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Is Senator Feinstein Speaking Out of Both Sides of Her Mouth on National Park Matters?


Sen. Feinstein: What's good for Joshua Tree National Park isn't necessarily good for Point Reyes National Seashore.

National parks very well may be one of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's loves, but oysters seemingly trump her view of national park values.

Case in point: Commercial oyster farming was well under way in Drakes Estero in 1976 when Congress designated the estuary that lies within Point Reyes National Seashore as potential wilderness. Interior Department officials, noting that the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. operation would run counter to official wilderness designation, directed the National Park Service to push for that designation in 2012 when the oyster farm's lease expires.

To that point, the Interior Department's Office of the Solicitor rendered an opinion that the oyster farm must be removed from Drakes Estero because it would be a "non-conforming use" under the Wilderness Act.

But that doesn't sit well with Sen. Feinstein, who earlier this year wrote Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to urge him to see that oyster company's lease be extended. Apparently concerned that the secretary wouldn't honor her request, Sen. Feinstein on Tuesday took a legislative shortcut to extend the company's lease for a decade by attaching a rider to that effect to a spending bill.

"The 10-year extension of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company's lease will preserve 30 jobs at the last remaining oyster farm cannery on the West Coast while making sure that the ecology of the estuary is protected," the senator said in a written statement obtained by the Los Angeles Times. "This is a family-owned oyster farm that has been in operation for more than 70 years, and it is a facility that predates the creation of Point Reyes National Seashore in 1960. This is an area with 15 historic dairy farms and cattle ranches, along with many roads running through it. It is not a remote wilderness."

Now, compare that tone to another letter the senator from California wrote to Secretary Salazar earlier this year. In it the Democrat urged the secretary not to approve a lease of "former railroad lands in the eastern Mojave Desert by the Bureau of land Management" for renewable energy projects.

"While I strongly support renewable energy, it is critical that these projects move forward on public and private lands well suited for that purpose," wrote Sen. Feinstein. "Unfortunately, many of the sites now being considered for leases are completely inappropriate and will lead to the wholesale destruction of some of the most pristine areas in the desert."

The senator went on to describe efforts to protect the lands in question, noting that "beyond protecting national parks (Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park) from development, the conservation of these lands has helped to ensure the sustainability of the entire desert ecosystem by preserving the vital wildlife corridors."

So, on one hand Sen. Feinstein has no qualms about flouting a proposed wilderness designation in an area of Point Reyes National Seashore deemed to possess wilderness qualities, and yet on the other hand she would block renewable energy projects from being based on "former railroad lands" to prevent "the wholesale destruction of some of the most pristine areas in the desert."


And this surprises anyone? She is as crooked as they come, but what do you expect, she is afterall a politician.

Sen. Feinstein has never been one of my favorite people, but as I read this, there is one significant difference. The cannery was there first and the designation was to try to turn an area that apparently was not wilderness into wilderness. In the latter (renewable energy) case, we are talking about new leases being granted.

I don't know who the cannery was leasing from before 1960, but if they were there before the initial designation, that should give them at least the benefit of the doubt in staying.


Agreed with MarkK.

Pt. Reyes would have been an ideal place to pursue the joint preservation of habitat values, and human values, side-by-side. The eco-elements of interest had survived heavy oppression for a long time, all that was needed was to cut them a little slack. We could have had & respected both - people & nature.

Pt. Reyes, wilderness? Phewey. It was hammered owl pellets. There are distinctive habitat & biome elements there - but zero wilderness.

Are Sen. Feinstein's antics a clue that the California Establishment is reconsidering the Pt. Reyes Wilderness experiment?

Sure, land in many locations & regions could be taken, humans chased off it, and cloak the operation under the Wilderness Act (some day, it will be wild again ... tho maybe not the wild it was before).

The Pt. Reyes taking was not a smart move, and did not advance the cause of habitat or biome preservation. On the contrary.

I agree with the previous posts, that Point Reyes as a whole and the estuary in question are NOT wilderness by a long shot. I've been to this park and found it scenic and well managed but didn't understand the national significance of it. It looked like lots of other stretches of coastal California that I've visited and suspect that it was made an NPS unit to stave off metropolitan development rather than any truly unique aspects which make it a natural treasure for the entire nation. If it is I can reel off a lot of places that should be national parks, just on the California coast.

