Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

I have visited the Drake's Bay oyster farm since the late 1960s and more recently tried to track the facts and claims made for and against the continued operation. I have also worked with scientists and medical researchers in areas ranging from cancer epidemiology to estuarine habitats to toxicology and municipal waste streams.

While there may or may not be substance to the claims of misrepresented data and research with regard to perturbations in the Drake's estuary, I can safely say that they are ultimately trivial in the face of much more serious lapses in science and practice that are common and endemic to government institutions and universities. Even peer-reviewed science may be flawed or incomplete after journal publication. Hundreds of millions of federal dollars are misspent on ill-conceived or naïve projects. What differentiates Drake's Bay is not so much substance but its unfortunate politicization at the national and community level.

The fate of the oyster farm and estuary should not rest on a discussion of scientific peccadillos. The heading "Scientific Integrity Lost on America's Parks" is in itself inflammatory and unwarranted.

I am deeply saddened by the divisive impact this discussion has had on the West Marin community. I know and respect most of the participants, scientists, writers and officials. We are all worthy of better than this.

Ideally the resolution will rest on an honest accounting of law and procedure... alas, the rule of law remains in the hands of imperfect men and women. What would the next generation (children) do?

As an environmental activist and litigant, my perspective is that we--collectively and individually--are faced with much larger and more difficult problems of global consequence. Let's not waste any more time on a TV-grade melodrama. Drake's Bay will probably outlast many other declining marine resources, farm or not.

It is noteworthy that NPS staff are already planning for radical changes in sea level at Drakes Bay parking lots and in Tomales Bay due to climate change. It's likely Drake's Bay is in for some major changes within the next decades, no matter commercial oyster farms.

When this is done with, I'll host an oyster BBQ for all concerned.

Tom Yarish

Mill Valley, CA

Oct 30 2009 - 10:48pm

Web Letter

In Carl Pope's letter on this webpage, he says:

"When wilderness was designated within Point Reyes, the agreement to permit the oyster farm at Drakes Estero to continue operating until 2012 was a compromise."

I don't believe there was such an agreement. If I'm wrong about that, then Pope should specify the parties to that agreement and where it's written down, and he should quote the relevant passages and particularly those where the year 2012 is mentioned.

Dave Brast

Inverness, CA

Oct 30 2009 - 12:09am

Web Letter

The letters in response to Ms. Elliott's article in The Nation go a long way to frame the legislative and legal aspects of what is not only a very important debate on how the Park Service manages our parks but a national debate on the environment itself. In her response to the observations on the Wilderness Act by Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, Dr. Watt presents a substantive commentary on the law and the manner in which it is being applied. To frame the scientific debate, we can use her reference to Aldo Leopold. In his 1949 essay, "The Land Ethic," Leopold makes the point that man's ethical use of the land is evolving, and does not separate man from nature but rather charges him with the ethical use of the entire biota, of which he is a part. "The evolution of a land ethic is an intellectual as well as emotional process. Conservation is paved with good intentions which prove to be futile, or even dangerous, because they are devoid of critical understanding either of the land, or of economic land-use. I think it is a truism that as the ethical frontier advances from the individual to the community, its intellectual content increases."

The Sierra Club's involvement in the Estero scientific controversy predates by three years Mr. Pope's reference to refereeing a conflict between the National Park Service and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, released on May 5, 2009. The first Sierra Club scientific claims against the oyster farm date to the May/June 2006 issue of the Sierra Club Yodeler magazine. The overarching question is the standards of science on which decisions about the Estero will be made. After an exhaustive thirteen-month study of all the relevant science and literature, including that provided by the Sierra Club, the NAS panel members concluded that none of the charges were true.

The Sierra Club's designated spokesperson, Gordon Bennett, makes a clear statement of position in a letter to the Marine Mammal Commission, May 15, 2009, only ten days after the release of the NAS report. The letter complains that the NAS report contained numerous mistakes. An example: "NPS is not, as described by the NAS (pg. 9) a 'regulatory' agency, but instead is a 'management' agency, thus the logic by which NAS presumes that NPS should be held to 'regulatory' standards has no basis. Furthermore, cause-and-effect may be appropriate for laboratory biology and necessary in a court of law but it is inappropriate for wildlife biology and confounding to effective wildlife management."

