Parks for the people -- not profit

 

The fog that often hangs over Drakes Estero, an estuary in California's Point Reyes National Seashore, tends to obscure the natural features that make this small body of water one of the treasures of our national park system.

This estuary, which has been designated a wetland of international importance, hosts one of the largest breeding colonies of harbor seals in California. It is also recognized as a site of regional importance for its great diversity and abundance of shorebirds. It is one of the crown jewels in this park -- the only national seashore on the West Coast of the United States.

Unfortunately, the thick fog of controversy that hangs over this small bay appears to have obscured the larger issues of how and for whom these public lands should be managed.  Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., recently attached a rider to an Interior Department appropriations bill that awards a lucrative, no-bid permit to a privately owned business, hobbling the Park Service's ability to be good stewards of public lands under lease and disregarding the right of the public to be heard.

Attaching special interest legislation to a critical funding bill may be business as usual in Washington, but in this instance, it threatens the principle of public participation and ownership that has governed our national parks.

In 1976, following a multi-year process that included numerous public hearings, congressional hearings and an environmental impact statement, the estuary was designated "potential wilderness."  It was "potential" because there was an existing oyster farm that -- when it was sold to the park in 1972 -- was granted a permit that would allow it to continue operations until 2012. At that point, the non-conforming oyster farm could be removed and the estuary returned to wilderness.

In 2005, Drakes Bay Oyster Co. purchased the remaining seven years of this permit from the prior owner. The company pays the National Park Service a mere $3,500 annually for the right to run a commercial operation that reportedly grosses over $1 million dollars a year. The owner, and his lawyers and lobbyist, claim that the park can and should extend the permit past 2012. The Park Service maintains that it is prevented by the existing 1976 legislation from renewing the permit beyond 2012.

Rather than test its legal theory in court or assert its claim through a public process involving congressional hearings, Drakes Bay Oyster Co. has instead relied on a lobbyist to secure a sweetheart deal, a rider that would shelve the 1976 legislation with no opportunity for public involvement. In authoring this rider, Sen. Feinstein has circumvented the 1976 mandate of Congress and the public who participated in the 1976 process. Her unilateral effort is both an invitation to and a roadmap for other commercial ventures to "work the system" in order to get their own special deals in our national parks.

Sen. Feinstein maintains that the rider will not create a precedent and has incorporated language to this effect. But it strains the bounds of both hope and experience to believe that no precedent will be set when a directive by a powerful senator confers exclusive rights to a private interest to conduct an extractive business in our national parks.

The rider also states that any potential future modifications to the permit must be by mutual agreement of the National Park Service and the permit-holder.  This gives a commercial permit-holder the power to simply veto any and all efforts to correct problems that may arise or that pose a threat to the health of the estuary and its wildlife. This is a dangerous precedent that marks a radical departure from current adaptive management practices of resource protection in our national parks.

Sen. Feinstein's rider is essentially an earmark worth well over $10 million dollars that is being given by the public to a single individual who owns a for-profit company in a national seashore. It usurps the public's right to have a say in this matter and it ignores the public's past input on how this national park should be managed. For these reasons, the board of directors of the Point Reyes National Seashore Association voted unanimously to oppose this rider, which denies the true owners of this park, the American people, their right to be heard.

Dennis Rodoni is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives in Olema, California, and has served on many nonprofit boards including the Advisory Commission for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Point Reyes National Seashore. He is currently chairman of the Point Reyes National Seashore Association.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR AND BOOKKEEPER
    Posted: July 19, 2021 Application deadline: August 27 or until position is filled. Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking a fulltime Office Administrator...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Posted: July 15, 2021 Application deadline: August 21, 2021 or until position is filled Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking three full time...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt
  • SWEET MOUNTAIN HOME
    3.8 acres in pine and fir forest on a year round creek. Custom home, 2x6 framing, radiant heat, wrap around decks and established berry patch....