Wilderness Conversion and Drakes Bay Oyster Farm

By Sarah Harvey.

I am a daughter of the North Bay Area, California. My memories as a child are full of oaks, cypresses, redwoods, and endless agricultural fields.  Over time the open space,  local creameries, poultry farms, and agricultural fields transitioned inevitably into subdivisions and strip malls.

But there remains one area of the North Bay truly protected from urban sprawl through the foresight and grace of local ranchers and environmentalists during the 1950’s. Point Reyes National Seashore is a breathtaking slice of the coastal north bay.

During negotiations to protect the area, the majority of the land was left to the National Parks Department and continuing agricultural and fishery activities on park land were allowed to continue, grandfathered in with long leases. Now, for Drakes Bay Oyster Co., time has caught up and the 40-year lease has not been renewed. The Oyster Farm continues its legal battle to remain in operation.

Here are the facts of the controversy as reported by Spencer Michels for PBS:

“Drakes Bay Oyster Company and its predecessor have existed since the 1930s. Sometime after the area became part of a National Seashore in 1962, the company was told that its lease would run through 2012, and then it would have to close down operations. The land was now owned by the U.S. government, and it was designated as wilderness – or potential wilderness.

Seven years ago the company changed hands, and one of the new owners, Kevin Lunny, decided he would try to extend the lease and stay open. The Department of the Interior studied the case, as did a number of scientists, and last November Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar decided the operation should cease. In a nutshell, Salazar decided that a commercial enterprise was incompatible with wilderness and with the concept of a national park. Lunny and his family didn’t agree with the decision. They said the science was flawed, the area really wasn’t wild, and they went to court.”

This is an interesting case study and significant for the conservation of agricultural and wilderness areas.  In my opinion, this is a good example of compartmentalization and a reluctance to accept mixed use in environmental conservation. The hard-core environmentalist sees any activity on the land as unacceptable but the community who lives there benefits from this small but significant operation that creates jobs and tourism. So what is sustainability in this case?  The answer to that is unclear as both sides have their merits.

It is shaping up to look like the lease will not be renewed, but the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. still has some fight left in them and are awaiting an appeal. I for one would sorely miss their product: buying imported oysters to grill after a surf session in Bolinas, just doesn’t have the same appeal.

Photo Credit: Anne Marie Michaels
http://www.cheeseslave.com/save-drakes-bay-oyster-farm/”>Credit to Anne Marie Michaels

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