On November 1, 2005, in Room 364 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Senator Salazar testified at a hearing of the Subcommittee on National Parks of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, United States Senate. The purpose of that hearing, as stated in its title, was to “RECEIVE TESTIMONY ON THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE’S DRAFT MANAGEMENT POLICIES, INCLUDING POTENTIAL IMPACT OF THE POLICIES ON PARK OPERATIONS, PARK RESOURCES, INTERACTION WITH GATEWAY COMMUNITIES, AND SOLICITATION AND COLLECTION OF DONATIONS.” Coincidentally, at the same time, the Lunny’s had just completed negotiations with the Johnson Oyster Farm and the National Park Service to take over operations of the historic oyster operation and begin a massive cleanup and permitting process to bring the farm into regulatory compliance.
In view of subsequent events, Senator Salazar’s comments in the Senate Subcommittee are eerily similar to the sentiments of many who have visited Drake’s Estero and question Point Reyes National Seashore’s attempts to close the oyster farm: “But it seems that there was something hidden, something done in the dark of night, something done in the back door closets to try to come up with a new set of rules to accomplish some purpose that we are trying to define here.” The November 2005 Senate hearing on National Park Service (NPS) Management Policies, while not directly referring to the events in Point Reyes, nonetheless addressed many of the concerns expressed about Drake’s Estero, and how they should be treated in light of the Organic Act of 1916 which is the legislation that created the Park Service.
One issue that was raised was “A disturbing trend in recent years has been the inclination of park managers to almost immediately select closures or prohibitions in dealing with use management issues. Instead of seeking to manage uses to conserve resources or to accommodate different users, it has been too easy to simply post a `closed’sign. The proposed rewrite takes a far more professional, and refreshing, approach. It prescribes intermediate steps to manage, mitigate or avoid resource impacts or user conflicts. Only when management cannot correct a problem are closures or prohibitions prescribed. (See 8.1.2).” (as raised by the testimony of Don H. Carberry, former Director of the Midwest Region of the National Park Service.)
This is exactly what happened in Pt. Reyes starting in 2005. Then-Superintendent Neubacher, shortly after the Lunnys took over the oyster farm, simply ignored the policy requirements and represented to the local community and government that his hands were tied, the lease was non-extendable (not true) and stated flatly that he was shutting down the oyster farm. When Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey questioned NPS and expressed concern because of the oyster farm’s critical importance to the economy of his district — and sustainable food production in West Marin – Neubacher’s response was to abruptly and unexpectedly announced to the President, Marin County Board of Supervisors that NPS was suspending all work on pending permits required to operate the farm, and instead, was asking the US Attorney to bring civil and criminal charges against Kevin Lunny, operator, Drakes Bay Oyster Company for harm to harbor seals and the environment. Within days, Lunny submitted asked the Interior Department’s Inspector General to investigate.
The record of the IG report shows that at the time he made these accusations, the Park Service Superintendent had no evidence to support them. These actions lead to the Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously asking Senator Feinstein to bring about a resolution, which then centered around the misleading scientific claims presented by Neubacher and his staff and lead to not one but two studies by the National Academy of Sciences, who concluded that the Park Service had misrepresented science in claims against the oyster farm, as well as concluding that continued oyster operation did not represent a significant threat to the health of the Estero. It is also telling that in three studies — two by NAS and one by the Marine Mammal Commission — the independent scientists who have looked at the estero have found no incompatibility between the oyster farm and the ongoing environmental health of the estero.
When NPS is in charge of the investigation, such as with their original ‘Sheltered Wilderness’ report and the current Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), each time they make false claims of harm and impairment, such as the importation of 50-year-old oyster sediment research data from Japan and attributing it to the oyster farm (as concluded in the IG report). Their attempts to claim harm from oyster farm disturbance of harbor seals was disproved by their own hidden camera program, which they concealed from National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the Marine Mammal Commission (MMC) as noted in the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Frost Report) and now, the hopelessly flawed draft EIS claims of sound violations based on false data, presented as if from Drakes Estero, which came from a 1995 New Jersey State Police study of jet ski noise – 3,000 miles away. Not only did they import this false data, but ignored the fact that it was contradicted by their own data from the Volpe sound report, which was partially and incorrectly cited in the draft EIS. (DEIS)
Visitor satisfaction was a major source of concern at the 2005 Senate hearings on NPS Management Policies, and there are several very telling comments that apply to the Estero. Over 50,000 people a year from 44 States, 12 countries and three provinces in Canada have enjoyed the oyster farm along with countless school children who have enjoyed educational visits on the ecology of oysters and the Estero, hosted by the Lunnys. The segment of the environmental community that opposes the oyster operation has attempted to create a myth of the wilderness experience and aesthetic, damaged by the oyster operation. This point is flatly denied by the science and those who spend the most time on the estero, as shown by the comments of the commercial kayak companies response to the DEIS. The text of their comment is attached below and directly contradicts the DEIS manufactured claims of sound impairment. The resource value and visitor enjoyment of the oyster farm, as a historic resource that predates the existence of Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS), is clearly to be preserved over the aesthetic experience of a small group.
