Nature vs. Commerce in National Parks

Inside our national parks, the drive to protect wilderness areas clashes with the need to preserve pre-existing business interests.

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Protecting our national parks and wilderness areas seems of utmost importance in the coming years, but it’s more complicated than that: Plenty of businesses that use national parks land pre-dates the parks themselves. In several pending cases, new National Parks Director Jon Jarvis and crew will need to determine the boundaries of precedence in national parks usage.

The spark to this flame came when the National Parks Service announced that it will not renew Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s permit to farm oysters in an estuary in Point Reyes National Seashore.

Managers at Point Reyes cite a recent report that the company’s boats are destroying the eelgrass, which disrupts seal habitat. Ken Lunny, owner of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, strongly disagrees, claiming the report exaggerates the circumstances. Lunny’s got big guns on his side: With the support of Sen. Feinstein, Dem. California, a separate investigation was launched by the National Academy of Sciences to review the claims. They concluded that there was insufficient data to support the findings of the report.

Beyond the Point Reyes debacle, any decision regarding the leasing of park lands could have far-reaching effects. Gary Paul Nabhan, a former National Park System Advisory Board member, told the New York Times that over half the parks have working farms and orchards, and he thinks these elements are as vital and worthy of protection as wild spaces. Lunny’s Drakes Bay Oyster Company would fall within Nabhan’s boundaries for protection: The 70-year-old company predates the park’s creation in 1962, and is therefore part of the historical working landscape of the area.

The lease to farm oysters lapses in 2012, but Ms. Feinstein included a provision in the recently passed 2010 appropriations bill for the Interior Department that would give Interior Secretary Ken Salazar the option of extending the lease another ten years. Salazar will have to face the Sierra Club, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Point Reyes National Seashore Association as opposition if he intends plans to uphold it. Other environmental groups have also joined the chorus of opinion:

“This exception is not just about the slippery slope,” said Jerry Meral, vice chairman of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, which has helped organize opposition to the lease extension. “It’s the beginning of the end of wilderness.”

Should our wilderness be strictly protected whatsoever the circumstances, or should commerce be allowed to coexist? If so, where are the boundaries? Let us know what you think in the comments section below!

–Jordan Olmsted

Debate Flares On Limits Of Commerce In Parks (New York Times)