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Dianne Feinstein's War

California's senior senator has been fighting for Drakes Bay Oyster Company at Point Reyes National Seashore — and against the creation of the first marine wilderness on the West Coast.



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McEvoy also stirred controversy of her own in the North Bay when she proposed to build a giant windmill at her olive farm. Lunny supported her plan, and she helped him by asking at least one former lawmaker to intervene on his behalf — ex-Congressman Pete McCloskey, the co-sponsor of the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act. Jeff Creque, who works for McEvoy at her olive farm, said she has been a longtime supporter of Lunny's business and views it as being environmentally sustainable.

Her involvement also has paid dividends for Lunny. After being contacted by McEvoy, McCloskey has made numerous public appearances contending that Congress had always intended to allow the oyster farm to remain at Drakes Estero — even though the Wilderness Act does not specifically say so.

Lunny's most vocal supporter, however, is Corey Goodman, an outspoken and now-retired UC Berkeley neuroscience professor. Goodman has been the loudest critic over the past several years of the Park Service and its studies of the estero, publicly condemning park officials and calling their actions "criminal." In a recent interview, he alleged that the Park Service has been involved in "intentional deception."

Environmentalists, however, contend that Goodman, who does not have a degree in environmental science, has manipulated data on behalf of Lunny's operation and has routinely made outlandish and unsupported claims. In fact, the federal Marine Mammal Commission concluded last year in a report on Drakes Estero that some of Goodman's statistical models were flawed and produced "inflated" results.

Yet that hasn't silenced his criticism of the Park Service. "I think the National Park Service needs to show environmental harm, and by hook or by crook, they're going to show it," he said in an interview. In 2009, Goodman also co-founded Marin Media Institute, a so-called low-profit company that bought the Point Reyes Light newspaper. Goodman has subsequently left the board of the institute, but he writes columns for the Light, which environmentalists say is solidly pro-Lunny. Last week, the Light featured another piece written by Goodman, criticizing the Park Service.

As for Feinstein, the reports from the National Academy of Sciences and Department of Interior emboldened her to take her war against the Park Service to the next level.

In 2009, Feinstein introduced legislation in the US Senate that would have automatically extended Lunny's lease for another ten years. But the proposal sparked concern among senators who recognized that it would set a precedent. So Feinstein backed down and agreed to a compromise that would allow Salazar, who as secretary of the Interior also oversees the Park Service, to make the final determination about Lunny's application to extend his lease.

As part of that decision-making process, the Park Service embarked on a comprehensive environmental study. Last fall, the study's draft report concluded that allowing Lunny's lease to expire in 2012 was the "environmentally preferred" option.

Feinstein and Goodman immediately ripped the report, alleging that, like the Park Service's 2007 environmental study, it, too, was riddled with errors. They questioned whether the Park Service could be trusted to conduct an objective analysis. "Missteps by the National Park Service have fundamentally undermined its ability to accurately review this application," the senator said in a statement after the draft report came out. "It is my hope that the final report, and Secretary Salazar's decision, will rely on objective findings from the National Academy of Sciences and the Marine Mammal Commission."

Recently, Goodman and Lunny also have begun to argue that Drakes Estero wouldn't be the first marine wilderness on the West Coast because Estero de Limantour, which is next door and shares the same inlet mouth as Drakes Estero, is already marine wilderness. However, according to Congress, the Park Service, and environmentalists, Limantour is part of Drakes Estero, a multi-pronged estuary, and as long as Lunny's operation remains there, the area is not true wilderness.

As for the Marine Mammal Commission's report, it did not provide Feinstein with the additional ammunition she sought. Released last November, it not only found flaws in Goodman's statistical models but also concluded that the oyster farm appears to be harming harbor seals in the estero, but that more study is needed. As for the National Academy of Sciences report — the second one requested by Feinstein concerning Drakes Estero — it has not yet been released.

Feinstein, however, apparently isn't interested in waiting for more reports. Last month, evidence surfaced that the senator had hatched a plan to strike a backroom deal with Salazar to extend Lunny's lease rather than wait for the National Academy of Sciences and the final environmental study from the Park Service.

In a move that would have helped Feinstein broker the deal, Lunny had requested — with the senator's blessing — that the California Fish and Game Commission reassert the oyster farm's right to operate in Drakes Estero. According to letters sent to Fish and Game, Lunny and Feinstein contended that the oyster farm falls within "the public right to fish," as guaranteed by the California Constitution. If the Fish and Game Commission then agreed with this contention, it would have set up a states' rights issue, in which an influential California agency — Fish and Game — would have been on record saying it wanted Drakes Bay Oyster Company to continue operations. Such a scenario would have pressured Salazar to bow to the will of the state.

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