Thursday, November 29, 2012

UPDATED: BREAKING NEWS: US Secretary Salazar Decides that Drakes Bay Oyster Company Should Close

By Robert Gammon
Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 10:21 AM

US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar decided today that a controversial oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore should close tomorrow so that Drakes Estero can become the first federally protected marine wilderness on the West Coast. “I’ve taken this matter very seriously. 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,” Salazar said in a statement. “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. I believe it is the right decision for Point Reyes National Seashore and for future generations who will enjoy this treasured landscape.”

Drakes Bay Oyster Company's lease at Point Reyes will expire on November 30. Salazar directed the National Park Service "to work with the oyster company to remove its personal property from the lands and waters within 90 days."

Drakes Estero
“Marine wilderness protection has finally arrived on the West Coast," Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke said in a statement. “With today’s announcement, Point Reyes’ Drakes Bay becomes the very first marine wilderness along the Pacific, and it will take its rightful place as one of the nation’s most precious and protected wild places along with designated wilderness areas at Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Zion and other national parks. Its preservation will enrich the lives of people today and for generations to come. Secretary Salazar’s action demonstrates the Administration’s commitment to preserving unique wilderness areas. His name will forever be linked with the very first West Coast marine wilderness. What a tremendous legacy.”

Update 10:35 a.m.: More responses from the environmental community:

“We are ecstatic that this ecological treasure will be forever protected as marine wilderness,” said Amy Trainer executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin. “We are so grateful to Secretary Salazar for choosing to honor federal law and policy and for upholding the integrity of all our national parks and our wilderness preservation system.”

“I want to thank Secretary Salazar for saving this unique Estero, whose biological reserves will benefit future generations of fishermen and recreationists,” said Gordon Bennett, President of Save Our Seashore. “I’m heartened we are not sacrificing the values of our public lands for the benefit of one commercial enterprise.”

Drakes Estero is home to one of the largest mainland breeding populations of harbor seals, Trainer noted. "Thousands of resident and migratory birds use its shores and waters for forage and rest. The Estero’s eelgrass beds provide food and habitat for innumerable species, including forage fish and endangered salmon."

“It is thrilling to have the waters of Drakes Estero permanently protected for the thousands of migratory waterfowl, shorebirds and other wildlife that depend on it,” said Barbara Salzman, president of the Marin Audubon Society. “We look forward to working with the park to restore the estuary’s natural habitat and check the spread of invasive species.”

Update 10:45 a.m.: Salazar's decision represents a blow to US Senator Dianne Feinstein, the most prominent backer of the oyster farm. Feinstein worked tirelessly over the past few years to convince the Obama administration to renew the oyster farm's lease for at least ten more years — and thus delay the creation of the marine wilderness.

But several prominent Democrats disagreed with Feinstein. And today, Senators Jeff Bingaman, Ron Wyden, Mark Udall and Representative Edward Markey praised Salazar's decision. “We applaud the decision to follow the clear intent of Congress, as well as an agreement signed almost four decades ago to establish the nation's first marine wilderness on the West Coast at Point Reyes National Seashore,” the members of Congress said. “This decision will protect the ecological heart of the National Seashore.”

Updated 11:15 a.m.: From Associated Press: Oyster farm owner Kevin Lunny ... said he was disappointed by the decision regarding the oyster farm and was still trying to figure out his next move.

He said Salazar called to tell him about the decision. "This is going to be devastating to our families, our community and our county," Lunny said. "This is wrong beyond words in our opinion."

Updated 11:40 a.m.: In a surprise move, US Senator Barbara Boxer, who had remained quiet on the oyster farm controversy, also praised Salazar's decision today: “This has been a very challenging issue, but I have great respect for the decision made by Secretary Salazar to allow this permit to expire at the end of its term. He studied the issue carefully, he listened closely to all sides and, in the end, he made his decision based on the science and the law.”

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