Balancing Act

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The decision by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to close the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm in Pt. Reyes National Seashore tugs at my heart.

I have lived in West Marin for over a decade. I'm a former board member of the Marin Conservation League that helped preserve the beauty that surrounds my Stinson Beach home. I love the idea of wilderness and what such quiet beauty can instill in one's soul. And the Pt. Reyes Wilderness Act of 1976 made Drake's Estero, where the farm is located, part of a national system of wildlands that affirms that America is more than commerce.

Still, I am all in favor of sustainability. Drakes Bay generates roughly 40 percent of California's native oysters -- a source of protein with a tiny environmental footprint. The ability to produce food in waters of pristine quality resonates with the locavore movement so popular here.

I know Kevin and Nancy Lunny -- whose families are 3rd generation cattle ranchers on the Point Reyes peninsula -- and my heart goes out to them. The decision by Salazar to shut the door on their oyster farm is a stunning loss on a huge gamble. Lunny purchased the oyster farm, which was in shambles, and made environmental upgrades, praying that he would be able to persuade the world not to close an oyster farm in times of intense interest in local, organic food.

But he bumped up against an equally compelling argument by environmentalists that his lease would soon expire, and that allowing his commercial operation to continue in a designated wilderness area would set a dangerous precedent that could be exploited by less benign commercial interests in hundreds of wilderness areas on more than 100 million acres of federal lands throughout America.


In the end, this fierce battle pitted two ideals against each other, and wilderness won.

Laws are black and white, but life is many shades of grey. Perhaps the much-applauded decision 36 years ago to designate the Drake's Estero wilderness was a mistake. Today, however, my tummy regrets this victory for Mother Nature, but my mind also celebrates the fact that nature does not always lose when it comes to the court of law.

With a Perspective, I'm Peter Asmus.

Peter Asmus writes about science from his Stinson Beach home.