Anti-Oyster-Farm Activists Spread Misinformation

The following editorial was first published in the West Marin Citizen July 18, 2013. Reprinted with permission.

Outside Interests

By Sarah Rolph

In her letter in last week’s Citizen, “Prefers wilderness over private profit,” Carissa Brands expresses her sorrow over the “division among our community,” and accuses Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) of “aligning themselves” with a “Koch-brothers-and-friends agenda.” She wonders, “Was this always part of a plan by outside interests to divide and conquer”?

The answer is yes. The divisions are indeed part of a plan by outside interests. But it has nothing to do with the Koch brothers.

The outside interests dividing this community are the anti-oyster-farm activists.

Amy Trainer, the current executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin (EAC), came to West Marin on assignment. She was “brought here,” as she puts it, “to kick butt and take names.”  Amy worked as a professional activist in Washington state and in Colorado on small-scale projects before she got her potential big break in West Marin, helping the Park Service kick out the oyster farm.

The mantle of “environmentalist” is powerful—especially in West Marin, where so many people care passionately about environmental issues.

But “environmentalism” is not always what is seems, as Tom Knudson pointed out in his groundbreaking five-article series in the Sacramento Bee, “Environment, Inc.”  The series examines the “high-powered fund raising, the litigation and the public relations machine that has come to characterize much of the movement today.” Knudson points out that fear-mongering is a way of life for these groups. “Crisis, real or not, is a commodity,” he says, “And slogans and sound bites masquerade as scientific fact.”

Knudson’s meticulously researched series points out that many of these groups spend about half of their money on fund-raising, far more than the philanthropic guideline of 35 percent. The Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) are cited as the two biggest offenders.

A lot of the money goes to the people who run these groups. When the NPCA fired its president Paul Pritchard, in 1997, it paid him $760,335 to settle his contract. Salaries for the heads of these groups rival those of the biggest commercial firms. Knudson quotes Martin Litton, a former Sierra Club board member as saying: “Those salaries are obscene.” Litton’s important work—he helped bring about the creation of Redwoods National Park and Sequoia National Monument—was unpaid.

Paid professional activist Amy Trainer is skilled at creating alliances with other groups. From Big Environment stalwarts like the NPCA and the Sierra Club to tiny groups like Save Our Seashore (a very small group indeed—it seems to consist solely of Gordon Bennett), Trainer has coordinated efforts against DBOC using the same tactics outlined in Knudson’s expose’ – scaremongering, manufactured crises, and the use of slogans and soundbites masquerading as fact.

Amy’s slogans and soundbites are reflected in Carissa Brands’s letter. Privatization is the most recent term, and the issue is entirely made up. Nobody is trying to “privatize” anything, the Lunnys simply want to keep farming oysters in Drakes Estero as has been done for almost 100 years. Wilderness as the “highest use” is a slogan crafted to advertise the anti-oyster-farm cause, as is the famous “deal is a deal,” which has gotten tremendous traction even though it’s untrue.

The third article in Knudson’s series, “Litigation central,” shows how these groups frequently use litigation as a weapon. The anti-oyster-farm activists are now adding this to their playbook. Known shakedown artist Jack Silver, whose so-called environmental group Riverwatch is famous for extorting funds by threatening to sue, has filed a shakedown suit against the Lunnys. The suit has no merit.

Carissa Brands has been duped into believing that “It’s time to honor the contract with the people of the U.S by returning Drakes Estero to the wild.” There is no such contract; the State of California owns the water bottom leases of Drakes Estero, and the oyster farm has a State lease that is valid until 2029. Wilderness designation of the estero would be on paper only. To quote the authors of the friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of DBOC: “the sounds of motorcycles racing by Drakes Estero on the adjacent highway will not cease if the Oyster Farm is closed.”

Who are the real environmentalists here? The shakedown artists getting headlines with a pointless lawsuit? The professional activists paid to create anti-oyster-farm slogans? Or is it the Lunnys, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up the oyster farm and the estero, whose award-winning oysters are recognized as among the cleanest greenest shellfish in the world, and whose continued success at  shellfish mariculture depends on their careful stewardship of the land and water?

I think the answer is clear.