Report clears Park Service on Drakes Estero
The Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of the Interior has issued a report refuting significant allegations against the National Park Service on its handling of a controversy regarding a commercial oyster company.
The report finds that the Park Service operated fairly and appropriately toward the private Drake's Bay Oyster Company, which currently cultivates oysters in Drakes Estero within Point Reyes National Seashore. The Estero is a congressionally designated wilderness area, and the company's rights to operate there expire in 2012, when the law stipulates that it be removed to return this wildlife sanctuary to natural, wild conditions, free from commercial and motorized uses.
The independent report concludes that the oyster company delayed signing a permit to operate legally in the park in ways that would have been compliant with environmental rules, and that the company had been operating without a permit since it bought the operation in 2005.
In spite of the report's conclusion that vindicated the Park Service from the major charges that the park was discriminating against the oyster company and thus the park's ranchers, the oyster company hired a high-powered public-relations firm (Singer and Associates) that produced statements to the contrary. Sam Singer, who was condemned by Amazon Watch for designing Chevron's campaign to attack the reputations of Amazon rainforest activists who won the Goldman Award for environmental heroism, served as the spokesperson for the Drake's Bay Oyster Company during the release of the report.
The report also found that Point Reyes Superintendent Don Neubacher treated the oyster company fairly. Beyond the report, nine local ranchers recently submitted letters to the Park Service, and the presidents of the Marin Community Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation wrote letters to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, all in support of Neubacher's management of the Seashore. In fact, the Park Service has contributed more than $2.5 million to ranchers for repairs, improving infrastructure, and range management.
The report also makes clear that regardless of what science may or may not say about current impacts from the oyster operation on the Estero, the oyster company must be removed when the company's rights to operate expire in 2012 so that Drakes Estero can be managed in accordance with wilderness law. Through designating Drakes Estero as a wilderness area in 1976, Congress explicitly required the elimination of commercial enterprise from the Estero wilderness in 2012.
Drakes Estero in Point Reyes National Seashore is the only wilderness estuary on the West Coast. The landmark Point Reyes Wilderness Act that designated thousands of acres as wilderness, including Drakes Estero, while preserving agriculture in a separate pastoral zone, was widely supported by the public. Prior to buying Johnson's Oyster Company three years ago, the Drakes Bay Oyster Company was notified of the mandate to withdraw from the Estero in 2012.
As Amy Meyer, author of the 2006 book New Guardians for the Golden Gate, How America Got a Great National Park about the creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore, notes, "If the company were truly conservation-minded, it would halt its efforts to subvert the long-standing environmental protections that we have fought so hard to achieve during the past 50 years."
The report is available at www.doioig.gov
For more extensive backgound, visit www.SaveDrakesBay.org