Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The National Park Service Tells an Oyster Farm to Shuck Off

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated Lewis Carroll's pronouncement when it refused to hear an appeal of a lower-court decision that would banish an oyster company from its home on a bucolic estuary an hour north of San Francisco. The highest court was the last hope for Drake Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) to stay in business; after almost a decade of political and legal wrangling, the family-run farm has been evicted from its home of 70 years. The oyster company is located in the Point Reyes National Seashore, a wilderness area established in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy and managed by the National Park Service. Drakes Estero, home of the oyster farm, was designated a "potential" wilderness area. The Park Service took over management and leased land back to preexistent dairymen, cattle ranchers, and the then-owner of the oyster farm. Since then, the NPS has consistently renewed expiring leases of ranchers. Based on the assumption that the oyster company's leases would also be renewed, a local rancher and businessman, Kevin Lunny, bought the farm in 2005. He invested nearly a million dollars for cleanup and upgrades, but the park service informed him that his lease wouldn't be renewed after all. He'd have to shut down when it expired in 2012. Members of the community and other supporters joined Lunny in a campaign to convince the park service to allow the farm to continue. They argued that the forced expulsion would be anathema to the original vision of the park, one in which wilderness would coexist with limited, sustainable agriculture (in this case, mariculture). They also challenged the very definition of wilderness as incompatible with people or farming in a place where humans have lived for 5000 or more years and coastal Miwok tribes cultivated oysters and other shellfish. Indeed, the original state of wilderness in the greater Bay Area included an abundance of oysters, which were wiped out when Europeans settled here. Lunny sued. Some environmentalists sided with DBOC, while others adamantly opposed it. (I'm friends with environmentalists on both sides of the issue.) The latter group held that if the oyster business were allowed to remain, it would set a dangerous precedent, potentially opening up protected wilderness throughout the country to commercial interests and even offshore oil drilling. They also charged that the farm threatened native harbor seals and eelgrass and otherwise harmed the estuary's fragile ecology...more

 That's a shame, but if that's a Wilderness area I'm sure the Park Service decisions were based on "sound science".  Well, maybe not...

Lunny challenged the veracity of the research that showed environmental damage. Independent analyses of the studies, conducted by the National Academy of Science and Interior Department's Inspector General, determined that the reports were replete with errors and distortions. Corey Goodman, PhD, former Chair of the National Academy of Sciences' Board on Life Sciences, conducted an independent investigation and concluded, "There is no scientific evidence of environmental harm, and I'll put my reputation on the line for it." In an editorial, Senator Dianne Feinstein chastised the NPS, writing, "The Park Service's repeated misrepresentations of the scientific record have damaged its trust with the local community, and stained its reputation for even-handed treatment of competing uses of public resources."

That should settle the issue.  Well, maybe not...

Eventually the NPS apologized and removed the faulty studies for its website, but it continued its efforts to evict the farm.

When it comes to Wilderness, it will win out over human enterprise every time, even if the federal rationale is "replete with errors and distortions".  And the federal employees who made "repeated misrepresentations of the scientific record"?  I'm sure they are doing fine, as are the enviros who pushed this. Hurt are the family, their employees and the local economy, all sacrificed on the alter of Wilderness.

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