Mr. Bennett has abandoned the ethical and intellectual components of Leopold's Land Ethic, while obfuscating the issues by raising points that are either simply incorrect or scientifically and statistically irrelevant to the NAS findings. For example, contrary to his allegations, Park Service management policies and regulations require use of "best available science," which is clearly impossible without measuring cause and effect to determine the appropriate actions and measurement of their consequences.

The Sierra Club leadership has often inserted itself into scientific debates, especially during the previous administration, as demonstrated by Carl Pope's May 2009 Sierra Club editorial on science and the press. In it, he takes on the Bush administration use of science, stating that "The Bush Administration ridiculed the whole idea of considering consequences" and then, as an example of responsible science, cites a 1981 commentary authored by Dr. John Holdren, now head of Obama's Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the same Dr. Peter Gleick who wrote the earlier letter, in response to Tess Elliott's article, that is so critical of Sierra Club and NPS science.

In Drakes Estero, the Sierra Club is dealing with the two-edged sword of local activism. Grassroots activists serve an invaluable role in protecting the environment, often based on emotional appeal as well as science. However, in the case of Drake's Estero, both Mr. Bennett of the Sierra Club and NPS have misused science in an attempt to rebut the underlying NAS findings that the best available science shows it to be a stable, healthy ecosystem. Mr. Pope is right to criticize the lack of scientific integrity in the Bush administration, but unless he holds all those who speak for the Sierra Club and the National Park Service to the same high ethical and scientific standards as he holds others, he risks the credibility of the whole environmental movement right when we need it most.

John Hulls

Point Reyes, CA

Oct 11 2009 - 9:11pm

Web Letter

I once shared a homemade Pugliese tart with Gordon Bennett in a Starbucks in San Francisco. We had been guests on a show on public radio, along with Kevin Lunny of Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Bennett had made several claims that I knew were false. As we exited the sound room, I suggested we keep chatting, and over slices of pastry I had packed in my purse, I asked Bennett how he could lie on air.

Speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club, Bennett alleged that Lunny's oyster farm was a menace to seals and eelgrass. Each of us knew these claims were debunked in a report by the National Academy of Sciences, which found that the park had misrepresented its own data. There was no evidence supporting the claims that the park and Bennett had levied against Lunny for over two years. The academy report brought to light what many suspected: a campaign to portray the farm as a threat, and justify its closure.

Bennett made several confessions during our post-show chat. "The park knew it had no evidence when it made those charges," he said, excusing his own malfeasance of lying to a 50,000-strong audience. He had also claimed that the Point Reyes Wilderness Act mandated the oyster farm's removal in 2012. "You know the Wilderness Act says nothing about 2012," I said. Again, Bennett acknowledged misleading listeners.

"If you know these claims are false, why don't you remove them from your website?" I asked. "The other side spreads misinformation, too," he replied. I shamed Bennett for attaching the Sierra Club's name to his false claims. He replied that he did so as a buffer against lawsuit. "Why don't you just tell the truth?" Lunny asked. "Then you won't get sued."

Bennett was quiet. I had an epiphany. This man, whose reckless behavior has shaped the Drakes Estero debate, does not hesitate to use the power of his title to mislead the public. For him, the end justifies the means. As he put it to me that day, wilderness is like a church. Bennett pursues his wilderness-church with religious zeal. When I wrote the article for The Nation I expected a response from Bennett--but the angry and libelous tone of his letter alarmed me. It is impossible to rebut the numerous false statements in this space, so I will pick only a few.

