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Point Reyes National Seashore Superintendent Promoted to Yosemite National Park


Don Neubacher, a 28-year veteran of the National Park Service who has spent the past 15 as superintendent of Point Reyes National Seashore, is moving over to take the helm at Yosemite National Park.

The appointment made this week fills sends Dave Uberuaga, who has served the past year as acting superintendent at Yosemite since Mike Tollefson resigned to head the Yosemite Fund, back to Mount Rainier National Park where he has been the superintendent.

The cross-state move for Mr. Neubacher, who grew up in California and is "old enough to remember the firefalls as a kid,” comes with a plateful of issues, and then some, awaiting him. Foremost is the renewed effort to produce a management plan for the Yosemite Valley that does not clash with the values of the Merced River, a wild and scenic stream.

But neither is controversy new for Mr. Neubacher, for at Point Reyes he's been at the forefront of controversial Park Service efforts to close out in 2012 the lease of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, which is operating in an area of the national seashore destined for official wilderness designation.

At the same time, Mr. Neubacher oversaw the recovery of the Giacomini Wetlands, a nearly 600-acre area on the south end of Tomales Bay that once had been impacted by levees and dairy operations. These days the wetlands are the setting for bald eagles, otters, waterfowl and shorebirds. Under his tenure the seashore also developed a Fire Management Plan and a Coastal Watershed Restoration Plan/EIS and implemented a Land Protection

Earlier this year Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, who was Mr. Neubacher's boss as head of the agency's Pacific West Region office before moving to the directorship last fall, asked Mr. Neubacher to take the Yosemite reins. The move was finalized this past Sunday.

"I’m close friends with Jon Jarvis and I feel very strongly about what he’s trying to accomplish on national level," Mr. Neubacher said Wednesday evening.

While the issues awaiting him in Yosemite have been highly publicized, Mr. Neubacher declined to elaborate his take on them, saying he needed time to become more familiar with the record that's been accumulated. Too, he said, it'd be premature to take a position while the public process on issues such as the Merced River Plan is progressing. Regardless of the issue, said Mr. Neubacher, more important than quickly coming to a decision is coming to the right decision.

"I guess they’re going to take a long time, but they’re definitely worth the effort. We're talking about one of the most precious places on the planet," he said. "If you want to work on something that is sacred, Yosemite is the place to go.”

While Mr. Neubacher and his staff were accused of manipulating the findings into the impact of the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. on the seashore, Ron Sundergill, who heads the National Parks Conservation Association's Pacific Region office, said the National Academy of Sciences later went on the record stating that there was no intention on the park's behalf to "fabricate any scientific information."

“I think the park, as soon as they realized that there was some information that wasn’t completely researched, that they made an adjustment," Mr. Sundergill said Wednesday.

While the move to Yosemite will certainly raise Mr. Neubacher's profile with the public, he has the skills to handle whatever comes his way, the NPCA official said.

“He’s a very easy person to talk with. He’s a very personable, reasonable guy. We’ve seen that manifested in the relationships he has with most of the people who are associated with Point Reyes National Seashore," Mr. Sundergill said. "He’s been very effective in developing those relationships. And that’s one of the things that Yosemite needs more than anything else, continual care and feeding of the different constituencies that make up the Yosemite family, as it were.”

When it comes to developing the Merced River Plan, he said, Mr. Neubacher likely will benefit from the settlement the Park Service reached with two groups that long have challenged Yosemite's past approaches to handling development in the iconic valley.

“I would say that a lot of the angst about that has been relieved because of the court settlement. It’s very prescriptive settlement, which requires the park to do certain things and requires the plaintiffs to do certain things," said. Mr. Sundergill. "I think now is a good time for Don to step in. A new face, somebody whom the plaintiffs haven't worked with before. ... The really difficult period is hopefully behind us on that with the settlement of the court case.”

Of course, while the Merced River Plan arguably is the most high-profile issue awaiting Mr. Neubacher, who expects to be on the ground in Yosemite in early March, it isn't the only one. The park also is working to develop a long-term management plan for hikers heading to Half Dome, and there has been talk of addressing congestion along some of the trailheads that stem off from the Tioga Road, just to name two other issues.

Again, stressed Mr. Neubacher, how long it takes to find the answers to these issues isn't foremost.

"If there’s one spot on the planet where you should get it right," he said, "it should be Yosemite.”