I would say that most of the national seashores I've visited don't strike me as "crown jewels" but have been told that Cumberland Island in Georgia is a special place, if you can survive the vicious insects which inhabit this Atlantic sea island paradise. I hope to visit sometime this coming winter and I'll let ya'll know.

Diane may have actually got this one right, which is saying a lot coming from me.


Yes the cannery & oyster farm were there first. The owner of the cannery & farm & land sold the land to NPS in 1972, with a 40 year reserved use clause allowing him to continue the oyster operation that expires in 2012 as part of the sale. The 1976 law designated the area as wilderness, where unconforming use (commercial oyster farm & packing plant) must be eliminated when the reserved use clause expires.

A new owner bought the farm & packing operation a couple of years ago, knowing that the reserved use expired in 2012, at a price that certainly reflected that sunset on operations (even the 1976 wilderness designation should have been disclosed on the real estate transaction). The new owner has a sustained campaign to use political pressure from local officials and pr to rewrite the law, and obtain a windfall from an ongoing business where he paid for a sunsetting business. DiFi has been strongly supporting this rewriting of PORE management & now the law, whether from hearing from local chamber of commerce type folks or hearing from the new owners directly.

The situation for the ranches elsewhere in Point Reyes is a bit more complicated, with initial legislation protecting ranching, but there are current problems with violations of grazing limits, and a push for row crops as diversification (never mind that the UCD ag extension report arguing for continued commercial agriculture in PORE justifies ranching as providing ecosystem services and protecting native species argues for allowing ranchers to diversify to row crops, which obviously don't protect native species). My limited understanding is that at least some of the private inholdings have permanent ranching rights, and grazing allotments on NPS-owned land are the major issue, although I stand to be corrected on that.

Leaving aside the 1976 law (which can be overturned by congress, but should be done with debate, not as a rider), the broader question is priorities for public lands in Point Reyes National Seashore: is it more important to keep the last commercial oyster farm in the area or to have an area where the seals can haul out and birth unmolested and a coastal esturine wilderness? Are commercial oyster operations (with non-native oysters) a good replacement for the ecosystem service of water filtration previously provided by the massive (native) oyster beds that were harvested to functional extinction more than a century ago, or should funds go to restoring native oyster beds (a non-trivial undertaking)? Is it more important to keep more working farms & ranches in Marin County for historical & educational purposes as well as private profit, or to have some coastal wilderness? What do we want from our National Parks, and what do we want from Point Reyes National Seashore in particular?

Those who don't see the national significance or merits of wilderness designation obviously weren't there or did not look beyond the indisputable scenic values of Point Reyes.

The Point Reyes peninsula includes the prime California coastal prairie. Nowhere else the whole ecosystem is preserved virtually untouched, but on top of the cliffs and in the other exposed open lands. The Douglas iris has its largest habitat there, Lilium maritimum and Sonoma spineflower are endemic to Point Reyes, the two flowers - beautiful flowers I might add - do not grow anywhere else in the world. The Snowy plower has its greatest density of breeding pairs within the National Seashore.

The exposed open land on top of the cliffs and on the slopes are wilderness. It is untouched by man - other than the former dairy farms further inland in the center of the peninsula. If the deep fingered bay (Drakes Estero is not an estuary) should be wilderness, I will leave to marine ecologists, the use for oyster farming is not necessarily a reason against it.

I know Point Reyes NS well. Whether you designate it wilderness or not, it will still be there. If the only reason to designate it wilderness is to remove the oyster farm, it does not seem justified. Wilderness designation for a place that is well managed already is silly. It is a feather in their cap, but the public suffers from such designation, as the list of prohibitive acts grows with such designation. Management is the key. Let the oyster farm continue until you can get the funds to restore the area, but don't designate it wilderness unless you have a management problem that only such designation will correct. This is not that situation.

As far as the article showing the two sides of a senator I will say environmentalist groups do the same every time they try and shut a coal plant they go and would then sue to not allow a wind farm on the same lot.

I only wish we had politicians with ... (her guts) ... on the east coast to have prevented the issues happening on Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Editor's note: This comment was edited to remove some rather colorful vernacular.

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