On May 5, the National Academy of Sciences announced that a Point Reyes National Seashore report "selectively presented, over-interpreted and misrepresented" studies of the oyster farm's ecological effects. That day, Jon Jarvis told the press that he thanked the academy for agreeing with his conclusions. What on earth did he mean? The report explicitly dismissed his conclusions. Later I discovered that Jarvis had given the academy a corrected version of the park report, but had neglected to make this version public. The older versions of the report--each containing claims of harm--kept circulating, while the corrected version remained hidden. So Jarvis was pleased that the academy agreed with his secret retractions. But Jarvis did not stop there. "We agree with some conclusions in the academy report, and disagree with others," he said. Everyone was confused. The academy had dismissed each of the park's claims, and Jarvis's only challenge was a tangential point that was not even in the academy's charter, concerning whether or not native oysters existed in Drakes Estero and therefore influenced its historic baseline ecology. Jarvis said they did not. Yet the waterside shed where Lunny sells his oysters is a stone's throw from a gigantic midden, a heap of shells left as proof that native peoples enjoyed the estero's salty bounty.

In his letter, Bennett makes an outlandish reversal, claiming it is the academy--not the park service--that "selectively presented, over-interpreted and misrepresented" evidence. His proof? A two-page explanation written by a man with a math degree from the University of Pennsylvania that is so flawed it is laughable.

Meanwhile, he attacks Goodman, the biologist who uncovered the park service's misuse of data. Bennett claims Goodman is not a biologist. In fact, Goodman graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University with a BS in biology, earned his PhD in zoology, with a specialty in neurobiology, from UC Berkeley, and was a tenured professor at both of those schools for twenty-five years. He is a former chair of the life sciences board for the National Academy of Sciences. Each of Goodman's allegations was borne out by the academy's report.

Readers must decide whether Bennett's claims hold water. Readers must decide who is making ad hominem attacks. I have suggested that Jarvis, now approved by the Senate for directorship of the National Park Service, has shown disregard for science. His loyalty to the troops trumps his loyalty to the truth.

Tess Elliott

Bolinas, CA

Oct 4 2009 - 1:14pm

Web Letter

Sierra Club President Carl Pope's web letter regarding the earlier Sierra Club (Marin Chapter) response to this article is refreshingly civil and conciliatory. However, it contains or implies several factual errors. The seeds for a win/win resolution of the dispute over the future of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) in the Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) may lie within these facts.

First, Pope asserts that "when wilderness was designated within Point Reyes, the agreement to permit the oyster farm at Drakes Estero to continue operating until 2012 was a compromise." There is no such agreement. The owners of what was then the Johnson Oyster Company sold the land on which the shore-side facilities are located to the National Park Service in 1972. They retained a forty-year "reservation of use and occupancy"(ROU) for a portion. It provides that sellers can be given a special use permit to continue their occupancy when the reservation expires. Furthermore, as Laura Watt recently pointed out, there was nothing in the history of the designation of Drakes Estero as "potential wilderness" by Congress in 1976 that set any deadline for cessation of oyster cultivation in Drakes Estero. And as recently as 1998, in an Environmental Analysis of proposed improvements to the shore side facilities the current PRNS superintendent said that their existence beyond 2012 would be determined in what is now a very overdue update of the 1980 General Management Plan for the PRNS.

Second, since early in the last century, the California legislature has defined "fish" to include oysters, and the California Supreme Court has held that the "right to fish" includes shellfish cultivation. When the State of California transferred title to the tidelands off the coast of the Point Reyes National Seashore to the National Park Service in 1967, as required by the California Constitution, the state legislature reserved to the people of the state the "public trust right to fish." Thus, because of the state's retained "right to fish," shellfish are cultivated in Drakes Estero pursuant to a lease of the bottomlands in Drakes Estero from the California Department of Fish and Game, not the National Park Service.

Third, it is the official policy of the State of California, as well as the federal government, to encourage shellfish production, and roughly 50 percent of the water bottoms leased by the state for shellfish cultivation is in Drakes Estero. The current DBOC lease from the state will expire in 2029. Consistent with state policy, the Fish and Game lease, for example, sets minimum shellfish production standards and requires that production be increased over time.

