SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Thursday said he will shut down an historic Northern California oyster farm along Point Reyes National Seashore, designating the site as a wilderness area.
Salazar said he will not renew the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. lease that expires Friday. The move will bring a close to a years-long environmental battle over the site.
"After careful consideration of the applicable law and policy, I have directed the National Park Service to allow the permit for the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. to expire ... and to return the Drakes Estero to the state of wilderness that Congress designated for it in 1976," Salazar said in a statement.
Salazar visited the oyster farm last week and said he did not make the decision lightly.
Point Reyes National Seashore was added to the national parks system by Congress in 1962, and protects more than 80 miles of California coastline.
The Interior secretary also has the power to lease park lands for dairy and cattle-ranching purposes. Currently there are 15 beef and dairy ranches operating along the Point Reyes seashore. Those ranches can remain open under the decision Thursday.
Oyster farm owner Kevin Lunny, whose family also operates one of the cattle ranches, said he was disappointed by the decision regarding the oyster farm and was still trying to figure out his next move.
He said Salazar called to tell him about the decision.
"This is going to be devastating to our families, our community and our county," Lunny said. "This is wrong beyond words in our opinion."
Salazar said the oyster company will have to remove its property from park land and waters within 90 days. Because the lease was set to expire anyway, the company gets no compensation for the decision.
Salazar did not stop all commercial activities in the park. He sought to extend the terms of the cattle ranch leases from 10 to 20 years.
"Ranching operations have a long and important history on the Point Reyes peninsula and will be continued at Point Reyes National Seashore," he said.
The oyster farm decision came despite the company's powerful allies, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who said the facility should be saved because it is a key part of the rural economy.
Feinstein and the National Academy of Sciences claimed the National Park Service is trying to get rid of the oyster farm by exaggerating its negative impacts on the environment.
During the impasse, more than $1 million in taxpayer money was spent on environmental assessment studies, according to records.
The company was seeking a 10-year extension of its lease.
Lunny said the oyster farm, which produces about 40 percent of the state's haul, will not easily be replaced.
Environmentalists and park officials said the farm's operations threatened nearby harbor seals and other native species. The area is a key pupping site for the seals.
"Drakes Estero is considered the ecological heart of the national seashore," said Amy Trainer, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin. "So having a commercial use that makes thousands and thousands of motor boat trips every year is not what visitors expect from their national park."
AP writer Terry Chea in San Francisco contributed to this report.
Jason Dearen can be reached on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JHDearen