William P. Horn, former Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Department of the Interior, stated in direct testimony that: “No intellectually honest reading of this Act (Organic Act of 1916) can support the notion of treating large “natural” units of the Park System as unmanaged, untouched biological preserves with visitors to be kept on the other side of the glass or fence.” In subsequent written response to the Committee, Assistant Secretary Horn continues: “Management policies must clearly distinguish between these values as a resource and these values as aesthetics. Where the former is clearly identified, actions to conserve the resource is fully appropriate and necessary. Where the latter is at issue, NPS must not try to transmute aesthetic values into resources. Moreover, management for subjective aesthetic values must be considered openly and honestly and decisions made with regard to the 1916 Act, the purposes for which individual units were established, and the obligation of a public agency to treat all citizens fairly.”
The concerns of the 2005 hearing, in which U.S. Senator Ken Salazar participated, have come home to roost in Drake’s Estero. especially his own concerns about NPS process, quoted at the beginning of this article. Groups that differed from then Superintendent Neubacher’s vision of PRNS policy have been airbrushed out of existence. The Marin County Board of Supervisors, who raised many of the initial alarms have been ignored, along with the fate of the families of the oyster workers, who were simply eliminated from the mandated socio-economic study which was so devastatingly criticized in the DOI/Atkins review of the DEIS. NPS simply ignored Information Quality act filings by local newspapers and stakeholders groups, and refused to enter into open dialogue with the community, and now it appears that a decision will be made before the public and stakeholders such as local government even have an opportunity to take advantage of the mandatory public comment period.
It’s time to honestly involve all the stakeholders and bring rational and policy-driven decision-making to Point Reyes. The Secretary of Interior should preserve Drakes Estero as the special place it is – as an historical, working, educational landscape. It’s time to bring policy and intellectual integrity to the debate about Drakes Estero. This is a working seashore, full of agriculture, mariculture and ranching, part of a thriving community. This Seashore was created by a partnership between agriculture and environment to preserve the working landscape for future generations. Continuation of the historic oyster farm is an integral part of that working landscape and was incorporated into the very structure of the Point Reyes National Seashore. Under all the issues discussed in the hearing, the oyster farm is entitled to conservation under the ruling Organic Act of 1916 and the NPS policy which implements the act.
At Wednesday’s visit to Pt. Reyes, Salazar said he will reach a decision about the future of the oyster farm by the 30th of November, notwithstanding the fact that NPS just released the final EIS, allowing no reasonable time for public review, a behavior that Salazar found unacceptable in the 2005 hearing. The decision will reflects whether he will allow continued politicization of policy under increasingly out-of-control NPS bureaucrats who have spent millions of dollars of public money in their attempts to destroy the oyster farm or, as he indicated in the 2005 hearing, that he believes in the integrity of the Organic Act, which has done so much to insure future enjoyment of our National Parks by the many diverse visitors. Secretary Salazar should preserve the oyster farm and restore the integrity of NPS management.
(Here is the DEIS comment from the kayak organizations who provide tours of Drakes Estero. The kayakers refute the portion of the DEIS where NPS falsely implies that the kayakers wilderness experience is ‘interrupted’ by the oyster farm, calling it “misleading” It should be noted that the kayakers operate under license from PRNS and kayaking is mentioned repeatedly in the DEIS, yet they state that they, as stakeholders, were not contacted in its preparation.)
As the three largest and longest operating local kayaking companies, that consistently provide the majority of kayaking tours on Drakes Estero, we feel it important to provide a statement of our experiences of Drakes Estero and Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Between our 3 companies we operate at least 85% of the public kayaking tours on Drakes Estero. We feel the paragraph below misrepresents the wilderness experience that we have consistently encountered over the years and that we have been misrepresented within this section of the impact statement.
