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Marin County Oyster Farmer at Crossroads with National Park Service

A major debate is bubbling up in Drakes Bay in Marin County, Calif., testing the ideals of sustainable farmers, ranchers, fishers and foragers leasing Federal lands for their operations, especially when those lands are set aside for conservation.

Kevin Lunny, a local rancher, purchased his oyster farm – Drakes Bay Oyster Company – in 2005. As part of his purchase he received a special-use permit from the California Coastal Commission. Since the Lunny’s began to manage it, Drake Bay Oyster Company has focused on sustainable aquaculture methods for Pacific oysters. They have also collaborated with researchers, planning the recovery of Olympia oysters, purple-fringed scallops, and snowy plovers. Lunny Farms also raises certified organic, pasture-fed cattle on the land surrounding the Drake Estero. Drake’s Bay Oyster Company has been honored by the National Park Service itself, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Society for Range Management for its sustainability initiatives.

Nevertheless, the Park Service has for the last two years taken actions to close Drakes Bay Oyster Company in 2012, when its lease expires, to officially designate the area as wilderness. But Park Service judgment was recently called into question when a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel released a report finding the federal government lacked scientific evidence to back assertions the company is harming the waters or wildlife of Drakes Estero. In fact, in a breech of scientific integrity, Park technicians fabricated data on marine mammal disturbances in an attempt to evict the oyster company from Point Reyes National Seashore. Sen. Dianne Feinstein supported efforts to allow Drakes Bay Oyster Company to continue operating by recently sending a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

As Gary Nabhan, RAFT co-founder and a University of Arizona scientist states, “We are at a critical moment in this controversy and need reconciliation not further conflict. National Park Service regional director Jon Jarvis has the opportunity to demonstrate his leadership position in driving collaboration between farmers, ranchers, fishers and foragers – and conservationists – to ensure sustainable food production that reduces our carbon footprint and is not pitted against conservation.”

Leaders in sustainable agriculture are getting on board to help mediate the situation between the National Park Service and Drakes Bay Oyster Company. However, we’re interested in your thoughts about this debate. What are the challenges to developing a symbiotic relationship between sustainable farmers and conversationists? Legislative challenges? Perceptual challenges? What level of scientific integrity and collaboration should we expect from the Park Service? How would you resolve this specific situation?