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.