Drakes Bay oyster farm closes doors after long wilderness struggle

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Frank DuBois, past NM Sec. of Agriculture, former legislative assistant to a U.S. Senator, and a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior.

Frank DuBois, past NM Sec. of Agriculture, former legislative assistant to a U.S. Senator, and a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior.

It’s the end of the line for Drake’s Bay Oyster Co. On Dec. 31, after a long battle with the National Park Service, the California Coastal Commission, the Department of the Interior and wilderness advocates, owner Kevin Lunny and his family will vacate the starkly beautiful Drake’s Estero, a 2,500-acre estuary where some of the tastiest oysters on the West Coast have been farmed for more than half a century.

A 40-year lease agreement between the feds and the oyster farm’s original owners has expired. Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar could have extended the lease for a decade, which was allowed by 2009 legislation that Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein sponsored. But in 2011, Salazar — fearing a policy precedent — decided that wilderness and oyster farming were mutually exclusive. Lunny, 56, whose family runs the first organic-certified beef ranch in California, lost a fight between forces usually on the same side: sustainable farming enthusiasts and environmentalists.

Lunny thought he had a fair shot to renew the lease because ranchers in other parts of the protected seashore were successful in doing so. To Lunny supporters, the bad guy was the government, scheming to take away a precious local mariculture resource.

To the farm’s opponents, the Lunnys became the villains. Founding members of Marin County’s sustainable food movement, they were trashed as recalcitrant, water-polluting moochers who would exploit (and ruin) one of Marin County’s most beautiful seascapes.

In some ways, Drake’s Bay Oyster Co. is a casualty of hardening attitudes about human intrusion into wilderness. In 1962, Congress created Point Reyes National Seashore, a wind-swept coastline that feels remote despite its location an hour north of San Francisco. Fourteen years later, President Ford signed the Point Reyes Wilderness Act, encompassing Drake’s Estero, which was designated as a “potential wilderness” because it contained a commercial enterprise.

But was the oyster company really meant to disappear at the end of its lease? In 2011, retired legislators who helped establish the Point Reyes National Seashore told Interior Secretary Salazar that they had always intended for the oyster farm to stay in business. “The issue of what to do with the oyster farm wasn’t even under contention,” former Rep. John Burton told the Marin Independent Journal. “Several things were grandfathered in, and aquaculture — oyster culture — was one of them.”…more

Notice the method used:  First designate a National Seashore and then come in later with a Wilderness designation.  A similar model is now in place for the arid West:  First designate a National Monument and then when the time is ripe hit us with Wilderness.

In the case above they denied the permit because of the “policy precedent” it would set.  It would have allowed a commercial enterprise, i.e. people, to continue existing.  Once the permit is denied and the oyster farm is gone, it will no longer be “potential wilderne” but will become Wilderness, which was the goal all along.