Marin Voice: Oysters, wilderness and Congress: Where I stand
June 19, 2013
Marin Independent Journal
AFTER SEEING MY POSITION on the Drakes Estero oyster dispute mischaracterized by others, I'm writing to let people hear where I stand — from me.
Few issues have polarized our community more. One side vehemently disagrees with former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's wilderness designation and wants the oyster farm's federal lease renewed. The other side passionately opposes renewal as incompatible with making Drakes Estero the first marine wilderness in the lower 48 states.
Both sides have lobbied hard, sometimes expressing frustration at my refusal to go "all in" for their positions.
To ardent advocates, there are only two choices: You're either for the oyster farm or against it.
To me, it's not that simple. I find some merit on both sides. I consider the competing values and equities too mixed for a blanket "for" or "against" position. I've urged conciliation and compromise.
Here's what I believe is true:
• Kevin and Nancy Lunny bought the oyster operation in 2005 knowing its lease expired in 2012, and that Congress had designated Drakes Estero as potential wilderness, but hoping for a lease renewal. They are good people whose business has contributed to our regional economy and the goal of sustainable local food production.
• Point Reyes National Seashore is a treasure and deserves lasting protection. That includes open spaces, congressionally designated wilderness, and ranches that have made much of the seashore a working landscape since the 1850s.
• The actions of some National Park Service officials and oyster opponents are hardly beyond reproach. In their zeal they've sometimes gone too far, overstating environmental harm and demonizing the Lunny family. A National Academy of Sciences review gave Park Service studies mixed grades, criticizing some parts, agreeing with others.
• More recent Park Service studies are also disputed, but Secretary Salazar has emphasized they were not the basis for his decision to let the oyster lease expire; he made a policy call, using the discretion Congress gave him.
• The Lunnys are exercising their right to challenge that decision in federal court, arguing that questionable Park Service science tainted Salazar's decision. A ruling is expected soon.
But now Congress is getting involved. Oyster advocates are urging me to support a bill by Republican legislators that would override Salazar's decision, and an investigation of the decision by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).
While many arguments surrounding this issue are close calls, this one is not. The bill in question, "The Energy Production and Project Delivery Act," authorizes the Keystone XL pipeline and more offshore and Arctic drilling, among other things. As for Chairman Hastings' "investigation," as a member of the committee, I assure you it isn't about science; it is part of a far-reaching political attack House Republicans are waging against environmental protections on public lands.
No matter how much I respect the Lunnys, I cannot support congressional assaults on our environment. The recent IJ editorial was right: "The future of the oyster farm deserves to be decided without the interference of Beltway politics."
My opposition to the Republican "investigation" has been mischaracterized as evidence that I don't care about science and am working against the Lunnys. That's the implication of Corey Goodman's June 12 Marin Voice column, which used carefully placed quotation marks to portray disputed Park Service studies as highly relevant because Salazar called them "helpful to me in making my decision."
But here's what Salazar actually said: while "not material to the legal and policy factors that provide the central basis for my decision, they have informed me with respect to the complexities, subtleties, and uncertainties of this matter and have been helpful to me in making my decision." He added a footnote emphasizing his decision was "based on the incompatibility of commercial activities in wilderness and not on the data that was asserted to be flawed."
Corey Goodman's misleading partial quote is another red flag in a debate where civility and truth have been casualties to strong opinions.
Looking ahead, if the court overturns Salazar's decision, his successor may reach a different conclusion.
But if Salazar's decision stands, we must come together and move forward. Toward that end, I and many others will work with the Lunnys and their employees on their transition, which could include relocating elsewhere on the North Coast.
I'll continue opposing congressional environmental attacks and attempts to circumvent the courts. And regardless of the ruling, I'll keep pushing the Park Service to honor Salazar's promise of long-term leases for the park's ranches and dairies to help preserve the agricultural heritage of the seashore.