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Know the West

A 'consummate community collaborator'


As a career National Park Service employee and former superintendent myself, I know Jon Jarvis to be a dedicated public servant who cares about the future of the national park system and strives to make good decisions on behalf of it (HCN, 8/3/09). A recent opinion piece in High Country News suggested that a conflict at Point Reyes National Seashore was an indictment of Jarvis' management. However, the writer was misinformed as to the legal and policy situation facing the agency — one which did not at all call for collaboration to extend operating rights of the oyster company, whose permit is set to expire and whose operation is in an area that Congress had already determined is to become statutory wilderness when that permit expires. 

There was no doubt that the issue of commercial oyster farming in a national park system unit that is slated for wilderness protection would stir controversy, and it has. In 1976, Congress passed a law to designate Drakes Bay as wilderness. The oyster company that was operating in the estuary was allowed to continue until its permit expires in 2012. The company was sold in 2005 and the new owners launched a campaign to extend its permit. The company and its lobbyists are making headway in Congress through a rider on the Senate Interior Appropriations bill. This situation is not Jarvis' decision; rather, it is a matter of law and policy. Continuing a commercial oyster operation in this area is at odds with a law to protect Drakes Bay as wilderness — for all Americans.

The national park system epitomizes the democratic values upon which this country was founded, and the public plays a key role in supporting and maintaining the original vision for our parks: a system of lands and cultural sites that preserve our shared history and protect our future. Knowing Jon Jarvis, he shares these beliefs and vigorously defended them three years ago when they were challenged by political appointees who were hell-bent on radically changing the guidebook to managing this great agency.

Jarvis cares about visitor experience, scientific integrity and encouraging the next generation of Americans to visit and support the national park system. Over his three decades in the National Park Service, Jarvis has proven time and again that he is the consummate community collaborator as a manager of the nation's premier examples of our natural and cultural heritage. To give just one example, as superintendent of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska, Jarvis worked actively with the community's businesses to promote visitation to their lesser-known park as an alternative to visiting the better-known Denali National Park. Further, he developed a park brochure specifically focused on the local residents' uses of the park, complete with a park map showing the places where local residents could hunt, fish, gather and drive ATVs (as well as those areas closed to such activities).

Jarvis has spent 30 years building a career from coast to coast within the National Park Service. He has been an interpreter, resource management specialist, park superintendent and a regional director. He has a portfolio as well-rounded for the job of NPS director as any of his predecessors, and better than most have had.

Bill Wade, chair
Executive Council Coalition of National Park Service Retirees
Tucson, Arizona

Gary Nabhan responds:
From all I have read, the Park Service mandate regarding the lease for the oyster farm in Drakes Bay remains as squishy an oyster. I base this opinion on four pieces of evidence: (1) the enabling legislation for Point Reyes, and the recorded statements of California senators and congressmen at the time that legislation was passed, favor the continuation of farming, ranching and shellfish farming; (2) past and currently approved management plans for the park do not override the continuation of these non-complying uses, even if wilderness is adjacent to them; (3) the waters of Drakes Bay itself are not legally in the National Seashore; and (4) Sen. Feinstein's recent opinion in California press that the oyster farm must stay, which I believe is not just a political stance but an opinion that shows the oyster farm is legally permissible and consistent with the Seashore's stated objectives.

—Gary Paul Nabhan