Watt Amicus Brief Shows Oyster Farm Was Always Intended to Stay in Seashore
By Sarah Rolph
It may come as a surprise to some readers to learn that for years, until recently, both the Park Service and local environmental groups supported the historic oyster farm in Drakes Estero. Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s petition for en banc rehearing in the Ninth Circuit provides this short history:
“Before it became obsessed with destroying the only oyster farm in Point Reyes National Seashore, the National Park Service had for many decades supported the oyster farm, as did local environmental groups and the community at large. The oyster farm and the surrounding cattle ranches provide the agricultural heritage the Seashore was created to protect.
When Congress was considering legislation that became the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act, wilderness proponents stressed a common theme: that the oyster farm was a beneficial pre-existing use that should be allowed to continue notwithstanding the area’s designation as wilderness. To this day, modern environmentalists and proponents of sustainable agriculture praise Drakes Bay as a superb example of how people can produce high-quality food in harmony with the environment.
Since 2005, for reasons that remain a mystery, the Park Service has changed position and sustained a vendetta against the oyster farm. The Park Service has been reprimanded by the National Academy of Sciences, which in 2009 found that the Park Service had “selectively presented, over-interpreted, and misrepresented the available scientific information”, and by the Solicitor’s Office of the Department of the Interior, which in 2011 found “bias” and “misconduct” in the evaluation of harbor-seal data. Despite these reprimands, the Park Service falsely asserted, in the final environmental impact statement (“EIS”) made public in November 2012, that Drakes Bay had a “moderate adverse impact” on harbor seals. It has since come to light that the Park Service’s harbor-seal expert actually found “no evidence” of harm.”
(Find the petition here: http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/general/2013/10/18/13-15277_PFR.pdf)
In her Amicus Curiae brief in support of DBOC’s request for a re-hearing by the Ninth Circuit, Dr. Laura Watt provides a detailed legislative history that makes it abundantly clear that the oyster farm was always intended to stay.
The brief shows that even in the earliest discussion of the creation of the Seashore, in the 1950, “a key concern was the possible effects of establishing a park on the local agricultural economy,” and points out that NPS supported this concept and specifically supported maintaining the oyster farm as well as the historic ranches. Dr. Watt observes that “the Point Reyes National Seashore … was established with the explicit intention to protect local agriculture, including aquaculture, rather than to erode or remove it.”
Congress’s view remained the same when, a few years later, Congress adopted the Point Reyes Wilderness Act of 1976. “Nowhere in the legislative history does anyone make a specific objection to the oyster farm or discuss an end to its operation in the future;” the brief argues, “nor did Congress or the public give any indication that wilderness designation would be hindered by the farm’s continued presence.”
In fact, Dr. Watt concludes that Judge Watford’s dissent (in the September split decision by the Ninth Circuit against the oyster farm) correctly found that, in the Point Reyes wilderness legislation of 1976, “all indications are that Congress viewed the oyster farm as a beneficial, pre-existing use whose continuation was fully compatible with wilderness status.”