Fourth, the actual processing, buying and selling of shellfish, or "commercial" activity associated with shellfish cultivation in Drakes Estero, does not take place in the area designated "potential wilderness." Rather, it takes place on the shore of Drakes Estero, an area zoned "pastoral" by the National Park Service.

Fifth, the National Park Service can only close down the State's shellfish production in Drakes Estero indirectly, by terminating the tenancy of Drakes Bay Oyster Company in the shore-side facilities needed to support the cultivation of shellfish in the Estero.

In the effort to have Drakes Estero elevated to full "wilderness" status, advocates overlook the fact that cultivation of shellfish in Drakes Estero is not inconsistent with the Estero's achieving full wilderness status. Shellfish cultivation in the portion of Drakes Estero designated as "potential wilderness" is a State-activity conducted through a contractor, not a commercial enterprise in the ordinary sense. As such, it is clearly distinguishable from the typical "commercial" activity that might be conducted in a National Park.

Section 6.1 of the National Park Service Management Policies describes the "purpose of wilderness" and concludes that "in accordance with the Wilderness Act, wilderness areas shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, educational conservation, and historical use." Shellfish have been cultivated in Drakes Estero since at least 1934. And the racks used to cultivate shellfish in Drakes Estero are integral to the "historical use" of Drakes Estero for shellfish cultivation.

The use of motorboats to harvest the shellfish in Drakes Estero is not inconsistent with wilderness status: the 1964 Wilderness Act specifically allows historical motorboat use. And practically speaking, the use of motor boats in connection with oyster cultivation is no more destructive of opportunities for solitude in Drakes Estero than the vehicles in the Park Service uses within the PRNS's Phillip Burton Wilderness Area.

Nationally oysters are increasingly cultivated as a means to clean up the environment, e.g., Chesapeake Bay, and cultivated shellfish remain one of the few ecologically sustainable seafood harvests available from our increasingly compromised marine ecosystems. It's time for all serious environmentalists to take into account both the local and the global benefits of continuing oyster cultivation in Drakes Estero and the probable negative environmental impacts of eliminating that cultivation.

The California Department of Fish and Game working with its lessees has been a good steward of the Estero for over eighty years. In working with DBOC in the future, Fish and Game will no doubt take into account any and all recommendations of the upcoming report of the Ocean Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences "for best practices for shellfish mariculture to maintain ecosystem integrity."

Judy Teichman

Point Reyes Station, CA

Oct 3 2009 - 6:38pm

Web Letter

I have been closely reading the interchange in The Nation sparked by Tess Elliott's piece, and was glad to see Carl Pope's call for a more civil tone--and his inclusion of the policy and law aspects of the debate in addition to the scientific sphere. Both are enormously important, but on both "sides," decisions or opinions must be made with as many facts on the table as possible. As a historian who has studied the creation and evolution of Point Reyes National Seashore for ten years, I would like to contribute a few more facts to the discussion, arguing that the potential wilderness status of Drakes Estero does not require the oyster operation to cease at a specific date.

Pope's letter discusses three possible pathways for dealing with existing uses within areas to be designated as wilderness: leave them outside the boundary, choose a designation other than wilderness, or permit the use to continue for a limited time. However, the bill designating portions of Point Reyes as potential wilderness was actually the first time this unusual designation was ever used by Congress, and its precise definition remains murky. The Senate Report on the final bill in 1976 in fact called the use of this category into question: "The [Senate] Committee's retention of the potential wilderness provisions contained in the House passed measure should not be construed to be an advocacy of this classification by the Committee. Although the Committee understands the Department's rationale for this legislative classification, the Committee reserves the right to question this procedure at future wilderness hearings."

Nor was there any articulation of a political compromise allowing the oyster farm to continue until its existing reservation of right runs out in 2012. Throughout the legislative history of the Point Reyes wilderness area, there is extensive discussion of the areas that should or should not be included in the wilderness designation, and wherever there is mention of the oyster farm, the tone is unambiguous: It should be allowed to continue operation. There is no hedging of "until its reservation run out," nor any setting of a specific deadline--the language is simple and clear.

