Few stretches of unspoiled coastline in the United States are protected so that they may remain that way into perpetuity. But the U.S. Department of the Interior made a decision last week that allows for the creation of a marine wilderness just north of here at Drakes Bay.
This wilderness area designation has been controversial for the past four decades. In 1976, Congress designated the area as a potential site for a wilderness area. To implement that, the Drakes Bay Oyster Co., a successor to the long-running Johnson Oyster Co., had to move. Instead of forcing the company out, the government waited until the company’s 40-year federal permit expired, and in the meantime it studied the impacts the oyster farming operation had on the area.
New owner Kevin Lunny and his family took over operations of the 100-year-old oyster farming business in 2004. The lease they inherited from the National Park Service stipulated that the business must close in 2012. But Lunny and his family, who also operate a cattle operation in the national park, had powerful backing to stay open, including from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
The evidence that oyster farming is bad for the environment piled up. The Los Angeles Times reported that the operation had an “extensive record of violating state and federal agreements and permits.” The paper also said that the California Coastal Commission had fined the business, requested that Lunny get a development permit and eventually slapped it with two cease-and-desist letters.
But Lunny called the quest to close the property wrong, and Feinstein went so far as to say that the Park Service had contorted the findings of environmental studies in order to shut down the site. Other business reports are now bemoaning the loss of the operation, citing a possible increase in the price of oysters.
The Park Service and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who denied a permit extension for the business to continue operations, made the right decision. Drakes Bay Oyster Co. sits in Drakes Estero, a tidal inlet off of Drakes Bay. The business was asking the people of the United States, who own the federal land, to continue to subsidize an operation that, while providing inexpensive oysters to some, spoiled the commons.
<p>Change is often painful, even when it has been in the works for four decades, as was the case here. In this case, a few dozen workers will lose their jobs, a family will lose the ability to continue operating its business, and all of us oyster lovers may have to pay a little more.
But the good in this case far outweighs the bad. The coastline will be unspoiled and the waterway will be closed to motorized vehicles and free from the effects of oyster harvesting. And the Park Service can restore Drakes Estero to the pristine condition that Sir Francis Drake must have encountered when he first set non-native eyes on this natural wonderland.