The gods of irony, ecology and history must be laughing if not laughing, then shaking their heads with incredulity or despair.
Oceanographer Sylvia A. Earle praises U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's decision to create the first West Coast protected marine wilderness, "an enduring legacy" ("Salazar's decision is a gift to Drakes Estero"; Viewpoints, Dec. 8). Later, she calls Drakes Estero "a crown jewel in a California treasury of coastal natural assets."
Earle appeals directly to our desire to protect the environment and indirectly to our guilt for our failure: "There is a legendary place along Northern California's coast where the ocean meets the land, a natural haven for birds, fish, harbor seals and humans. Held sacred by coastal Miwoks who used to inhabit the area, this shallow glove-shaped extension of the Pacific Ocean called Drakes Estero. "
Taxpayers own the land and waters of Drakes Estero and a privately owned oyster farm, whose permit expired in November, that operated for 40 years. Earle believes the removal of the company's infrastructure would allow the land and sea to return to its natural state.
"This deal was nearly stolen from all of us," says Earle, because of the oyster company's efforts to extend the lease.
Let me see if I can get this straight. We should suffer righteous indignation over an estuary held sacred by Miwoks but named after an English explorer who in 1581 "might" have taken refuge in an estuary used but not harmed by an oyster farm. Really?
A one-hour drive from San Francisco could provide an aesthetically pleasing view of seagrass and birds, but aesthetics come at a price. How pleasing will it be seeing 30 people out of work, knowing they may lose their homes and end up on welfare?
In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to choose practicality over aesthetics, but we do not live in utopia. Moreover, Earle cannot guarantee the estuary will return to its pristine state. The area is, after all, created for sightseers, too.
Curiously, Earle overlooks the environmental impact studies showing no negative impact to the estuary. She doesn't discuss the negative impact of numerous leased dairy farms in this area. Dairies are notorious polluters, and the pollutants do wash down to the sea while the oyster farm merely impedes the growth of seagrass.
The oyster farm has not negatively impacted Drakes Estero but is out of business. The polluting dairies remain. Why?
Arguably, the dairies existed before the land became public, making them "historically significant." Perhaps the dairies remain because they employ more people. Nevertheless, allowing dairies while forbidding oyster farming leaves one incredulous, not laughing, and in despair of any existence of logic.