"I think the most critical part of this issue for our organization is that there was a contract, and as taxpayers, we all bought this property 40 years ago with the vision of it being protected," says Neal Desai, associate director of advocacy group the National Parks Conservation Association. "This is a national park, and this is a wilderness area, and people value these places because they stand the test of time. In theory, they shouldn't be subjected to the business plans or taste buds of today."

The law may be on the government's side, but it hasn't been easy for the Park Service to gain the support of the community, due in part to a 2007 report issued as Lunny was ramping up oyster production at his company. It claimed that the farm was disturbing harbor seal populations, creating dead zones underneath the oyster bags, damaging eel grass with motorboats, and generally having a troubling effect on the delicate ecology of the estuary.

Lunny says he was shocked by the report when it first came out. "Frankly I looked at it and believed it. I thought, 'Are we doing this?'" he says. But as he started look deeper, he wondered if something was amiss. He asked Supervisor Steve Kinsey to help him loop in the Marin County Board of Supervisors to ask California Sen. Dianne Feinstein to step in on the farm's behalf.

Kinsey tapped Corey Goodman to review the science. A former UC Berkeley neuroscience professor and member of the National Academy of Sciences who now works in the private sector from his family ranch in Marin, Goodman says he had never met the Lunnys and was doing the review essentially as a favor to Kinsey and for the public good. But as he started digging, he found what he believed to be inaccurate conclusions made by the Park Service that weren't supported in the data. "Policymakers should be making decisions based on good science and not pseudoscience," he says. "There is no scientific evidence of environmental harm, and I'll put my reputation on the line for it."

He presented his findings at the Marin County Board of Supervisors meeting in May 2007; the Park Service presented its side. The board unanimously agreed to request that Feinstein step in. She facilitated a meeting between the Park Service and the Lunnys in which both sides agreed to let the impartial National Academy of Sciences review the report. In findings presented in May 2009, the academy found that the Park Service had "selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific information on potential impacts of the oyster mariculture operation." Another study from the Marine Mammal Commission found that there was some evidence that the mariculture and movement of harbor seals were related, but there was not enough data to prove a causal relationship one way or another.

The National Park Service eventually apologized for the 2007 report, but the damage had been done. Those who had reason to mistrust the Park Service — and there is no shortage in the ranching community — now thought that the report had been deliberately deceptive, and the whole affair took on the air of an Us vs. Them government conspiracy. Ranchers were worried they were next.

The environmentalists felt under siege, too. In 2009, Feinstein attached a rider to a bill which said the oyster company's lease could be continued for another decade if the Secretary of the Interior, then Ken Salazar, decided to keep the farm open. Though there was specific language in the rider that said this was a special case without precedent, environmental groups went on the offensive, accusing Feinstein of being in bed with private interests. Op-eds were traded in local newspapers like the Point Reyes Light and the West Marin Citizen.

Feinstein's legislation passed, and an Environmental Impact Statement was commissioned by Salazar summarizing the oyster company's operations in the estuary. It was released in 2012, just before Salazar's final decision, and touches on disturbances to harbor seals and eelgrass, the proliferation of an invasive species colloquially nicknamed "marine vomit," and other environmental harms. Goodman, Feinstein, and others said that it, like the 2007 report, was full of holes and riddled with inaccuracies. In a letter to the California Fish and Game Commission, Feinstein expressed her concern.

"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," she wrote in the May 2012 letter.

In the end, Salazar's decision didn't have to do with whether Drakes Bay Oyster Company was a good steward of the land or not. The farm was in a potential wilderness, and had to get out. In his decision memo, he acknowledged that "there is a level of debate with respect to the scientific analyses of the impacts of DBOC's commercial mariculture operations on the natural environment within Drakes Estero," but says that regardless of it, Congress specifically designated this land "potential wilderness" and thus it would become one. Drakes Bay Oyster Company was to cease operations by Nov. 20, 2012, following which it had 90 days to vacate the premises.

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14 comments
carrie
carrie

Once again, we are getting it wrong here. This is not about environmentalism and sustainable agriculture coexisting. This is about whether or not private, commercial industry can operate in designated wilderness. If letting what one so called sustainable farm (which I question from its numerous infractions and debris violations) run among a wilderness area just because some claim it's "greener" (or what they are really saying, better for the world than oil and gas), than who is to stop oil and gas private industry run among wilderness areas because they say it is in the best public interest? We live in America here folks. If one private business gets to do it (small, sustainable, or not), others will get to do it. Some areas, ans SO few they are, need to be left alone. Carrie, sustainable farm owner and farmer on private land AND environmental advocate for the conservation of public wilderness.

putitupmlk
putitupmlk

I disagree with the comment, "bitterly divided the liberal, eco-friendly community of the Bay Area. Environmentalists fear that a decision in favor of the oyster farm could set a precedent to open up protected wilderness lands to private interests pursuing fracking, offshore oil drilling, and other shadowy, anti-nature plots".  These folks know better, tehy understand that there will never be "other" corporate interests in the Estuary.  They are just pissy perfection seekers aptly described in another post here as NIMBY'ers.  