In the hearings and environmental documents leading up to the 1976 legislation, the National Park Service argued, on numerous occasions, that the oyster operation was incompatible with wilderness designation, and should be excluded from the boundary --in one instance citing its standing lease with the State of California for the shellbeds "with presumed renewal indefinitely." Somewhat ironically, it was the Sierra Club, Carl Pope's own organization, who argued back that the oyster farm should be included as a prior non-conforming use--with no mention of a deadline for ceasing operations. This position was later backed up in hearings by several of the legislative sponsors, including Representative John Burton.

As for insisting that all non-conforming uses in potential wilderness areas are expected to cease once their original lease runs out, this is not a consistent or established policy. As evidence, I point to the High Sierra camps, located in an area designated potential wilderness within Yosemite National Park, one of the most iconic of the system. The Yosemite wilderness was discussed at many of the same hearings as Point Reyes, back in 1976, and the Park Service made the same argument to exclude them from the wilderness boundary, as they were commercial operations, compatible with the mission of the national parks but with "no present plans to discontinue these uses." Yet they were included, as potential wilderness, in Congress's designation of 1984, with no language giving them special status or continuation--exactly the way the oyster farm went unmentioned in the Point Reyes legislation. These camps are unquestionably a commercial outfit operating within potential wilderness, yet their concessioners contract has been renewed by the Park Service since the wilderness legislation passed, and I have yet to see the Sierra Club take a position calling for their removal.

There is no formal definition of potential wilderness by Congress as requiring non-conforming uses to cease within any set timeframe or process. As recently as 2007, the National Park Service's associate director for visitor and resource protections, Karen Taylor-Goodrich, testified before Congress regarding the inclusion of several check dams within a potential wilderness designation in Sequoia-Kings Canyon: "We recommend that the dams be designated as potential wilderness additions rather than be set aside as exclusions. This would allow Southern California Edison, the operator, to continue its hydroelectric power operation as long as it wants" [emphasis is mine]. "Potential wilderness," when one considers the historical record, was not conceived of as a way to gradually phase out non-conforming uses; it was a way to accommodate them, allow the rest of the area to be managed as wilderness, and simplify the administrative process of declaring those acres to be part of the "full" wilderness if/when the non-conforming uses cease.

In the case of Drakes Estero, it is already managed by the National Seashore as wilderness, with the lone exception of allowing the oyster boats access to their racks. The fact that the estero is routinely cited as one of the most pristine on the Pacific coast, despite the seventy-plus-year presence of a continuously operating oyster farm, suggests that growing oysters is more compatible with wilderness qualities than the Sierra Club is willing to admit.

The Ken Burns program on parks this week has celebrated the words of John Muir as inspiration and encouragement of the national park idea, but perhaps we have listened solely to Muir for too long. Another central voice in the discussion of humans' relationship with the wild is Aldo Leopold, who instead of focusing on wilderness as distant cathedrals, wrote of the importance of re-establishing a personal relationship with wilderness, of finding our compatibility and co-existence with it. Point Reyes has long been ideally suited to be managed as a Leopoldian park, a place where the wild and the pastoral are complementary, not in competition, thriving side by side--and a wild Drakes Estero that also produces sustainable oysters is the perfect centerpiece of such a park.

Laura A. Watt

Sonoma State University<br />Sebastopol, CA

Oct 1 2009 - 10:34am

Web Letter

The Sierra Club is dismayed and disturbed by the tenor and tone of the current debate about whether or not to postpone the arrival of full wilderness status for Drakes Estero by extending the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm lease. We regret our role in contributing to this tenor and tone, and urge all parties to return to discussing the important differences that exist among people of good will who have different priorities and values for what should happen to this place we all love.

There are two issues here. One is scientific--what is the ecological impact of continuing the oyster operations, particularly on the seal population of the estuary? Here there is a dispute between two organizations for which the Sierra Club has enormous respect and admiration: the National Park Service and the National Academy of Sciences. We are not scientific referees, and we erred in allowing ourselves to step into that role.

