Commerce vs. Wilderness


NPS Assertion: Commercial activities have no place in a Park Service unit; the area was meant to be wilderness 

Former Interior Secretary Salazar’s decision memo ousting the oyster farm claims that “the continuation of DBOC operations would violate the policies of NPS concerning commercial use within a unit of the National Park System and nonconforming uses within potential or designated wilderness, as well as specific wilderness legislation for Point Reyes National Seashore.” 

NPS allies often claim Drakes Estero should become “the first marine wilderness” on the West Coast.

DBOC Assertion: Point Reyes National Seashore was founded to protect this area’s working landscapes, which coexist with wilderness

Regarding marine wilderness, Point Reyes is already home to two of them: Limantour Estero and Abbots Lagoon. There is no need for a third marine wilderness at Point Reyes National Seashore.

With respect to the supposed “violation” of Park Service commercial-use policies, the Secretary cites nothing specific to support this claim. Point Reyes writer Mark Dowie researched the question and found that there are over 500 commercial businesses in U.S. National Parks. 

Regarding non-conforming uses within potential wilderness, the Secretary’s decision is based on a misunderstanding. As local historian Dr. Laura Watt explains here, the unusual “potential wilderness” designation was created to accommodate the oyster farm, not to remove it. The founding of Point Reyes National Seashore was meant to protect the farms and ranches in this agricultural region. The Secretary’s memo drops this context, creating the wrong impression about “non-conforming” use. It is quite possible that the Secretary was misled.

The Salazar decision memo also misinterprets the legislative history of Point Reyes. The memo cites a sentence from a House report stating that the potential wilderness will be managed as wilderness, “with efforts to steadily continue to remove all obstacles to the eventual conversion of these lands and waters to wilderness status.” The report from which this sentence is taken was actually written before the bill was passed, and it is not itself legislation. This same sentence is often referred to by anti-oyster-farm activists as purported evidence of legislative intent to remove the oyster farm–because this one sentence from this one report is the only such purported evidence. A serious discussion of the legislative history reveals that the oyster farm was always intended to stay, as explained in detail here.

Drakes Estero is already managed as wilderness. This pristine body of water will not become any more “wild” if the oyster farm is removed. Commerce and wilderness have coexisted in Point Reyes for decades.