The DBOC is a perfect model of what we want... a balance of the environment and business.  sustainable, local, prone to doing great things.  But wait!  Maybe we can grow Oysters in Detroit where unemployment is really high, or let Montsano put some Farm Pits in the desert somewhere...  This is really just the insane attempting to control everything, and it's gotta stop.

milener
milener

If Drakes Bay Oyster Co is not doing anything egregious, I say let them stay *open*.  It's a great recreational resource for SF Bay community and gives us a reason to go enjoy that area.  I am a long time supporter of environmental causes, including National parks and Wildlife funds.  BUT I would bet that the surrounding towns, roads and businesses inadvertently put 100 times more toxic effluent into Drakes Bay/Estero than does Drakes Bay Oysters.  Are you going to tear down all those old houses near the Oyster Farm too?

metaskeptik
metaskeptik

Why don't we call this what it is, a simple (feeble) attempt to not call this NIMBYism.  Much like people driving their cars to an Iraq war protest, any "good cause" remains good until it affects one's lifestyle.  It's hypocritical BS to say that we need to redefine environmentalism when it doesn't suit one's ends. 

emmaskin
emmaskin

The Drakes Oyster company simply is not natural, no matter how they twist their story.   Our family are 3rd generation Marin and Sonoma residents, we want our shoreline put back the way it was created originally!

They have sucked out every dollar that they could and now it is time to go.   We would like to say Good Bye & Good riddance to the shuckers & jivers,  the sooner the better.

jane222
jane222

Journalism is supposed to be the first draft of history, not the first rewrite of press releases and sound bites. In recent weeks, some journalists reporting on the Estero controversy say ‘they would not touch the science,” not realizing the irony that they are essentially saying they are reporting without knowledge. The word ‘science’ itself comes from the Latin scientia, ”to know.”

To report on scientific issues, it is not necessary for reporters to ‘do’ science. For example, to return to the issue of sound as a major impact in the Estero: when the NPS and its EIS consultant substitute the sound of a high- powered jet ski for a small four stroke outboard–as National Park Service did in preparing the Environmental Impact Statement–and claim the Estero is damaged by the sound, it raises issues that can only be answered by the basic journalism questions, Who? What? When? Where? Why?

The standard for journalistic coverage of the Drake’s Bay Oyster Company controversy seems to be based on guilt by six degrees of separation. The bulk of the recent reporting on the ‘ right wing conspiracy to destroy the wilderness act’  claim against DBOC is based solely on the fact that one attorney representing DBOC’s Kevin Lunny is a Republican who worked in Washington for a few months for a charity funded by right-wing interests.

By these standards, we assume that if the oyster-farm opponents report to the press that a lawyer supporting DBOC had defended an arsonist, this would be proof that Kevin Lunny, the DBOC owner, is burning down the Estero.  Much of the general press has shown an equal lack of standards in the other allegations against DBOC, with no real investigation, relying instead on unsubstantiated claims in the press releases of oyster-farm opponents, the latest of which is merely the last in a long line of attempts by National Park Service and its supporters to smear the Lunny family and present them as some sort of environmental criminals.

The press has no excuse for this type of journalism, which merely restates claims from anti-oyster-farm press releases without even the most basic fact checking. There is a marvelous expression in the British press, ‘Churnalism,’ which aptly describes much of the press and TV coverage, e.g. the regurgitation of recent press releases from Amy Trainer of West Marin Environmental Action Committee and the PBS Newshour report, “Strange Bedfellows Join Fight to Keep Oyster Farm in Operation.” There is simply no excuse for this type of inept and biased reporting.

Minimal research uncovers the facts. Both the National Academy of Science study (which found NPS had misrepresented the science), and the Marine Mammal Committee report (whose experts found no incompatibility with oyster operations and the seal population), have summaries and complete lists of all documents on their website. These including letters from the oyster-farm opponents and supporters.  Likewise, the response to the draft EIS contains statements from National Marine Fisheries, Cal Fish and Game that conflict directly with the allegations of the oyster-farm opponents.

Small local papers like the Russian River Times report stories that impact their communities, often over several years, while the larger press tends to only pick up on the sensational, often from unsubstantiated press releases and statements from advocacy groups. The truth is that NPS and its allies have conducted a long national campaign to portray the Lunnys as environmental criminals, damaging wilderness for personal gain. Locally, the Lunnys are known as a third-generation ranching family, well respected as responsible stewards and valued members of the community. Examples include their assistance with grazing research to support rangeland carbon sequestration, supporting shellfish restoration in San Francisco Bay, local composting projects, and working with endangered species restoration.

Ironically, the NPS also celebrated the Lunny’s contributions in a 2007 publication about stewardship in National Parks entitled, ‘Stewardship Begins with People.’ Page 45 shows a photo of Kevin Lunny and Seashore rancher David Evans and the statement that ”…both have been recognized for their environmental stewardship and innovation.”  In a currently available on-line version of this NPS document, Lunny has been literally airbrushed out.  He was made to disappear!  What is disturbing is that the Lunny’s environmental stewardship is ignored in most of the press coverage where NPS and its allies have attempted to destroy the Lunny’s reputation for stewardship. Not five months after the publication date back in 2007, Point Reyes Seashore Superintendent Don Neubacher told Marin County Supervisors that Lunny was an environmental criminal.