The second is a policy issue, on which we have solid expertise, but which the current dialogue has obscured rather than illuminated. When a protected area--a national park, wilderness or national seashore--is created, it is not unusual that existing commercial activities incompatible with the proposed protected status are present. As those who have been watching the Ken Burns national parks series know, at one time even Yosemite National Park was home to a hog farm, a saw mill and agricultural operations.

There have historically been three pathways to solve these issues. First, in some cases, the boundaries of the proposed protected area are modified to take them out of the protected designation. Cherry-stem roads within new wilderness areas are a common example. Second, if the incompatible use is of such significance that it is judged desirable to continue it permanently, a different status may be chosen. For example, the conflict over hunting in the East Mojave led Senator Diane Feinstein to designate that area a preserve, rather than a park, in her California Desert Protection Act. Third, in some cases the conflicting use is permitted to continue for limited time period, with either a life estate or lease being granted to the private use so that it can continue for a time while maintaining the public's confidence that the area will eventually receive full protection.

In our experience, all three of these pathways are valid and can play a role in resolving conflicts about the creation of protected areas. It is important that parties to the creation of a protected area recognize that all such events are compromises, and that compromises need to be honored over time. When wilderness was designated within Point Reyes, the agreement to permit the oyster farm at Drakes Estero to continue operating until 2012 was a compromise.

So it is not surprising to find that there are those--not limited to the owners--who think that an oyster farm is preferable to wilderness for this particular site. There have always been such voices. But if Congress now extends the oyster farm lease beyond the 2012--in the absence of any powerful change of circumstances warranting such an extension--then the fabric of trust that enables wilderness and park advocates to rely upon limited extension of incompatible commercial uses is torn. For if an oyster farm qualifies for such special treatment, then all limited time extension of commercial operations in wilderness and protected areas are at risk. And this tool, which we believe has been of great value, will no longer be one in which we can repose our trust.

Efforts to resolve California’s water disputes have on more than one occasion fallen victim to lack of trust in the durability of promises that a particular physical facility would be operated at less than full capacity to protect the environment. Thus far, efforts to create national parks, wildernesses and other federally protected areas have not been similarly plagued, because Congress has not come back at a later date and tried to extend the lifetime of uses which were incompatible with the protective status created for the area.

We believe that extending the Drakes Estero oyster lease would, in fact, be a significant violation of the agreement that was reached when the potential wilderness was established. We therefore strongly oppose it.

Carl Pope

San Francisco, CA

Sep 29 2009 - 12:11pm

Web Letter

This article is not accurate, contrived to use a series suppositions to meet her personal objectives. Moreover, Tess Elliott is overly shrill trying to convince your readers that there is some sort of conspiracy afoot at Point Reyes National Seashore led by National Park Service director-nominee, Jon Jarvis. Elliott, and several others who have commented, present this issue as a "science integrity" issue accusing the National Park Service, and Jon Jarvis specifically, of lacking integrity and lying about the motivations behind the National Park Service decision not to extend the Drakes Bay Oyster Company's lease past 2012. Elliott skirts the key point of this debate, which is more properly framed as one of law and policy, rather than of good or bad science.

Unfortunately, Elliott also chooses to wrap her concerns in the cloak of conspiracy and the character assassination of Jon Jarvis. I retired from the NPS in 2003 as the regional director of the Alaska Region, and before that as superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, and I have known and worked with Jon Jarvis for many years. He is a respected public servant who has dedicated his life to our National Park System and has consistently demonstrated leadership and innovation over a long and varied career. Secretary Salazar, NPS employees and the citizens of this nation can be proud of his nomination to be director of the National Park Service, because his record has demonstrated a core set of principled beliefs that seek to uphold the laws and traditions of our National Park System that require him under law to "conserve the scenery and natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for their enjoyment of the same...that will leave them unimpaired for future generations." Further, while working with local communities and constituencies to understand and represent their interests, he also understands that our National Park System belongs to all citizens of this nation, including those not yet born, and his decisions must be first based on law and the broad national interest.

