Bags of oysters. Photo: Orin Zebest
It's been a year of important milestones in Marin County, California. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes the Marin Headlands, turned 40. The Golden Gate Bridge hit 75 years. Further north, the Point Reyes National Seashore is 50. Now, an oyster farm's lease to operate on National Park Service land inside the National Seashore has expired. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar rejected pleas to extend and renew the lease, ending a highly charged battle between Drakes Oyster Company, the National Park Service, and environmental groups.
During the 1960s, both the headlands and the beaches along the Point Reyes Peninsula were under threat by developers who wanted to build up and subdivide those landscapes, so locals pushed for protection, fought hard, and won. It's difficult to imagine what Point Reyes would look like today if it had been developed and a planned major freeway cut through West Marine—let alone a proposed nuclear power plant.
But recently, the Drakes Oyster Company has been at the center of a storm over the Drakes Estero, a 2,000-acre, ecologically important estuary in which it operates. In 1962, Point Reyes National Seashore was added to the National Park System and sections of it were later deemed to become wilderness areas. In 1972, the National Park Service bought out the Johnson Oyster Company and granted it a lease to continue operating for 40 years. When Kevin Lunny purchased the company in 2004, his lawyers told him they could likely get the lease extended, according to the Mercury News.
The accusations on both sides have been fierce. In a polished, 20-minute video on its website, Drakes Bay Oyster Company accuses the government of looking for environmental harm where it does not exist and says the National Park Service has hid information that would have exonerated the company from claims that its operations hurt the estero and its federally protected harbor seals. In the video, Corey Goodman, a neuroscientist and biotech entrepreneur who Drakes Bay called in to fact-check the Park Service's findings, accuses the NPS of scientific misconduct.
But the Sierra Club, the Marin Audubon Society, and the Natural Resources Defense Council are among the groups who applaud Salazar's decision, saying that moving forward with a marine wilderness designation for the estero—making it the first such area on the West Coast—is the right thing to do.