"[Drakes Bay oysters are] a real local, delicious, irreplaceable food," says Patricia Unterman, co-owner of Hayes Street Grill, food writer, and vocal advocate of the farm. She laments the fact that she'd have to import canned oysters from Washington for dishes like fried oysters and oyster stew. "They aren't as fresh, they aren't as small, they aren't ours."


The fight over the fate of Drakes Bay Oyster Company has become about more than just oysters; it's become an ideological battle over the best use for land in 2013. Both sides see a dangerous precedent being set, whether the Lunnys end up successful or not. This particular case has brought a lot of issues bubbling to the surface and has divided Marin County and alienated the Park Service from the ranchers.

To the Park Service and environmental advocacy groups, allowing land that was to become designated wilderness go to commercial use could open up a loophole for other wilderness to be chipped away by private interests. "It's a broader issue than the impact of one oyster company," says Desai. "The precedent it could set ... the agenda of some people associated to open up public land across the country for more development and industry use. It's unfortunate that foodies or people who see this as a narrow issue don't see the bigger picture here."

If the oyster farm closes, restaurants like Hayes Street Grill will need to import jarred oysters from Washington state for dishes like deep-fried oysters.
Photograph by Joseph Geha
If the oyster farm closes, restaurants like Hayes Street Grill will need to import jarred oysters from Washington state for dishes like deep-fried oysters.

For their part, the sustainable food advocates think the environmentalists are the ones looking myopically at the issue. "I really think that the very hardcore radical environmentalists should take a look at this as a special case, because if anything, the United States has been encouraging shellfish farming," Unterman says, citing recent government projects using water-filtering oysters to bring back dead zones in Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf Coast. "This is the kind of aquaculture and agriculture that promotes the health of the environment. To try and shut down one of the few of these — I mean, there aren't very many in the U.S. — to shut one down is madness."

Unterman signed an amicus "friend of the court" brief with Chez Panisse owner and local food champion Alice Waters, Tomales Bay Oyster Company, the California Farm Bureau Federation, Marin County Farm Bureau, advocacy group Food Democracy Now, and others in the food and agriculture community siding squarely with Drakes, in part because of the changing environmental movement. "Closing down the oyster farm in Drakes Estero, which has existed since the early 1930s, would be inconsistent with the best thinking of the modern environmental movement that the Point Reyes National Seashore was created to help preserve," it reads.

Opponents of the farm submitted their own documents to the court on the importance of the estuary as an ecological zone and the necessity for it to be preserved. One was from Sylvia Earle, oceanographer and explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society. "Delaying the long-planned cessation of mariculture activities will continue the resource damage, facilitate the proliferation of invasive species, and increase risk to permanent impairment of the estero's natural resources," she wrote in January 2013. "I strongly believe the protection of Drakes Estero as wilderness is essential immediately and will beneficially impact the greater marine environment and the wildlife species that depend on it."

The case is also getting interest from Tea Party and other groups in favor of small government — attention Lunny says he never meant to draw. A 10-year permit extension for the farm has been attached to an energy bill in Congress introduced by Republican senator David Vitter of Louisiana that includes offshore drilling, the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve for development, and an expedited timeline for the Keystone XL pipeline. Cause of Action, a government watchdog group in Washington whose executive director has past ties to the conservative Koch Brothers, has also entered the cause on behalf of the oyster farm.

Which brings up the question of whose side to be on if you're liberal, pro-environment, and also pro-local agriculture. Farmers whose families have lived for generations on the land have a vested interest in tending it well for future generations; to equate them with oil drilling is to do them a disservice. Strict environmentalism isn't an either/or proposition anymore; as uncomfortable as it may be to some, it's possible for capitalism to be environmental.


The idea of enviro-capitalism isn't exactly new — it's been a necessary element of the historical and cultural fabric of Point Reyes. The continued collaboration between the park and the farms is crucial to the future of the park/farm hybrid that Point Reyes exemplifies so beautifully.

Sam Dolcini, president of the Marin County Farm Bureau and former chairman of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, compares the collaboration between ranchers and environmentalists in the 1970s as putting together a tapestry. "Clearly agriculturalists and the environmental community come from two opposite directions, but we weaved our needs and desires together and built something pretty strong and pretty spectacular," he says. "Today it seems like the environmental community is pulling really hard at the strings around the edges, and I'm afraid if they pull too hard the whole things's gonna just fall apart."

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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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