Sundergill may have said that Neubacher & Co. didn't "fabricate any scientific information" about the possible impacts of DBOC on the estero, which would mean they made it up out of whole cloth, but that doesn't absolve them of obfuscating the truth. Your own report from 5/2009 quotes the National Academy's report, which said that Neubacher & Co.:

"...selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific information on DBOC (Drakes Bay Oyster Co.) operations by exaggerating the negative and overlooking potentially beneficial effects."

So this is the guy Jarvis chose to head Yosemite? Is is possible that Neubacher got kicked upstairs as a way to resolve the PRNS/DBOC mess?

There certainly are undercurrents to this story. However, here are some additional comments the Traveler just received that apply to the Drakes Bay matter:

In a memo to Ben Becker, director of the Park Service's Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center and author of one of the studies on harbor seals in Drakes Estero, Daryl Boness, editor of Marine Mammal Science, noted that:

I have now received input from some of the original reviewers and Associate Editor on your replies to the concerns and questions raised by Dr. Corey Goodman (and others with similar points being made) concerning your in press paper entitled "Modeling the effects of El Niño, density dependence, and disturbance on harbor seal counts in Drakes Estero, California: 19972007." I have also spoken (or emailed) with Dr. Susan Roberts of the NRC and Dr. Tom Moore of the California Fish & Game. I am satisfied that there is no basis for considering pulling your paper from Marine Mammal Science for ethical grounds (scientific misconduct). The reviews I received based on your responses to Dr. Goodman's questions and your new analyses suggest there is no need to even revise your manuscript before publication should be allowed. I concur with the reviewers that the paper should be allowed to move forward with publication, but I also believe it would be best to include the updated information and improved analyses that you have proposed in your emails to me. In the revised paper, you should acknowledge the questioned data point and at least note that the conclusions would not change whether this point is included or not. Since you have information available on the 2008 harbor seal and oyster harvest levels I would also like to see you include in the discussion a statement about how this might affect your conclusions. It would be helpful if you identified in the revised paper where you have made the substantive changes as you indicate you will in your email replies.

Additionally, in an email to Jon Jarvis, then the Pacific West regional director, Charles "Pete" Peterson, a professor of marine sciences at the University of North Carolina who worked on the National Research Council report, said:

Dear Jon,

I wanted to thank you for your honest reactions to our NRC report and wish you well personally. I spoke at length to John Holdren expressing my own support of your candidacy for NPS Head based on the professionalism and strong commitment to science that you have demonstrated in various ways that have become evident to me. I also expressed my opinion that those claiming scientific fraud or misconduct by NPS in the Drakes Estero case are simply wrong.

Apparently Jarvis and Neubacher were on the same page regarding the oyster farm. From what I gather, both would like to see it gone when the reservation of use it up. That remains to be seen with the expressed authorization to extend it ten years placed in last October's Interior Dept appropriations bill that was signed into law. Part of rationale that the oyster farm must go is from "congressional intent" from the Point Reyes Wilderness Act; some feel that it overrides the renewal clause in the 1972 reservation of use. I believe Senator Feinstein included the rider to essentially impose a different "congressional intent" that could allow Drakes Bay to remain potential wilderness indefinitely.

There have been face to face meetings with Jarvis and Neubacher on one side, and Kevin Lunny and Sen Feinstein on the other side. If Jarvis approved Neubacher for the Yosemite supt position, it's probably because he's agreed with him more often than not - the oyster farm situation being one of them.

Here's the Interior Dept Inspector General Report. I don't know if it rose up to the level of fraud or misconduct. However - from what I can tell it was bias and selective presentation.

I would copy and paste the findings, but apparently the PDF has been secured so that it can be read, but not printed or content copied. There are interesting comments on page 2 where both Neubacher was chided for his judgement, and Lunny was noted as not holding required permits. It of course talks about "congressional mandate", which was modified in the appropriations bill.

I found some interesting things. Apparently the Lunny family has never owned the land on which the G Ranch sits. They leased it from RCA (they had farmland holdings?) and then from the NPS after PRNS was established.

And CAPTCHA for today is "This freshman".

Oh - I wish Supt Neubacher well. I suppose being in charge isn't easy and Point Reyes may have presented unique situations where people with varying opinions are coming at you hard and fast. Since he's no stranger to controversy, I'm sure he's been well tested and will need it when all the various Yosemite factions lobby him and the NPS.

Would you care to share the source of this information with your readers? Can you confirm that the email from Dr. Peterson is legitimate?