Elliott, in her efforts to defend one commercial special interest, instigates the very thing all Americans are tired of: the demonizing of a person she disagrees with. Jarvis is an inspired choice to be nominated for director because he embodies the very ideals all Americans hope the stewards of their national parks will hold dear on their behalf, not succumbing to the steady and shrill chatter to favor special interests or to find elaborate ways to skirt the clear intent of law in caring for our national heritage.

Jarvis's first touchstone must be the body of law for both the entire National Park System and Point Reyes National Seashore that specifically establish the parameters of his consideration. There was no doubt that continuing oyster farming in a unit of the National Park System slated and designed for ultimate wilderness protection would stir controversy. In 1976, Congress spoke on behalf of all Americans to designate the Drakes Bay in Point Reyes as wilderness once the permit of the non-conforming use commercial oyster farm expired in 2012. It was reasonable of Congress to allow a non-conforming use to continue for a period of time, but also to set a deadline for that use to expire. Congress considered the rights of the commercial user relative to the broader public interest and made its decision. In 2005 a new owner of that commercial oyster farm acquired the permit with full understanding of the intent of Congress and the limitations set by Congress and now cries "foul" while undertaking a political strategy to amend Congress's intent. That certainly is his right, but to turn this issue into a public character assassination of Jarvis, who is obligated under law not to renew this permit and to conform to the clear intent of Congress to create a wilderness area, is an injustice not only to Jarvis but the rule of law that governs our National Park System.

Elliott has sought to portray this issue as one of failed scientific integrity where scientific results are portrayed as dishonest or deliberately constructed. Let us acknowledge that science is also not perfect, and not all scientists are right, nor do they agree with one another all the time. Scientists can, and frequently do, "go off the rails in the belief that the end justifies the means," as we have seen for over a decade of scientific debate with different facts and conclusions over the global warming issue. Science is not the end-all, nor should it be. That is why science must also be tempered by reasoned judgment coupled with the rule of law. The oyster farm case is an eloquent example of that. Congress deemed this area worthy of wilderness protection for the broad national interest and designated it as such, regardless of the scientific inquiry or scientific disputes that might later emerge. Clouding this issue as something more intentionally misconstrues the intent of Congress, and the legal responsibilities of Mr. Jarvis to carry out the law. Elliott portrays this issue as exclusively a scientific one. In reality, she defends a narrow commercial interest, using science as a subterfuge and conveniently forgets that the issue is truly a legal one.

Jarvis's decision is precisely the kind of principled decision-making that is required by leaders in our National Park System--something sadly lost over the last decade or so. For all too long, special interests have spread their root systems at the expense of the broad national interest. Now there is special-interest legislation also proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein that would award a lucrative, no-bid permit to this privately owned business to continue its operations. This, too, is a travesty, in my opinion, because it clearly negates the broad public interest in our National Park System in favor of a special commercial interest. However, this is the way our democratic processes sometimes work, and if Senator Feinstein prevails, Mr. Jarvis will be obligated to follow those requirements, just as he must now conform to the 1976 legislation.

It is because of his actions the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) supports Mr. Jarvis--not in spite of them. He is a seasoned leader, with a significant segment of his career spent in the field of science, with a portfolio as well-rounded for the job of NPS director as any of his predecessors, and greater than most.

Robert Arnberger

Tucson, AZ

Sep 24 2009 - 5:07pm

Web Letter

"Investigative journalism"? Cut me a break. I found Tess Elliott's article to be little more than a personal, vindictive character assassination job on Jon Jarvis, devoid of meaningful facts, and attempting to elevate local politics into an issue of national importance.

I am not qualified to assess the National Park Service's science, though I do not doubt that they may have misrepresented or distorted their science. However, both Elliott and her defenders on this web site commit three important errors in my opinion.

First, they conflate the actions of park personnel and the later actions of Mr. Jarvis. While I would like to give Elliott and her supporters the benefit of the doubt, I suspect that they have done so intentionally, to create an air of conspiracy. Second, they ascribe motives both to Point Reyes personnel and to Mr. Jarvis that they cannot possibly know.

