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House Oversight Committee Looking Into Point Reyes National Seashore's Handling Of Oyster Farm Future



Questionable actions the staff of Point Reyes National Seashore has taken towards the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. have drawn the attention of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is launching an investigation into the fate of the oyster company.

"Since 2007, the NPS has been advocating that the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. cease operations at Point Reyes National Seashore because -- according to NPS -- the oyster farm is harming the local harbor seal population," the committee's chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, wrote to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on October 20.

"Allegations that NPS knowingly relied on flawed science to support that conclusion as part of an effort to remove DBOC have come from a wide range of stakeholders and disinterested parties. If true, the NPS, a bureau of the Department of Interior, will have closed the doors on a family-owned small business without a valid scientific basis."

The battle over the future of the oyster company has been ongoing for a number of years. When the company's owner, Kevin Lunny, bought the operation from the Johnson Oyster Co. in 2005, it came with a 40-year lease that expires in November 2012. And since the oyster farm is located in an area of the seashore, Drakes Estero, that has been targeted for official wilderness designation, his ability to gain a lease extension has been impeded.

At issue is whether the oyster farm is adversely impacting Drakes Estero and its marinelife, particularly harbor seals. The estero long has been viewed for designation as official wilderness -- the 1976 legislation that set aside 25,370 acres of the seashore as wilderness cited another 8,003 acres that would be "essentially managed as wilderness, to the extent possible, with efforts to steadily continue to remove all obstacles to the eventual conversion of these lands and waters to wilderness status" -- and the oyster operation is seen as being incompatible with such a designation.

But the Park Service's handling of the oyster company's future has been both contentious and embarassing for the agency. While a Park Service report on the oyster operation concluded that it was impacting harbor seals, the report at times has withered under scrutiny. In 2009 the National Research Council said the NPS report was skewed, "selectively" manipulated in several areas, and inconclusive overall.

A year later, the Interior's Solicitor's Office conducted an investigation into whether the staff at Point Reyes had intentionally mishandled research data it collected to determine the oyster farm's impacts, if any, on harbor seals during pupping season. That probe cleared the staff of any criminal behavior or criminal misconduct in the matter, a finding that itself has drawn criticism.

Part of the investigation centered around charges that Park Service staff "suppressed" more than 250,000 photographs the Point Reyes staff captured with a secret camera from 2007 to 2010 to determine whether farm operations were disturbing harbor seals during the pupping season. Those photos, proponents of the oyster farm say, failed to show any disturbance of harbor seals by farm employees. Interviews conducted by the Solicitor's Office, however, indicated that on at least five occasions the farm's workers caused disturbances of seals during pupping season.

Now Rep. Issa, R-California, wants his committee to look into the matter, and has asked Secretary Salazar to order the Park Service to turn over reams of documents -- correspondence, reports, drafts of reports, emails -- and to make staff, including Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, available for "transcribed interviews" set to begin the week of November 7.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein intervened on behalf of Mr. Lunny, asking Interior Secretary Salazar to extend the oyster company's lease. That request led the seashore staff to prepare a draft environmental impact statement examining the oyster farm's impacts on the estero.

Earlier this fall the seashore released a draft environmental impact statement. It offered four alternatives -- a no action option, which would uphold the lease retirement next year, and three other options that would allow the oyster farm to remain, albeit at three different levels of operation. The document currently is open to public comment through November 29.

Rep. Issa's letter to Secretary Salazar is attached below.


The oyster farm smear campaign against the Park Service has backing from wise-use anti-environmental groups and commercial interests who want to further commercialize our public lands and seek to overturn the Wilderness Act. This is federally designated wilderness. Period.

This in not some poor local farmer versus big government – this is an army of corporate lobbyist, lawyers, monied interests and ... politicians (Feinstein is in bed with right-wing Darrell Issa on this issue) working to oppose the public interest and privatize public lands.

Three federal investigations by the Inspector General and Department of Interior have cleared the Park Service of any wrongdoing and rejected the ... accusations of Goodman. Now ... right-wing poltician Darrell Issa has taken up the attacks.  It is very revealing that the anti-wilderness camp thinks Issa and Feinstein bullying and persecuting the Park Service and is a good thing.

... Feinstein has a record of attacking good science to help her wealthy campaign supporters – witness her manipulation of the NAS review process to try to destroy salmon runs in the Delta for the Resnicks.

The National Park Service has relied on peer-reviewed science; the very standard Goodman and Gleick professes to want, to show significant impacts from the oyster farm on wildlife and how it spreads invasive species. It is a lie to say the Park Service science has been “debunked.” It has been attacked by those with no data, science or logic on their side to serve the cause of profit over public interest and wilderness protection.
This is a Halloween witch hunt of the most shameful kind.

This comment was edited to remove gratuitous remarks. The message was not altered. -- Ed.

