Amy Meyer

Another View: Oyster farm tries end run on wilderness pact

Published: Sunday, May. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2E

California is blessed to have spectacular national parks that show off our country's most treasured landscapes, from the granite peaks of Yosemite to the remote deserts of Death Valley. These beloved places are part of our cultural and natural legacy that we enjoy today and leave for future generations. They are, as Wallace Stegner stated: "America's Best Idea." And this best idea is owned by you, me and all Americans.

You wouldn't know that from Stephanie Taylor's article on Point Reyes National Seashore and its famed ecological heart, the estuary called Drakes Estero ("Point Reyes shellfish bounty faces a shutdown"; Forum, May 19). Last November, when an oyster company's 40-year lease to operate in the estuary neared its expiration, the Obama administration fulfilled a long-standing agreement to let the lease expire on its own terms, giving all Americans their first protected marine wilderness in the continental United States.

This decision represents government at its best: Honoring the public interest and not succumbing to industry interests seeking to privatize property owned by Americans and planned for protection.

In the 1970s, I was vice-chairwoman of the federal advisory commission for the Point Reyes National Seashore when Congress designated a large wilderness area that included the Estero, which supports one of the largest colonies of harbor seals in California and tens of thousands of migrating birds. The existing commercial oyster operation had 36 years left on its lease on the property it sold to the government four years earlier. This meant the public would have to wait to see this area protected in its wild state, free from millions of planted non-native oysters and clams and noisy motorboats disturbing wildlife and humans.

The Drakes Bay Oyster Co. bought the operation in 2005 and sought an end-run around the wilderness agreement by teaming up with industry lobbyists, anti-regulatory members of Congress, and Koch-brother affiliated groups to seek a new permit. The administration withstood this assault and sided with the public interest, but is being sued by the company. Additionally, a Republican-sponsored energy bill that expedites the Keystone XL pipeline and permits offshore drilling along California's coast would grant a new oyster lease and strip the wilderness protections.

Congress and the courts must reject this assault on our national parks. Drakes Estero Wilderness benefits wildlife for the enjoyment of the Point Reyes National Seashore's more than 2 million annual visitors and ensures this park continues as the region's economic engine. Americans deserve a protected wilderness long planned and paid for.

Amy Meyer of San Francisco was vice chairwoman of the former federal advisory commission for Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Point Reyes National Seashore. She is author of "New Guardians for the Golden Gate: How America Got a Great National Park."

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