“In 2010, three of the authorized kayak operators reported providing tours in Drakes Estero. In total, 221 visitors were accommodated on these tours during the 8-month period Drakes Estero is open to kayakers. Drakes Estero, which is congressionally designed potential wilderness, offers kayakers an outstanding opportunity for solitude while enjoying primitive and unconfined recreation. This is a hallmark quality of a designated wilderness area. Such a wilderness experience, however, is currently subject to interruption by motorized boat traffic, handheld pneumatic drills, and other generators of noise associated with DBOC operations. A more in-depth description of the soundscapes within the project area can be found in the “Soundscapes” section of this chapter. Additional background on wilderness qualities can be found in the “Impact Topic: Wilderness” section.” (p. 213 DEIS)
During our many kayak outings on the estero, the “soundscape” of the wilderness area has not been impacted by the noise of the farm. The use of power tools can be heard while one is on shore preparing to launch, but the noise quickly fades after leaving the shore in Schooner Bay paddling toward the potential wilderness area. While kayaking on Home Bay and Creamery Bay, any noise of farm operation is undetectable. Over many years of operating tours on the estero, we have never had guides or clients comment on the pneumatic drills negatively impacting their experience while kayaking or hiking within the estero.
Oyster boats are rarely seen in action and if we do encounter boats, they are always very respectful of our presence, making sure not to disturb us or wildlife in any way. “I have been guiding on the estero for four years and only once have I encountered a motor boat. And it was on purpose. Kevin Lunny was meeting our group at the oyster beds to discuss the history of aquaculture, and his oyster farming techniques.” Tressa Bronner, Point Reyes Outdoors
We feel that the above section of the DEIS does not accurately represent our experience of Drakes Estero or Drakes Bay Oyster Company and infers that we have stated these complaints to the park or others when we have not. Nor we have we been contacted directly by the park for feedback on our experiences concerning either Drakes Estero or Drakes Bay Oyster Company.
Attached you will find comments from the individual companies that collectively signed this statement.
Laurie Manarik, Mike Rudolph, Tressa Bronner – Point Reyes Outdoors – Point Reyes Station
Bob Licht, Steve Hayward – Sea Trek Kayaking Center – Sausalito
John Granatir, Pamalah McNeilly – Blue Waters Kayaking – Inverness
Point Reyes Outdoors Company Statement:
I have kayaked and hiked Drakes Estero personally and professionally since 1992 and have never been disappointed with the wilderness experience. The launching experience however, has been much improved since the Lunny family took over operation of the Oyster Farm. Not only have they cleaned and improved the physical location but they offer an educational and historical component that enhances our client’s experience of the area. Their willingness to share information on sustainable aquaculture and its history in the area has been a terrific addition to tours for school groups and scout troops.
Having the DBOC operation means there is an emergency phone and boats within the estero and accessible to us which provides a welcome level of comfort, knowing help is available in an area that is hard for rescue operations to get to quickly. While this is not a component of wilderness, their generous assistance did help us get a client who was having trouble breathing back to shore quickly and without incident.
Laurie Manarik, Point Reyes Outdoors – Point Reyes Station
Sea Trek Company Statement:
I have always felt that the Oyster Company adds rather than distracts from the paddling experience. It is rare that people get to see an environmentally conscious operation and they like to find out the story of how oysters are grown. It is similar to MALT taking people on educational tours of the Strauss Dairy. We have never heard any complaints from our clients about the noise or distraction of motorboats. The expectation is that one is entering a working Bay which only adds to the experience and we still see the requisite amount of wildlife, seals and waterfowl. We haven’t noticed that they are disturbed by the operation.
Bob Licht/Owner – Sea Trek Kayak and Paddleboard Center
www.seatrek.com (415) 332-8494
Blue Waters Kayak Company Statement:
We at Blue Waters Kayaking feel that the presence of Drake’s Oyster Farm has not been of any detriment to Blue Waters Kayaking or any of our clients. On the contrary, we feel that it has positive cultural and historical significance, is of economic importance to the local community, is a significant example of benign, non-harmful aquaculture, is a safety resource for recreation users, and is in general a model and well run company that should have the option of continued presence on Drake’s Estero. We do not feel that the “wilderness” aspect of the Estero is compromised by the presence of the Oyster farm.
John Granitir & Pamalah MacNeily – Blue Water Kayak
www.bwkayak.com (415) 669-2600