The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Luke Eshleman (202) 265-7337

Commercial Aquaculture in Wilderness Pushed by Key Senator

Point Reyes National Seashore Oyster Farm Dispute Opens Legal Can of Worms


A senior Democratic Senator is pressuring the Obama administration
to grant an illegal permit to keep a commercial aquaculture operation
in part of a national park that is supposed to be managed as
wilderness. The concerted campaign to retain current non-native oyster
cultivation in Point Reyes National Seashore may cause Wilderness Act
protections to be set aside to benefit politically-favored enterprises,
according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

On May 5, 2009, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the
appropriations subcommittee setting the National Park Service budget,
wrote to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar strongly expressing her desire
that he issue a new permit to allow the oyster farm to continue past
the end of its current permit in 2012. The Interior Department's Office
of the Solicitor has formally opined that the oyster enterprise must,
by law, be discontinued as a "non-conforming use".

Sen. Feinstein contends that a new report by the National Academies
of Science which found no "strong scientific evidence that shellfish
farming has major adverse ecological effects" means that the Parks
Service should therefore allow the operator "run its oyster company"
past 2012 and address any problems that do arise through "adaptive

"The fate of the Point Reyes commercial oyster operation is a legal
question about the requirements of the Wilderness Act, not a scientific
question about how damaging non-native bi-valves can be," stated PEER
Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization has successfully sued
to stop wilderness violations in national parks from Olympia,
Washington, to Cumberland Island, Georgia. "How is Senator Feinstein's
arm twisting essentially different from Republican legislators who
induced the Bush administration to ignore environmental laws?"

The National Academies report follows a 2008 Inspector General
report which concluded that Park Service employees engaged in no
"disparate treatment" of the enterprise located in Drakes Estero, one
of the most sensitive stretches of the national seashore. The Inspector
General, however, demurred on the underlying scientific issues. The
National Academies report on those issues stated that Park Service
assessments "exaggerated the negative" but, overall, concluded that
little was definitively known about the true environmental effects. The
National Academies also cautioned that "statements in the report should
not be interpreted as recommendations in support or opposition to an
extension of the lease" but conceded Interior lawyers had already ruled
the lease extension contrary to law.

"Senator Feinstein is setting up a scientific straw man and misusing
of the National Academies by dragging it into a permit dispute," Ruch
added. "The National Park Service is not supposed to conduct
experiments on treasured natural assets to facilitate commercial
profit. I am glad that Park Service is overly cautious in protecting
these resources."

Read the Feinstein letter to Sec. Salazar

View the Interior Solicitor opinions on the oyster operation permit

Look at the new National Academies report

Revisit the 2008 Inspector General's report

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.