"Feinstein's Folly," Feature, 6/13
A Cultural Landscape, Not a Sanctuary
Many thanks for your article regarding the controversy over the oyster farm at Drake's Estero. While Robert Gammon raises a number of valid points — particularly the dangerous precedent that could be set by the extension of the oyster farm lease — there are other issues that he ignores.
First, a little history: The Point Reyes peninsula has been settled for over 150 years and the land use during the majority of that time has been either cattle-raising or dairy-farming, principally the latter. The landscape of the peninsula was substantially modified during this time. Cattle have grazed the rolling landscape — and, more importantly, polluted the waters of the estero — for decades. As a boy visiting Point Reyes on numerous occasions in the early 1950s, I had a chance to see how messy cattle operations could be.
To me, it is hard to justify the idea that any portion of Point Reyes — whether the land or the estero — can be called "wilderness" within the generally accepted definition of the term. This is not to say that the landscape is not scenic — it is very scenic — but it is not wilderness. In addition, when the National Park Service took over the peninsula in the mid-Sixties, the site was designated a National Recreation Area, not a National Park. I am not familiar with the 1975 legislation that Gammon mentions but, based on the character of the land, the definition must be more semantic than actual.
To my eye, as a park planner and student of landscape, Point Reyes seems to be more of a cultural landscape — that is, a landscape that has been shaped by nature but substantially modified by humans in a consistent manner over a long period of time. Cultural landscapes are just as worthwhile of preservation as natural ones, but perhaps not as well understood. Within the framework of a cultural landscape, the oyster farm seems entirely appropriate. It is an operation that uses a portion of the landscape to create food and represents a certain way of life tied directly to the landscape from which it springs. Many Americans have been taught to value wilderness but not always to value cultural landscapes. As a lifelong member of the Sierra Club, I know the value of true wilderness and treasure those that we have where they are appropriate. But Point Reyes is not one of those places.
One other point: Within the orbit of the National Park Service and Point Reyes, the oyster farm has a unique constituency. Many of the people and families that visit the oyster farm come from non-European cultures such as those from Asia or Latin America. Of course they come to the oyster farm to purchase and eat oysters, but at the same time they are introduced to the larger and wilder landscape of the Point Reyes peninsula.
To my mind, the oyster farm is a "gateway" park facility; it brings people to the park who would otherwise not visit the park. It introduces them to the larger landscape and the values inherent in its preservation. The National Park Service pays a lot of lip service to the idea of serving different population groups and constituencies but its basic mission is still landscape preservation as defined by the Northern European culture of Germany, England, and Scandinavia.
The oyster farm is an excellent opportunity to preserve a "gateway facility" that will introduce people from other places and cultures to "America's Best Idea."
Reed Dillingham, Berkeley
A Reactionary in Sheep's Clothing
I have never understood Dianne Feinstein's relationship with Northern California's liberals and progressives. When I moved here from Los Angeles thirty years ago, I had never heard of her. However, since I have lived here I haven't found her to be very progressive, either as mayor of San Francisco or as senator; her tenure has been that of a right-of-center Republican.
The right-wing stranglehold on the Supreme Court and Bush's wars all come with her cooperation. Why progressives still vote for her is a mystery to me. She is only slightly less odious than that miscreant Joe Lieberman, in my opinion.
Vernon S. Burton, San Leandro
As a veteran investigative reporter and editor, my heart goes out to anyone assigned or assigning an article about Drake's Bay Oyster Company.
Having watched the controversy closely for four or more years, and examined most of the relevant documents, I know how incredibly complex and nuanced this story is. And having assisted more than a few professional colleagues investigating the conflict, I can see how easy it would be for an inexperienced reporter or editor to get swept into a position by one side or the other, both sides being represented by forceful, articulate, and persuasive adversaries. This, unfortunately, appears to be what happened to the Express.
There was, however, a safe way out for Robert Gammon and his editor. Focus on the science, ignore the shouting and screaming from either side of the issue and forget the fact that the National Park Service and its supporters originally presented its case based on science, and when that science proved to be wanting, said that science was an irrelevant "red herring" that should not be a factor in deciding policy in this matter.
Science is and must be a factor in any environmental decision, and if one follows the science in this case and relies only on qualified, independent scientists familiar with the data, the truth about harm to wildlife and fauna will become self-evident. But to quote contentious partisans putting each other down is not only petty and meaningless, it is sloppy AM-talk-radio journalism, which means not journalism at all. The Express should know better.