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.