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NPS Oyster Stew - Betrayal Deja Vu

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Editorial by Brian Hawthorne

I don't work for the Oyster industry. I don't even like oysters. But the story about how the National Park Service (NPS) used "junk science" and trumped up allegations to ruin the lives and business of the Drake's Bay Oyster Company struck a nerve.

Frankly, it reminded me of our ongoing fight to defend snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park. And there are, in fact, many similarities between the two issues.

In the 1970s, the Lunny family sold some prime development land to the NPS with the understanding that a 40 year lease to operate their oyster farm would be renewed in perpetuity.

The first 40 years passed. The Drake's Bay Oyster Company, a 100- year old company owned and operated by the Lunny's, grew and canned delicious oysters in the most environmental friendly way they could. The Lunny's were lauded for their environmental stewardship efforts by everyone from universities to environmental activists. The NPS even gave them an award for being such outstanding environmental stewards.

But when it came time for the NPS to fulfill its promise and renew the lease, things changed. All of a sudden, the Drake's Bay Oyster Company changed from environmental champions to environmental criminals. The NPS accused the Lunny's of causing devastation to the pristine Drake's Estero. It started with claims oyster excrement was harming the Estero. When that trumped up charge didn't wash, the NPS trotted out one allegation after another, from damage to fish to harming the eel grass and harbor seals, an endangered species. Of course, none of the allegations stand up under independent scientific review and the NPS was found to have buried data showing the oyster farm didn't harm a thing.

Sound familiar? It should. Its the same story as Yellowstone. The NPS first said snowmobiles were harming the bison herd. That proved to be false and so began a litany of trumped up complaints about everything from air quality to noise to wildlife disturbance. Just like Drake's Bay, none of it jibed with the NPS's own data.

On November 29, 2012, Ken Salazar--the Secretary of Interior who oversees the NPS--decided that the lease the Drake's Bay Oyster Company would not be renewed. You won't be surprised to learn that Salazar is using the Endangered Species Act to bring the hammer down on the Lunny's.

Frankly, I'm feeling conflicted. While I deplore the National Park Service's vicious betrayal of the Lunny family, I also think that this decision from the NPS might clue more of the "general public" into exactly how our federal land managers have been treating us.

Decades ago, when our forefathers agreed to allow agencies of the federal government to control vast areas of our country, they were assured this sort of thing couldn't happen. But federal agencies have now become bureaucracies that seem to be accountable to no one. Words like "valid existing rights" and "grandfathered" that were once held in esteem no longer mean anything. One by one, federal land mangers have reneged on their promises. Should we be surprised that Ken Salazar now breaks another?

Speaking for myself... not surprised. Just resolved to fight harder.

Brian Hawthorne works as Public Lands Policy Director for the BlueRibbon Coalition a national OHV and snowmobile advocacy group. He can be reached at (208) 237-1008 ext 102 or at brbrian@sharetrails.org.

DO NOT miss this film on the Drake's Bay Oyster Company:
The Framing of an Oyster Farm - Drake's Bay Oyster Company
http://vimeo.com/52331881

U.S. evicting Point Reyes oyster farmer
http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Feds-boot-Drake's-Bay-Oyster-Co-from-Pt-Reyes-4077624.php

Scientists side with Drake's Bay oyster farmer
http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Scientists-side-with-Drake's-Bay-oyster-farmer-3242873.php

Support efforts to defend snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park:
http://archive.sharetrails.org/support/join-or-contribute/?other=Yellowstone