From www.russianrivertimes.wordpress.com 05-14-2013

jane222
jane222

Journalism is supposed to be the first draft of history, not the first rewrite of press releases and sound bites. In recent weeks, some journalists reporting on the Estero controversy say ‘they would not touch the science,” not realizing the irony that they are essentially saying they are reporting without knowledge. The word ‘science’ itself comes from the Latin scientia, ”to know.”

To report on scientific issues, it is not necessary for reporters to ‘do’ science. For example, to return to the issue of sound as a major impact in the Estero: when the NPS and its EIS consultant substitute the sound of a high- powered jet ski for a small four stroke outboard–as National Park Service did in preparing the Environmental Impact Statement–and claim the Estero is damaged by the sound, it raises issues that can only be answered by the basic journalism questions, Who? What? When? Where? Why?

The standard for journalistic coverage of the Drake’s Bay Oyster Company controversy seems to be based on guilt by six degrees of separation. The bulk of the recent reporting on the ‘ right wing conspiracy to destroy the wilderness act’  claim against DBOC is based solely on the fact that one attorney representing DBOC’s Kevin Lunny is a Republican who worked in Washington for a few months for a charity funded by right-wing interests.

By these standards, we assume that if the oyster-farm opponents report to the press that a lawyer supporting DBOC had defended an arsonist, this would be proof that Kevin Lunny, the DBOC owner, is burning down the Estero.  Much of the general press has shown an equal lack of standards in the other allegations against DBOC, with no real investigation, relying instead on unsubstantiated claims in the press releases of oyster-farm opponents, the latest of which is merely the last in a long line of attempts by National Park Service and its supporters to smear the Lunny family and present them as some sort of environmental criminals.

The press has no excuse for this type of journalism, which merely restates claims from anti-oyster-farm press releases without even the most basic fact checking. There is a marvelous expression in the British press, ‘Churnalism,’ which aptly describes much of the press and TV coverage, e.g. the regurgitation of recent press releases from Amy Trainer of West Marin Environmental Action Committee and the PBS Newshour report, “Strange Bedfellows Join Fight to Keep Oyster Farm in Operation.” There is simply no excuse for this type of inept and biased reporting.

Minimal research uncovers the facts. Both the National Academy of Science study (which found NPS had misrepresented the science), and the Marine Mammal Committee report (whose experts found no incompatibility with oyster operations and the seal population), have summaries and complete lists of all documents on their website. These including letters from the oyster-farm opponents and supporters.  Likewise, the response to the draft EIS contains statements from National Marine Fisheries, Cal Fish and Game that conflict directly with the allegations of the oyster-farm opponents.

Small local papers like the Russian River Times report stories that impact their communities, often over several years, while the larger press tends to only pick up on the sensational, often from unsubstantiated press releases and statements from advocacy groups. The truth is that NPS and its allies have conducted a long national campaign to portray the Lunnys as environmental criminals, damaging wilderness for personal gain. Locally, the Lunnys are known as a third-generation ranching family, well respected as responsible stewards and valued members of the community. Examples include their assistance with grazing research to support rangeland carbon sequestration, supporting shellfish restoration in San Francisco Bay, local composting projects, and working with endangered species restoration.

Ironically, the NPS also celebrated the Lunny’s contributions in a 2007 publication about stewardship in National Parks entitled, ‘Stewardship Begins with People.’ Page 45 shows a photo of Kevin Lunny and Seashore rancher David Evans and the statement that ”…both have been recognized for their environmental stewardship and innovation.”  In a currently available on-line version of this NPS document, Lunny has been literally airbrushed out.  He was made to disappear!  What is disturbing is that the Lunny’s environmental stewardship is ignored in most of the press coverage where NPS and its allies have attempted to destroy the Lunny’s reputation for stewardship. Not five months after the publication date back in 2007, Point Reyes Seashore Superintendent Don Neubacher told Marin County Supervisors that Lunny was an environmental criminal.

s.wordpress.com 05-14-2013

joethepimpernel
joethepimpernel

You people just don't get it.

ALL property belongs to the US feral government and future global government.

They will let you keep yours for a while longer, but eventually they'll get around to yours, too.

UN Agenda 21 is breathing down your necks and you're too distracted by gay marriage and free contraception to notice.

awayneramsey
awayneramsey topcommenter

To me, it is a priori that “... environmental preservation and sustainable food production can co-exist,” only if public policy is effective and commensurate with aggressive industry regulation.

putitupmlk
putitupmlk

@emmaskinPerhaps you would forward the name and location of a "natural" business.  Just wondering, where did the anger of your comment..."sucked out every dollar that they could and now it is time to go" come from?  Evidently anything yo do not like is, bad. 

patnlisa
patnlisa

@emmaskin What a ridiculous statement, was your house part of the original environmental design. I didn't think so. Tear it down. What about all the land that has been paved over so you can drive your toxic fume spewing SUV to Safeway and back.

putitupmlk
putitupmlk

@jane222   VEry nicely thought our and wonderfully presented.  thank you!

 
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