The decision last November by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar not to renew The Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s lease was based on a number of inaccurate and misleading claims. Here are five myths that the Secretary, his supporters, and the National Park Service use to justify the oyster farm’s eviction from Drakes Estero:
The Secretary’s decision was based on sound science.
National Park Service researchers claimed that oyster farming operations in Drakes Estero damaged eelgrass beds and upset seal breeding patterns. Yet other NPS reports contradicted these claims, and the National Academy of Sciences stated that the Park Service had “exaggerated the negative and overlooked the potentially beneficial aspects of the oyster culture operation.” Marine biologist Corey Goodman, who independently studied the farm’s impact on the region’s ecology, called the Park Service research “a stunning misuse of science by our federal government.” Secretary Salazar ultimately decided that the Park Service’s inaccurate Environmental Impact Study was “not material” to his final decision, ignoring federal law that requires such a study be taken into account.
Renewing the lease would set a precedent.
Some people were concerned that allowing the oyster company to remain in Drakes Estero would create a model of privatization that other leaseholders in national parks could follow. However, the 2009 law granting Salazar the right to extend the lease another ten years expressly states that the provision would not be viewed as precedent. In fact, Salazar’s removal of the oyster company is likely to set a standard in the opposite direction, with more working farms and orchards expelled from national park lands.
Removing the oyster farm would improve the region’s environmental health.
When owner Kevin Lunny first bought The Drakes Bay Oyster Company in 2004, he took out a $300,000 loan to clean and restore the farm. Because his family’s livelihood depended on the productivity of Drakes Estero, he was careful to keep the waters clean and productive by clearing the bay of debris and trash left by hikers and kayakers. The oysters themselves actually improved the bay’s water quality by filtering out algae that inhibits eelgrass growth.
The disagreement is between environmentalists and the agriculture industry.
As a committed environmentalist, Kevin Lunny turned The Drakes Bay Oyster Company into a model of sustainable agriculture. “It’s extremely healthy for the environment,” Mr. Lunny said. “There are no feeds, no fertilizers, no chemicals.” Biologist Corey Goodman called Mr. Lunny “one of the pioneers for organic and sustainable agriculture that also protects the environment.” Advocates for the consumption of locally-produced food to reduce its environmental footprint have long supported the oyster farm, which sells nearly all its product to tourists and local restaurants. With Drakes Bay accounting for 40 percent of the state’s oyster production, California restaurants will have to fly oysters in from the Pacific Northwest or East Coast, increasing greenhouse gases and other harmful emissions.
The Drakes Bay fight is only about politics: It’s Democrats versus Republicans
Some contend that the fight over Drakes Bay is politically split along ideological fault lines. This too is untrue. First, there has been an outpouring of support from a community where most bi-partisan races were easily won in 75/25 percent split (Democrats/Republicans). Further, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has been a staunch defender of Drakes Bay Oyster Company, as well as a fierce critic of the National Park Service and Department of the Interior. In addition to crafting legislation, Feinstein has been outspoken in her support, even writing a letter to Secretary Salazar last March that called on him to renew the lease. With demonstrated partisan support, this issue isn’t split along party lines.