A Pattern of Deception

This editorial was first published in the West Marin Citizen August 27, 2013. Reprinted with permission.

A Pattern of Deception

By Sarah Rolph

Last week in these pages I reported on a false story at the online publication Food World News claiming that Drakes Bay oysters had been recalled, and two tweets that were sent within minutes of the story, claiming that Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) was making people sick.

The tweets – which pointed not to the false story but to a year-old press release from the California Department of Public Health — were sent by Amy Trainer, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin (EAC), and by Steve Maviglio, who heads a Sacramento PR firm, has recently been echoing the EAC narrative, but says he doesn’t work for Amy.

Amy’s tweet was deleted, and the cause of the story and the tweets remains a mystery.

This pattern, however, is familiar.

In September 2009, Tess Elliott, editor of the Point Reyes Light, published a story in The Nation magazine objecting to the nomination of Jon Jarvis to head the National Park Service. Entitled Scientific Integrity Lost on America’s Parks, the story is still online. In response to this story, Gordon Bennett, who was at the time a spokesperson for the Sierra Club, posted a letter that was so offensive that the publication saw fit to remove it from their web site.

In October 2011, Neal Desai of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) sent a photograph to Kurt Repanshek’s National Parks Traveler blog, a photo Desai claimed was evidence that  DBOC was causing harm to seals. The photograph showed no such thing. In the course of his unauthorized use of the photograph (taken by John Hulls and Todd Pickering and used by Desai without permission), Desai had altered it, removing labels that make the context of the photo clear. When the misuse was explained to Repanshek, the misleading photograph was immediately removed and the story revised.

A tweet, a letter, a photograph. Three different incidents, three different organizations, and one common behavior: smearing DBOC, using false charges egregious enough that they had to be removed from the web.

There’s ample evidence that these organizations work together. When the Park Service released the public comments about its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on DBOC, within minutes, a press release was issued jointly by NPCA, EAC, and the National Wildlife Federation, claiming that 92% of the comments supported removal of the oyster farm. Since 92% of anything is a very unusual result, I read those comments, and found that most of them were form letters. Using a computer program, I performed an analysis that showed that roughly 92% of the comments were in fact manufactured by the anti-oyster-farm activists, using sophisticated direct-mail software that pushed emails to the members of these organizations and sent the comment (which in most cases was not even modified by the so-called respondent) directly into the NPS comment system.

The emails used to gather these so-called DEIS comments did not even mention the DEIS, much less provide a link to the document. Instead they used scare tactics, claiming harm to wildlife and danger to wilderness. One of the email alerts, from Neal Desai of NPCA, even claimed that Harbor seals were an endangered species. Harbor seals are not endangered, threatened or  even listed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife.  When this misrepresentation was pointed out to Desai, he declined to correct the record.

According to the NEPA process under which the DBOC DEIS was created, public commenting “is not a vote,” and duplicate comments don’t actually count.

But the press release was very effective. It created the desired impression, and that’s apparently all that mattered to the activists working against DBOC.

It seems these activists are willing to say and do anything to undermine the ability of the Lunny family to operate Drakes Bay Oyster Farm.  Law, science, history – and most recently, health regulations  – have been misrepresented in the non-stop campaign to shut down the oyster farm.

Why is the NPCA allowing Desai to conduct a misinformation campaign? What kind of direction is the board of EAC providing to Amy Trainer?

The anti-oyster-farm activists have indicated they are not planning to stop with the elimination of the oyster farm. In a story earlier this year in the online publication Grist, Neal Desai seemed to indicate that the ranches are next, saying:

“If the ranching has impacts, those should be managed to the extent possible,” says Desai, with the National Parks Conservation Association. “Can more be done? I’m sure. Has this actually been addressed? Probably not. The park has been focused on this oyster farm issue.”

A few wilderness activists are trying to control what happens in your community—who is allowed to do business here, who is allowed to live here, and who is not. They seem to believe that their wilderness goal trumps everything, including contracts and permits, renewal clauses, scientific integrity codes, and a tall stack of rules and regulations.   They seem to believe their plans for West Marin are more important than the plans of the multi-generation families who live here. They act as if their desire for a certain kind of recreational environment is more important than your local coastal planning.

These people want control of your community.   Are you going to let them take it?