WASHINGTON, DC, November 29, 2012 (ENS) – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today decided to let the Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s 40-year operating permit expire at Point Reyes National Seashore in California. The area will be returned to a wilderness state, closing a chapter in a long environmental struggle.

The decision provides that existing sustainable ranching operations will continue within the working landscape of the Point Reyes National Seashore, a peninsula 30 miles north of San Francisco.

The Lunny family, which owns the Drakes Bay Oyster Company as well as a ranch on the Point Reyes peninsula, fought long and hard to keep their oyster business.

oyster shack

Visitors to Point Reyes line up to get their oysters at Drakes Bay Oyster Farm (Photo courtesy National Parks blog)

They collected signatures on a petition that pleads, “Secretary Salazar, the continuation of this historic oyster farm is critical. Significantly, the National Academy of Sciences found that the oyster farm is not degrading the natural resources of Drakes Estero. Future generations depend on your decision to preserve jobs, history, culture, food, education and the environment.”

“Please issue a renewable 10 year permit for the farm’s on-shore buildings as authorized by Congress, support the necessary upgrades to the onshore facilities, and allow the California Department of Fish and Game to continue to lease and regulate the shellfish production as they have since 1934,” the petition asks.

But Salazar says that he decided against the oyster farm after serious consideration. “We’ve undertaken a robust public process to review the matter from all sides, and I have personally visited the park to meet with the company and members of the community.”

“After careful consideration of the applicable law and policy, I have directed the National Park Service to allow the permit for the Drakes Bay Oyster Company to expire at the end of its current term and to return the Drakes Estero to the state of wilderness that Congress designated for it in 1976,” said the secretary. “I believe it is the right decision for Point Reyes National Seashore and for future generations who will enjoy this treasured landscape.”

In 1972, the National Park Service purchased the land that housed the oyster operation and the owner reserved a 40-year right to continue its activities through November 30, 2012.

In 2004, Drakes Bay Oyster Company acquired the business from the previous owner. Today’s decision will end the company’s commercial operations within the national park, including an onshore oyster processing facility and offshore oyster harvesting activities that take place on over 1,000 acres in the estuary.

Drakes Bay

Oyster farm in Drakes Estero at Point Reyes National Seashore (Photo by SFAntti)

In 1976, Congress identified Drakes Estero as potential wilderness – the only marine wilderness area on the west coast of the continental United States outside Alaska – and directed that it automatically become wilderness when the commercial operation ended.

Secretary Salazar directed that the affected areas within Drakes Estero be converted from potential to designated wilderness.

“Carrying out steps set in motion by the United States Congress over three decades ago, we are taking the final step to recognize this pristine area as wilderness,” said Salazar. “The Estero is one of our nation’s crown jewels, and today we are fulfilling the vision to protect this special place for generations to come.”

The park supports one of the largest harbor seal colonies in the state and provides critical habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. Concerns have been raised that the oyster farm infringes on the areas used by the seals, which are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The Secretary directed the National Park Service to work with the oyster company to remove its personal property from the lands and waters within 90 days, and asked the National Park Service to do what it can to help oyster company employees relocate, receive training and find employment opportunities.

Point Reyes National Seashore was designated as a unit of the national park system by Congress in 1962 to protect more than 80 miles of California coastline.
The park’s authorizing legislation enables the secretary of the interior to lease designated areas within the park for dairy and cattle-ranching.

The secretary today directed the National Park Service to pursue extending the terms of agriculture permits from 10 to 20 years to provide greater certainty and clarity for the ranches operating within the national park’s pastoral zone.

“Ranching operations have a long and important history on the Point Reyes peninsula and will be continued at Point Reyes National Seashore,” said Salazar.

Point Reyes National Seashore receives more than two million visitors every year who spend roughly $85 million in local economies and support nearly 1,000 jobs.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.