The Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s relentless push to overturn the congressional wilderness designation for Drakes Estero got closer to the end of the road on Monday when the company’s army of corporate lawyers filed a petition for review to the US Supreme Court. The millions of advocates for our national parks, wilderness, and coastal protection refuse to let the Koch Brothers-funded Pacific Legal Foundation — the oyster company’s main proponent — and their public lands exploitation interests destroy Drakes Estero, the ecological heart of the Point Reyes National Seashore.
The oyster company’s petition is full of false statements and exaggerations. For example, the company ridiculously likens restoring Drakes Estero wilderness to blowing up the Hoover Dam. Closing down the company’s non-native oyster operations in Drakes Estero as long planned will not have an impact on California’s oyster market, as the petition asserts, because the company only produces 3.5 percent of the West Coast’s oysters. Humboldt Bay, the state’s largest oyster growing area, produces more than 70 percent of California’s oysters, and is in the process of expanding by 50 percent. Native oysters were never abundant in Drakes Estero, and the oyster company’s decision to stubbornly ignore peer-reviewed science on this issue doesn’t change the facts.
The company’s petition to the Supreme Court is also full of desperate arguments. The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court found that the company was unlikely to show that then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar abused his discretion when he let the forty-year oyster lease at Drakes Estero expire on its own terms in November 2012. As you might recall, the oyster company’s owner, Kevin Lunny, admitted in his federal court declarations that he was given written notice by the Interior Department in 2005 that, after November 2012, Drakes Estero would be transitioned to wilderness. This transition follows clear direction from Congress in 1976 under the Point Reyes Wilderness Act. Mr. Lunny knew the deal when he signed a contract with the US Park Service yet now claims otherwise in his Supreme Court petition.
The company’s petition also misrepresents Salazar’s decision. The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court correctly noted that a 2009 bill amendment authored by US Senator Dianne Feinstein (known as Section 124) “left [Salazar] free to consider wilderness values and the competing interests underlying a commercial operation in an area set aside as a natural seashore.” The company’s petition ignores the clear language of Salazar’s November 2012 memo, which indicated the care and thoughtfulness he exercised in weighing these competing values. As Interior Secretary, Salazar was the trustee of America’s public lands and the decision was clearly within his sphere of expertise. To claim Salazar’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” because the company disagrees with it shows the arbitrary nature of the company’s petition.
Further, the oyster company’s petition misrepresents the strong Ninth Circuit Appeals Court ruling and En Banc Rehearing Denial. The Ninth Circuit rejected the oyster company’s “wishful thinking” that Section 124 was intended to “make it easy” for Salazar to renew the company’s lease. The Ninth Circuit found that Salazar, “drawing on the agency expertise amassed in the decades since the 1970s, concluded that continued oyster farming was inconsistent with wilderness criteria and the [Interior] Department’s policies.”
The inconsistency is readily apparent in the oyster company’s green-washed “stewardship” of Drakes Estero. The company conveniently omits any mention of its egregious eight-years-and-counting violations of the California Coastal Act that make it one of the worst offenders in the Act’s history. Instead of complying with the Coastal Commission’s order to reverse environmental damage to the estero, the company instead sued the commission and has taken no steps toward meaningful compliance. The company continues to grow invasive Manila clams and foster the spread of a nasty invasive species known as “marine vomit,” which are causing increasing harm to this biologically rich area. Thousands of pieces of the company’s plastic have polluted beaches all over the national seashore.
The company’s petition for review also continues to push junk science by Corey Goodman, a neurobiologist with no experience in marine ecosystems whose complaint attacking the analysis of noise from the company’s operations was rejected by the federal Office of the Inspector General.
The company’s claims about its impacts on the harbor seal population are similarly specious. An investigation by the federal Marine Mammal Commission concluded “mariculture activities in the estuary do disturb harbor seals.”
The executive director of the commission also found that the “majority of analyses” made by Goodman in attacking the National Park Service’s peer-reviewed research and the commission’s report were based on “fundamental flaws in [Goodman’s] application of the multiple regression model and they invalidate” the results. This was nothing new, as the Interior Department Solicitor’s March 2011 report noted that Goodman “immediately attached labels of ‘false,’ and ‘misrepresentation’ and ‘misleading’ to every scientific assertion with which [he] disagreed.”
Point Reyes National Seashore draws 2.5 million visitors a year and is the major economic engine of western Marin County. The popularity of this human haven is not dependent in the least on the Drakes Bay Oyster Company. The Supreme Court would serve the American people well by rejecting this specious petition and returning our only West Coast marine wilderness to all of us and future generations to enjoy.