Finally, Elliott and her defenders generalize about the entire National Park Service and its scientific integrity from a single case. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees manage nearly 400 disparate units, and to impugn the reputation of an entire organization based on one's subjective experience in a situation in which the author is a participant calls into question the intellectual honesty of the writer and those who have jumped to her defense.

I have no idea what the Point Reyes Light received a Pulitzer Prize for, but it could not have been for this kind of writing, which is what I would expect from any little weekly newspaper anywhere.

Michael DeGrosky

Eatonville, WA

Sep 24 2009 - 10:41am

Web Letter

The response by the Sierra Club's Gordon Bennett to Tess Elliot's article on Park Service scientific integrity owes far more to Glenn Beck than it does to John Muir.

As editor of the Russian River Times, just up the coast from the Point Reyes Light, my paper also covered this story on Park Service scientific misconduct for quite some time, and we can vouch for the integrity and correctness of Ms. Elliot's piece in your magazine. However, before discussing the Sierra Club letter, let me make a point about the crucial importance of small local newspapers.

We provide an absolutely critical journalistic function, especially when reporting on local stories that have direct relationship to national issues. Reporting on the concerns of local citizenry, local papers have the luxury of continuing to report on an issue.

As editor, I get immediate feedback about the real concerns of my readers--at the post office, at the grocery store and when I deliver papers (admittedly a less glamorous aspect of the rural editor's job). Continued local concern enables us to cover issues in great detail and over time in a manner simply not possible in the major daily press.

In his letter, Gordon Bennett laments the "fall" of the Light from the level of excellence that won it the Pulitzer for its coverage of the Synanon cult. Mr. Benett is wrong. Tess Elliot is doing exactly what Dave Mitchell did in the Synanon story that won the Pulitzer: continuing coverage, over years if necessary, despite the bullying, threats and spin of those who perpetrated and supported the misdeeds of the cult. She's merely carrying on the Light's fine tradition of investigative reporting. I don't propose to rebut Mr. Bennett's allegations point by point. However, I will give one example of his positively Orwellian revision of facts and history that is sufficient to render all of his claims totally suspect.

Bennett states that it was always intended that the oyster company should go. In an op-ed piece in the Marin Independent Journal of 08/07/09, he states: "Contrary to media reports, the Sierra Club has always maintained that, while the 1976 Wilderness Act did not list a specific date for every required action, the legislation clearly required the shellfish business to close when its rights expire in 2012." The act says no such thing. The legislative history of the 1976 legislation, now the Philip Burton Wilderness Act, shows that the authors always intended the Oyster farm to be a pre-existing, non-conforming use.

The Sierra Club's original testimony on the legislation, made at the hearing on the environmental impact of the act? "The water area [Drake's Estero] can be put under the Wilderness Act even while the oyster culture is continued---it will be a prior existing non-conforming use." Judging by the vicious accusations against the National Academy, Dr. Corey Goodman and Tess Elliot, it appears that Mr. Bennett feels that if he is sufficiently loud and obnoxious, he will be able to obscure the emptiness of his position, and the failure of the Department of Interior and NPS to address the issues of scientific integrity. Mr. Beck, meet Mr. Bennett.

For fact checking, you might wish to refer to the article on the front page of the Russian River Times July edition, titled "Environmental Petition Spreads Discredited Information," available on our website, which will give more detailed references on the legislative history and Mr. Bennett's activities. In addition, we were very pleased when University of California at Davis asked if they could reprint two of our pieces on Drake's Estero and the NPS coverup on their Mariculture website, as they found them very accurate assessments of the situation. You may find them in the news archives, in the 6/17/09 post titled "Conflict over Oyster Farming in Drake's Estero, California." In the interests of full disclosure: over the years, the Light has shared articles and op-ed pieces with my paper, especially on State septic regulations (always a hot rural issue) and we currently have a former writer from the Pt. Reyes Light working with us on the Drake's Estero issue. I have not discussed this letter with Ms. Elliot.

Johanna Lynch

Monte Rio, CA

Sep 23 2009 - 9:31am

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