Check your dates, Kurt. Lunny bought Johnson's Oyster Co. some years before 2007, perhaps as many as five (i.e., 2002). I don't have the exact date that Lunny took over, but I know it was quite a bit earlier than '07.
I also can't help but react to the "anonymous" comment of 11:23am -- there is no "army of corporate lobbyist, lawyers, monied interests..." at Drakes Bay Oysters. It's just Kevin Lunny and his family, supported by truly grass-roots efforts of his neighbors. The vast majority of local residents supports the oyster farm, which has gotten the attention of politicians, as it should.
It is interesting to watch this strange-bedfellows alignment, putting Issa and Feinstein in league with each other. Who'd have guessed? It's also quite odd to see environmentalists misusing, distorting and ignoring science in the pursuit of their goals -- that's usually the province of right wingers and conservatives (making Issa's involvement doubly ironic). But true believers have always been willing to allow the ends to justify the means.

Good catch, Hayseed. You're right, it should be 2005. I've made the fix in the copy.

Environmental groups across the country continue to point the wealth of peer-reviewed science that exists on adverse ecological impacts from mariculture operations. What is amusing about the rabid pro-oyster cult of Point Reyes is their singular dismissal of it all and immediate damning of the draft EIS. They also ignore that this is the same science relied upon by the 2009 National Academy Study. 
The peer-reviewed science environmental organizations point to includes significant impacts to Drakes Estero from invasive species like Didendum vexillum, motor boats operating 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, propeller cuts to eelgrass, and real disturbances to shorebirds while they try to feed and rest. 
Far from ignoring science, in this case science is the third prong, along with law and policy, of the trifecta requiring wilderness in 2012.

Those who love wilderness don't want to it commercialized. The Drakes Bay Oyster Company has had a sweet deal, paying almost nothing to take over remaining 7 years on a 40 lease granted to the previous owners of the operation with terms stating the the land would be restored as wilderness thereafter. Rather than scale back operations as the expiration date approached, Drakes Bay Oyster Company expanded--without permits--into protected areas of the park. They've been fined thousands of dollars by the state Coastal Commission for these and other violations of the Coastal Act, which they have yet to pay. The Lunny's frame themselves as small family farmers, but they and their supporters hired Washington lobbyists and media experts to attack the National Park Service for enforcing the terms of the lease. The Lunny's act the victims of "big government." But apparently don't mind having their operations--including oystering and cattle ranching in the national park--subsidized by us taxpayers. The disingenuous "little guy versus Big Government" campaign isn't based on science, rather it's based on character assassination and disinformation. The Issa "investigation," is another manifestation of this years-long effort. Someone should remind Lunny, and Feinstein, and Issa, that Pt Reyes National Seashore belongs to all of us, not to a "small" private businessman, however big his sense of entitlement.

Can I apply for an oil search permit in Point Reyes?? Miss Feinstein I'd like a 40 yr lease pleaseLOL

A thread that runs through so much of the conversation here and on the national level is an assault on the private sector.  Bad, bad people that have nothing but the most evil intent. I've been watching it for years creep into peoples psyche.  Those that don't stick their own skin in the game and somehow are better people while their own incomes originate from the successes of the private sector.  It is an underlying tenet of the Pseudo-Environmental movement.  Many in NPS attach themselves "protect the resource" as if they were divine saviors.  The resource IS God and not of God if that's okay to say in this crappy PC environment.  Maybe someone can tell me what NPS scientific study was done to run a 100+ year old private family business that predates the Grand Canyon National Park and has a huge cultural historical presence but somehow offends the then Superintendent Steve Martin's sensitivities.  Of course I'm referring to Verkamp's which is now more museum than living history with less significance obvious.  
The Drake's Bay Oyster issue is driven by the same motivation and forget the legal and PR campaign that points to the "Preferred Alternative!"  Boy, have I heard that before!  
Let the Oyster operation at Drake's Bay continue to operate allowing those visitors to Point Reyes National Seashore to watch them grow and enjoy them (with a little cocktail sauce)! Something that actually could be purchased in a NPS managed area that was Made In The USA or better yet Grown in National Recreational Area.  Something that can't be said of the NPS uniforms and USA Flags that are flown there.

Kurt, The incrimination you speak of sounds like it came directly from the commercial fishing lobbyist propaganda. This is not mom and pop being picked on by big government. It is an individual who considers himself above the terms of the original agreement. For over 30 years we have been patiently awaiting the closing of this commercial operation so the inconsistent uses could be dismantled and move into a full Wilderness status. There are other locations within 3 miles (outside of the park) as the crow flys that he can relocate his operation. He was offered 1 million dollars by a nonprofit environmental group and was encouraged to take the deal by Feinstein. Mr. Lunny has was unimpressed with an attempt to compromise, has violated law after law (claiming the victim again for the volume of laws one has to abide by), and seems bent on dividing what historically were groups that worked together - environmentalists and sustainable, organic farming. On top of all that he, and the lobbyist are demonizing individuals that are respected across the country for their contributions to protection of resources. The permit was written to expire in 2012. Mr. Lunnys scheming to pummel the community with misinformation - to bully Point Reyes NS into extending his lease is a dream come true for all those exploiters of national parks. Commerce in national parks is not the issue. Commerce trumping long term Wilderness plans and clear leases is - and is fuel for all others wishing to exploit the parks for personal gain. And - since when did continuity of short-term commercial companies become a policy directive of the National Park service. I though it was in the business of protecting landscapes?

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