Amazingly, you can still buy Drake’s Bay oysters.
That’s because the oyster war continues to unfold on the Pt. Reyes Peninsula, where Kevin and Nancy Lunny – with family roots deep in Sonoma – have been driven to the brink in their stubborn efforts to continue farming shellfish. The Lunnys are still in business, but it appears they have just one or two more legal lives to lose.
It could have been assumed that, when former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued an edict that the oyster farm’s lease had expired and must be banished from the pristine waters of Drake’s Bay, that was the end of the line.
It could also have been assumed that when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, ruled in a split, 2-1 decision that Salazar’s edict was legal and binding, that that would be the end of the line.
It could have been further assumed that, when the Lunny’s appeal was denied to have the court sit en banc, with a full, 11-judge panel to review the three-judge decision – a rare occurrence at best – that was surely the end of the line.
On April 14, the Lunnys petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to review the Ninth Circuit decision. The odds of the high court accepting the case are long, and longer still that it will accept the case and reverse the decision. But stranger things have happened, and meanwhile, the Lunnys are being allowed to continue farming until the final hand is played.
That’s because, according to the Lunnys, they have shown there is a “reasonable probability” the high court will take the case, and a “significant possibility” that the oyster farm will win.
In a recent press release, the Lunnys announced a decision on the writ could come as early as the end of June.
It is an intriguing, sometimes troubling issue, only partly about the sanctity of so-called “wilderness” lands, which Drakes Bay ostensibly became after its federal lease expired, under terms of the 1964 Wilderness Act.
For supporters of the wilderness conversion of Drakes Bay, the issue is simple: the Lunnys’ lease ran out. End of story. Commercial developments aren’t compatible with wilderness.
Except, perhaps, where they are.
Drakes Bay Peninsula lands are, and presumably will continue to be, farmed by commercial cattle ranchers. Commercial developments in Yosemite and Yellowstone and countless other wild parklands of America have somehow been accommodated.
And, it has been credibly demonstrated, the Lunnys’ oyster operation has no negative environmental impact on the land and waters of Drake’s Bay.
That may not matter, because the legal issues involved have nothing to do with environmental impacts. The key legal issue will likely be whether the federal government can be taken to court for abusing its discretionary power. That’s what the Supreme Court has to decide.
That the Lunnys will win their last battle is unlikely. And we think that’s a shame. Environmental leaders we respect think a Lunny victory would set a dangerous precedent for the preservation of wilderness land. We disagree.
We think the Lunnys represent a perfect example of a positive bridge between sustainable agriculture and wilderness protection.
We hope they prevail.