Drakes Bay Oyster Company owner Kevin Lunny called the decision today by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar not to extend his company's operating permit "a devastating blow to the West Marin economy and community."
Salazar, who toured the oyster company on Drakes Estero last week, decided the let the permit expire Friday as scheduled.
The oyster operation had a 40-year permit to operate through Nov. 30, 2012. Lunny acquired the business from the Johnson Oyster Co. in 2004 and was seeking a 10-year extension of the permit.
Today's decision will end the company's operations within the Point Reyes National Seashore, including an on-shore oyster processing facility and offshore oyster harvesting activities that occur on 1,000 acres of estuary, the Department of the Interior said in a news release.
"After careful consideration of the applicable law and policy, I have directed the National Park Service to allow the permit for the Drakes Bay Oyster Company to expire at the end of its current term and to return the Drakes Estero to the state of wilderness that Congress designated for it in 1976," Salazar said in a statement.
"I believe it is the right decision for Point Reyes National Seashore and for future generations who will enjoy this treasured landscape," Salazar said.
Lunny said Salazar telephoned him this morning before publicly announcing his decision. "I had to deliver the news to our 30 workers that the Secretary of the Interior has decided to put them out of work and out of their homes," Lunny said.
Some of the workers live on the company's site, according to Lunny."Many of them are highly skilled workers who have been here 30 years," he said. "They grew up in our community. This will forever change West Marin."
Lunny's family also runs a cattle ranch, but the oyster company, which he said brought in about $1.5 million annually, was the family's main source of income.
Lunny said he is still in shock and will have to consult with the company's advisers regarding his next step. A petition on Change.org urging Salazar to renew the lease has gained over 9,000 signatures as of Thursday.
The petition has gain support from Marin and beyond. "[Drakes Bay Oyser Co.] is a source for all that has been there for over 30 years. It should now be considered as part of the environment," posted Marvin Morita from El Cerrito.
"If the oyster farm goes, the rest of the ranches will go next," posted Pt. Reyes Station resident Steve Doughty.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein favored extending the oyster company's permit. She asked the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate a National Park Service report that was critical of the oyster company's presence in the national seashore.
"I am extremely disappointed that Secretary Salazar chose not to renew the operating permit for Drakes Bay Oyster Company," Feinstein said on her website today.
"The National Park Service's review process has been flawed from the beginning with false and misleading science, which was also used in the Environmental Impact Statement," Feinstein said.
"The secretary's decision effectively puts this historic California oyster farm out of business. As a result, the farm will be forced to cease operations and 30 Californians will lose their jobs," she said.
Environmentalists and the National Park Service objected to the oyster company's operations, claiming they were a threat to endangered species, including harbor seals.
A spokesman for the Point Reyes National Seashore did not immediately return a call for comment this afternoon.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer said she has great respect for Salazar's decision."He studied the issue carefully, he listened closely to all sides and, in the end, he made his decision based on the science and the law," Boxer said.
Salazar's supporters also included retired Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, who said the secretary made a "fair, thorough and knowledgeable" decision.
"[Salazar's] personal experience as a rancher gave him a unique perspective in addressing these issues that lends additional credibility to his decision," she said in a statment. "By directing the National Park Service to pursue permit extensions (from 10 to 20 years) for ranches operating in the Point Reyes National Seashore pastoral zone, he is making every effort to give ranchers the certainty they need to thrive."
Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said, "We're thrilled that after three decades, this amazing piece of Point Reyes National Seashore will finally receive the protection it deserves."
"Preserving this area fulfills Congress' promise to all Americans when it passed the Point Reyes Wilderness Act. The National Park Service rightly concluded in its study that the oyster factory is damaging the national park," Brune said.
--Bay City News Service