Drakes Bay Oysters History

The header image is from the celebration of the founding of Point Reyes National Seashore. Ginny Cummings, manager of the oyster farm and big sister of Kevin Lunny, remembers: “I was about 12. Our folks had explained that the wife of the President of the United States would be here, and we were all very, very excited about meeting Lady Bird Johnson. We got as close to the rope as possible, and the First Lady even talked to my little sister Carol! It was an incredible day for this community, which was then just a sleepy little town.”

The historic oyster farm in Point Reyes National Seashore has been in operation since the 1930s. The Lunnys have been its stewards since late 2004.

When Congress was considering legislation that became the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act, wilderness proponents stressed a common theme: that the oyster farm was a beneficial pre-existing use that should be allowed to continue notwithstanding the area’s designation as wilderness. To this day, modern environmentalists and proponents of sustainable agriculture praise Drakes Bay as a superb example of how people can produce high-quality food in harmony with the environment.

Before it became obsessed with eliminating the oyster farm, the National Park Service had for many decades supported it, as did local environmental groups and the community at large. The oyster farm and the surrounding cattle ranches are part of the agricultural heritage the Seashore was created to protect.

In 2005, for reasons that remain a mystery, the Park Service changed position.   Over the course of its now eight-year-long vendetta against the oyster farm, the  National Park Service has created a false narrative about the oyster farm, leveling false charges of environmental harm, and false claims about the legislative history.

Local historian and Sonoma State professor Laura Watt has studied the history of Point Reyes National Seashore and has written and published widely on the topic. Her November 2010 story in the Point Reyes Light, What you may not know about the laws governing Drakes Estero is a good place to start.

In 2012, Dr. Watt published three articles in the West Marin Citizen that provide useful information about the founding of the Seashore, and rebut some of the common misconceptions. Realizing the Potential was the first of these thoughtful and information essays. Read The nature of wilderness: past intentions for oyster farm’s future here. Read Considering the complete history of ‘wilderness’ at Drakes Estero here.

Dr. Watt has been setting the record straight on Drakes Estero since the controversy first began. Her November 2007 article in the Marin Independent Journal “Oyster farm was intended to stay”  provides an excellent response to the false narrative being promulgated by anti-oyster-farm activists (in this case, the National Parks Conservation Association).

Those who are interested in the broader context of wilderness preservation policy may be interested in reading Dr. Watt’s academic paper The Trouble with Preservation.

Dr. Watt’s Amicus Curiae brief in support of DBOC’s request for a re-hearing by the Ninth Circuit, Dr. Laura Watt provides a detailed legislative history of the Point Reyes National Seashore, making it abundantly clear that the oyster farm was always intended to stay.

The brief shows that even in the earliest discussion of the creation of the Seashore, in the 1950, “a key concern was the possible effects of establishing a park on the local agricultural economy,” and points out that NPS supported this concept and specifically supported maintaining the oyster farm as well as the historic ranches. NPS incorporated this support into planning documents for PRNS, released in 1961, and explained that land uses in a national seashore should be “less restrictive” than in a national park.

“Nowhere in the legislative history does anyone make a specific objection to the oyster farm or discuss an end to its operation in the future;” the brief argues, “nor did Congress or the public give any indication that wilderness designation would be hindered by the farm’s continued presence.”

Read the brief here.