I find it astonishing that Dr. Peterson would send such an email. The National Academy of Sciences task force he chaired did find that the Park Service at Point Reyes misinformed the public. To quote from the report, the Academy found:

"in several instances the agency selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific information on potential impacts of the oyster mariculture operation. Consequently, Drakes Estero: A Sheltered Wilderness Estuary did not present a rigorous and balanced synthesis of the mariculture impacts. Overall, the report gave an interpretation of the science that exaggerated the negative and overlooked potentially beneficial effects of the oyster culture operation."

There may be a question about whether these actions rise to the level of fraud or misconduct in a technical, legal sense.

There is no question that the Park Service's story was wrong. Entirely wrong. Completely, suspiciously wrong.

The Park Service said there was a huge crisis with seals in Drakes Estero -- that the seal population had declined by 80%. The truth is that the seal population has not declined at all. This fact is no longer in dispute.

The Park Service said that the oyster farmer's activities disturb the seals in Drakes Estero -- and that they had data to prove it. Yet that data shows that 90% of seal "disturbances" counted in the Park Service's seal report are from National Park visitors, mostly hikers. (And these "disturbances" are not instances of seals being harmed, these are instances of seals turning their heads or jumping in the water.) None of this is in dispute--although it is frequently ignored.

The Park Service said that the water quality of Drakes Estero was endangered because of the oyster farm, and cited as evidence their belief that the eelgrass was in trouble. The truth is that the water quality of the Estero is *improved* by the presence of oysters (which is why they are restoring oysters in the San Francisco Bay--to improve the water quality; and it is working). And the eelgrass in Drakes Estero has doubled. These facts are not in dispute.

These are the facts that were "selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented" by the Park Service as part of their campaign to influence public opinion against the oyster farm.

The difference between the truth and what the Park Service told the public is quite stark.

The fact that Dr. Petersen was in communication with Mr. Jarvis about the report's findings last year is interesting politically, but it does not, as you seem to imply, have any bearing on the facts.

Please consider this...

Nicole Adams

Kurt Repanshek:
Additionally, in an email to Jon Jarvis, then the Pacific West regional director, Charles "Pete" Peterson, a professor of marine sciences at the University of North Carolina who worked on the National Research Council report, said....

In his email to Jarvis, Peterson misrepresented a conversation he had with Dr. John Holdren, the White House science advisor, concerning Jarvis’ imminent nomination as director of the National Park Service (NPS).

“I spoke at length to John Holdren expressing my own support of your candidacy for NPS Head… I also expressed my opinion that those claiming scientific fraud or misconduct by NPS in the Drakes Estero case are simply wrong,” Peterson wrote on May 19.

Peterson then asked Jarvis for help with a North Carolina wind farm project that requires the cooperation of Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout national seashores. He recently authored a major state-funded study on offshore wind farms and is an advocate for the project.

Shortly before he emailed Jarvis, Peterson correctly reported to Holdren that he had not reviewed charges of scientific misconduct, which were submitted by Dr. Corey Goodman, an elected member of the academy and a West Marin resident.

“My recollection of my one brief phone conversation with Pete Peterson is that he said his committee didn’t address the question of whether there was misconduct,” Holdren said.

** **

According to the National Parks Traveler, Jarvis had for months been Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s top candidate for NPS director. The misconduct allegations against him, followed by his public response to the academy report in early May—in which he made misleading and contradictory statements—had shone poorly on him.

** **

Holdren contacted Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, who directed him to Peterson. And Peterson told him—contrary to what he relayed to Jarvis a week or so later—that neither he nor his panel had looked at the charges of misconduct.

** **

Peterson is under a gag order by the academy since the release of his May 19 email, preventing him from explaining why he said what he did to Jarvis.

And who says fact can't be stranger than fiction?

Let's put aside for a moment the questions of scientific integrity and touch on two other questions as an exercise of sorts to extend and broaden the discussion:

1. If Congress directed that this area be designated official wilderness, and the oyster company's lease runs out in 2012, and the Lunnys were fully aware of that when they purchased the company, why all the scrutiny on the operation's impacts? Wouldn't the Park Service simply need to point out that the oyster farm is a non-conforming use in a wilderness area and then let the lease expire?

2. In England many national parks encompass surrounding communities, working farms, etc. The same concept is being developed by the Park Service through its Heritage Areas program, which is committed to "protecting and promoting the cultural, historical and natural assets of a region..." Would Point Reyes be a good place to allow an oyster operation to continue within its waters to "promote the cultural, historical and natural assets of a region" as long as its impacts on the environment were closely monitored?

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