misconduct and involves fraud." He also references a letter Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sent last month that called the draft EIS "deceptive and potentially fraudulent"
You see the lengths Interior will go to establish a water wilderness.  Some will say they did similar things in their land wilderness reports.

"The oyster farm site and surrounding ranches were sold to the federal government 40 years ago in exchange for long-term leases."  Forty years ago Reagan was President and Watt was Interior Secretary, and still it was a bad deal.  Don't ever sell your property to the feds and expect them  to honor it's terms down the road.  The same can be said for conservation easements.  Just don't do it. 


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