Lunny is now working with four legal firms, all working pro bono, suing the federal government to allow his permit to be extended and the farm to stay open, on the grounds that the science Salazar based his decision on was faulty. Though on Feb. 4 a judge in Oakland sided with the eviction, saying that the decision to keep the farm open was the "complete discretion" of Salazar, later that month the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District in San Francisco ruled that Drakes could stay open until the court decided whether the company's lawsuit was viable or not. That hearing is scheduled for May 14 in San Francisco.


Salazar's wording in his decision was clear, but less so is the exact goal of setting aside the land for preservation. The very idea of returning the estuary back to "wilderness" is uncertain, because humans have shaped the land for millennia. Commercial oyster farming predates the park by about 30 years, and before that, there's evidence in midden piles that coastal Miwok tribes had cultivated their own oyster beds in the estuary.

In fact, the sweeping coastal plain of Point Reyes that looked like paradise to the first Marin dairymen was itself a byproduct of Native American tribes burning and pruning the land.

Farm manager Ginny Lunny-Cummings holds one of the homemade signs that friends of the farm have been displaying all over Marin County.
Photograph by Josh Edelson
Farm manager Ginny Lunny-Cummings holds one of the homemade signs that friends of the farm have been displaying all over Marin County.
Fifty thousand visitors a year visit the rustic farm to buy oysters and learn more about where their food comes from.
Photograph by Josh Edelson
Fifty thousand visitors a year visit the rustic farm to buy oysters and learn more about where their food comes from.

"'Wilderness' as everybody knows it is not some perfectly preserved pristine landscape. It's a jurisdictional category that the Park Service and others will administer," says Richard White, a professor of American history at Stanford who often uses the park as a case study for his students. "Every part of this continent has been affected by human land use. The question is, what kind of land use are you going to permit?"

There is also some legitimacy to the idea that the oyster farm was meant to be preserved during congressional hearings establishing the park in the early '60s. In 1961 testimony on the economic feasibility of the Point Reyes National Seashore, former Park Service director Conrad Wirth said "[e]xisting commercial oyster beds and an oyster cannery at Drakes Estero, plus three existing commercial fisheries, should continue under national seashore status because of their public values. The culture of oysters is an interesting and unique industry which presents exceptional educational opportunities for introducing the public, especially students, to the field of marine biology."

And when Lunny starts explaining how the farm works to tourists, and you watch their eyes light up as they put together the oysters they just ate with the water and the man who produced them ... it's heady stuff. Fifty thousand people visit the farm every year, including several school groups.

If Drakes Bay Oyster Company closes, it will likely never reopen — the cost of destroying the stock in the estuary alone would put the farm financially underwater, and finding another bottom lease is difficult. The company produces about 8 million Pacific oysters a year, shipped only to the Bay Area and North Bay; of the oysters grown on state land, Drakes produces 40 percent of California's total.

Eric Hyman, purchasing manager at the popular raw bar Waterbar, doesn't think that prices will go up if the Drakes supply is removed. But for him, it's a question of losing access to local oysters. Waterbar buys between 400 and 1,000 oysters every week from Drakes depending on the weather and time of year, and Hyman praises them for their locality as much as their flavor. "For me, the biggest disappointment if they were to close down results from the fact that there are two places to buy 'local oysters' in the San Francisco Bay area: One is Tomales Bay, one is Drakes Bay," he says. During the rainy season, runoff from the dairy farms closes Tomales Bay for oyster production a few weeks during the year. "If [Drakes] gets shut down, in the winter a good percentage of the time we won't be able to feature local oysters," he says.

Of course, it depends on your definition of "local." Humboldt Bay is stepping up its oyster population after it was decimated in the 19th century, and both Oregon and Washington have thriving oyster traders (Drakes only accounts for 3.4 percent of the Pacific region's oyster output, which includes Washington, Oregon, California, and Alaska).

Still, there's something special about oysters that come from our native waters. The local food movement is about more than just eliminating carbon footprint and shipping costs; it's about following the seasons and contours of the land where you live. In a place like the Bay Area, where local ingredients are the rule, not the exception, the farm-to-table distance carries a lot of weight.

It also helps that oysters from Drakes Estero are excellent — just the right balance of salt, sweetness, and brine — thanks to the pristine nature of the estero. (Oysters take on the unique flavor of the water around them; like wine and terroir, the same species can taste different grown in another location.) For those passionate about local food, the farm is an important link to our past and to our sense of place that can't be recreated if it's broken.

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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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