What we got here is a failure to collaborate

  • An oyster collection boat navigates between oyster racks at Drakes Bay Oyster Farm on Point Reyes National Seashore.

    Timothy Lesle
  • Jon Jarvis, nominated to head up the National Park Service.

    NPS
 

Updated Aug. 24, 2009

On July 10, President Obama announced his nomination of Jonathan Jarvis as the next director of the National Park Service. Jarvis has worked for the agency for 30 years and directed its Pacific West region since 2002. Many of his colleagues contend that he not only has scientific training, but is tenaciously committed to the "right values" -- that is, protecting wilderness and averting change in natural ecosystems. They hope Jarvis will lead the parks into their centennial celebration in 2016. He's garnered support from environmental groups, including the National Parks Conservation Association and the Sierra Club, as well as from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Jarvis knows how to preach to the wilderness choir, but national parks are about more than wild landscapes. A third of the nation's 400-some parks, monuments, seashores and heritage areas contain culturally significant "working landscapes." Park staff interacts with Navajo shepherds in Canyon de Chelly, Mormon orchard-keepers in Capitol Reef, bison ranchers in Great Sand Dunes and commercial fisherman around the Channel Islands. If his appointment goes through, Jarvis will be charged with the complex task of resolving the inevitable conflicts that arise between the parks' diverse stakeholders.

That's a tall order, perhaps nowhere taller than at California's Point Reyes National Seashore, a windswept expanse of rugged shoreline, moor-like uplands and coastal mountains where ranches, dairy and shellfish farms predate the park's formal designation in 1962. But Jarvis' poor handling of a recent controversy there raises questions about his ability to deal with cultural issues and working landscapes.

To the casual observer, Point Reyes seems like a benign blend of wildness and agrarian features. A few historic barns and corrals remind visitors that this has been a working landscape since the first settlers arrived in Marin County. Enormous mounds of cracked and intact oyster and clam shells testify to centuries of active "gardening" of native shellfish by the Miwok Indians. A commercial oyster farm has been in operation here since 1932. Kevin and Nancy Lunny purchased it in 2005 and now run it as the Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Their  sustainable aquaculture practices have been recognized in the Park Service publication Stewardship Begins with People, as well as by Eco-Farm, Marin Organic, Bioneers and Slow Food.

But beneath this peaceful, pastoral shell, the reality, like an oyster, is squishy.

Point Reyes superintendents have long attempted to balance the protection of biodiversity and wilderness values, the promotion of sustainable agriculture, and historic preservation. When the park was created, the Drakes Bay Oyster Company received a 40-year lease with an option for renewal in 2012. But the 1974 Point Reyes Wilderness Act proposed a higher level of protection for the land surrounding Drakes Bay. It didn't specifically mention removing the shellfish farm; at the time, California congressmen and park officials all considered it to be a prior "non-conforming use" worth keeping. In the 1976 hearings, Sen. John Tunney, D-Calif., pointedly affirmed that "established private rights of landowners and leaseholders will continue to be respected and protected. The existing agricultural and aquacultural uses can continue." In essence, this gave the park managers conflicting marching orders -- to "remove barriers to wilderness designation" while at the same time permitting small-scale farming, ranching and aquaculture. In fact, such food production has been sanctioned in every approved management plan for Point Reyes, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has proposed that it be allowed to continue through at least 2015.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia, CO, seeks a dynamic leader who is mission-driven, hardworking, and a creative problem-solver. WSCC is committed to creating...
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • MATADOR RANCH STEWARD
    The Matador Ranch Steward conducts annual stewardship projects at the Matador Ranch Preserve and occasionally supports stewardship projects elsewhere in Montana's Northern Great Plains. The...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a motivated individual to help build public support for key strategic initiatives in northern Idaho through public outreach and...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.