The decision by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to close the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm in Pt. Reyes National Seashore tugs at my heart.
I have lived in West Marin for over a decade. I’m a former board member of the Marin Conservation League that helped preserve the beauty that surrounds my Stinson Beach home. I love the idea of wilderness, and what such quiet beauty can instill in one’s soul. And the Pt. Reyes Wilderness Act of 1976 made Drake’s Estero, where the farm is located, part of a national system of wildlands that affirms that America is more than commerce.
Still, I am all in favor of sustainability. By its own accounts, Drakes Bay generates roughly 40 percent of California’s homegrown oysters – a source of protein with a tiny environmental footprint. The ability to produce food in waters of pristine quality resonates with the locavore movement so popular here.
I know Kevin and Nancy Lunny -- whose families are 3rd generation cattle ranchers on the Point Reyes peninsula – and my heart goes out to them. The decision by Salazar to shut the door on their Oyster Farm is a stunning loss on a huge gamble. Lunny purchased the oyster farm, which was in shambles, and made environmental upgrades, praying that he would be able to persuade the world not to close an oyster farm in times of intense interest in local, organic food.
But he bumped up against an equally compelling argument by environmentalists that his lease would soon expire, and that allowing his commercial operation to continue in a designated wilderness area would set a dangerous precedent that could be exploited by less benign commercial interests in hundreds of wilderness areas on more than 100 million acres of federal lands throughout America.
In the end, this fierce battle pitted two ideals against each other, and wilderness won.
Laws are black and white, but life is many shades of grey. Perhaps the much-applauded decision 36 years ago to designate the Drake’s Estero wilderness was a mistake. Today, however, my tummy regrets this victory for Mother Nature, but my mind also celebrates the fact that nature does not always lose when it comes to the court of law.
Yet, upon further reflection, I still remain troubled the National Park Service apparently fudged data in regards to the environmental impacts of Drakes Bay oysters in its zeal to force out the Lunny’s. It also saddens me the threat of future litigation over other commercial ventures doing business in areas designated as wilderness would outweigh the arguments on behalf of an existing business that creates local jobs in a rural region where jobs are few and far between.
One has to admire the guts of Salazar, a former Colorado rancher whose state is very familiar with issues of balancing between protection of nature and exploitation of natural resources for human profit. And one gets the sense this issue became magnified as a symbol for the nation, rather than a local issue. Perhaps it was intended to be a nice Christmas present for environmentalists by the Obama administration, reveling in their recent electoral victory.
In a perfect world, Lunny’s oyster operations would remain, and would become a showcase of how forward-looking aquaculture operations can reside side-by-side with areas legally designated as “wilderness.” But as we all know, this is hardly a perfect world, though the battle may not be completely over yet. It is time for my divided allegiance to stop the torture, yet still hold out hope for common sense to prevail.
I drove out to Drakes Bay Oyster Company just before New Year's Eve. Probably the last time I'll make that trek, given the decision by Salazar. In the end, I think we could have/should have found a way to keep this place open. I'm opening the last of my stash today, while praying that the Lunny's are somehow given another chance to make sustainable local food production work. Even we can't get it done in an elightened community such as Marin, how are we going to feed the world down the road?