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The debate between the National Parks Service and Drakes Bay Oyster Company rages on. Two days ago, the New York Times published an article rehashing the controversy between the 70 year-old oyster farm, whose operations inside Point Reyes National Seashore predate the park’s establishment and the National Parks Service, who is seeking to shut down the operation when their lease expires in 2012. New developments for the pro-farm argument include the provision for a lease-extension in the Department of the Interior’s 2010 appropriations bill pushed through by California Senator Dianne Feinstein while the pro-wilderness argument is bolstered by a report released by the park service’s local office, and supported by the National Academy of Sciences, that claims the farm disrupts seal mating habitat and poses a threat to native flora and fauna.

This local debate mirrors a much larger question troubling producers and preservationist across the country: What is an appropriate level of use for our National Parks, Forests and Seashores and what, exactly, are these spaces meant to protect and preserve? The National Parks Service safeguards 2,461 national historic landmarks, 582 national natural landmarks, 391 national parks, and 40 national heritage areas, with the mission to “care for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage.” The problem is that everyone’s got a different opinion about what “caring for” and “heritage” mean.

Many small-scale food producers see themselves as the ultimate caretakers of our natural environments – keeping the land healthy and productive is in their best interest, after all. Their relationship with the land is part of our cultural and natural “heritage” and they often are the last line of defense between open-space and development. On the flip side, some preservationists argue that human activities in our National Park lands (which include food production, logging, etc.) negatively impact native ecosystems and that the appropriate interpretation of “care for” is to restore National Parkland to wilderness.

In some cases, both sides can work together to achieve lasting environmental and economic symbiosis. I think, for example, of a story told to me by a Western Massachusetts farmer, who worked with local landowners and conservationists to determine the best time to hay surrounding fields so that ground-nesting birds would not be disturbed and the fields could still be utilized for their economic purpose. If they had not reached an agreement, the fields would soon have overgrown, making them unsuitable for haying and also making them less attractive for the nesting pairs.

Use our comments section to share your opinions about how our parklands should be managed or your stories of communities working together to both preserve and produce.

[photo courtesy of adactio at flickr creative commons]


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