Archive for August, 2008

Last in a series. The Inspector General’s report on its investigation into the Point Reyes National Seashore administration’s treatment of Drakes Bay Oyster Company includes numerous summaries of what various witnesses told investigators. By quoting the actual comments of witnesses and investigators, this series has attempted to show that far more has come to light about National Seashore wrongdoing than one might infer from what’s mentioned in the report’s conclusion.

It was one of the more bizarre moments in Point Reyes National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher’s assault on Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Although it occurred just before the Inspector General of the Interior Department issued its report on that conflict, the incident highlighted the alliance arrayed against the Lunny family’s business at Drakes Estero.

As reported in the May 7 Marin Independent Journal, “The point man for the local Sierra Club chapter issued a threat to Marin supervisors. He and possibly his politically powerful club will fight a proposed county parks and open space tax if supervisors don’t support the Point Reyes National Seashore’s restoration efforts.

sierrabanner-marin-band2.jpg“Those efforts include a back-to-nature push by park Supt. Don Neubacher to shut down an oyster farm in Drakes Estero…. Gordon Bennett, who regularly represents the Sierra Club at county meetings, warned supervisors on [May 6] that unless they tell US Sen. Dianne Feinstein that they don’t oppose Neubacher’s efforts, he would urge the club to actively oppose the county’s tax plan.

“The county is considering an open space tax for the November ballot that would need a two-thirds majority vote to pass, and the Sierra Club’s opposition could doom its chances.” The tax “would raise $10 million per year for… improving and maintaining parks, acquiring open space, preserving farmland and paying for wildland fire protection.” Supervisor Steve Kinsey said Bennett’s “blackmail” was “myopic.”

Although the Marin Sierra Club Group plays political hardball, Bennett’s attempt to blackmail county supervisors on Neubacher’s behalf was over the top, and the group quickly announced it wouldn’t necessarily follow his advice. All the same, county supervisors did not put the tax measure on the ballot.

100_0385.jpgBennett’s threat could have been anticipated. National Seashore Supt. Neubacher admitted to federal investigators that in April 2007 he had told “Kinsey that environmental groups might ‘go to war’ to ensure that Drakes Estero becomes wilderness in 2012,” the Inspector General’s report says.

Although the oyster company is half a mile up a dirt road from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, Neubacher ordered that the turnoff sign, which for years had said when the business was open, be changed to eliminate the hours.

The report indeed makes clear how much the park superintendent has counted on the environmental community, along with his staff, to wage a propaganda war against the oyster company on his behalf.

Some highlights from the propaganda war:

In May 2007, county supervisors held a hearing on county support for the oyster company. Neubacher and his senior science advisor Sarah Allen showed up go argue against the idea. In making his case, the Inspector General’s Office wryly commented, Neubacher “could have used better judgment.”

Supt. Neubacher, investigators noted, “exaggerated the Marin Mammal Commission’s role in responding to Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s impact on the harbor seal population in Drakes Estero when he spoke before the Marin County Board of Supervisors.”

100_943_1_43.jpgNeubacher (right) told supervisors the oyster company was disturbing harbor seals and that the Marine Mammal Commission had begun an investigation.

What actually happened, investigators discovered, was that Allen wrote Timothy Ragen, executive director of the commission, saying the company’s oyster bags were disturbing seals, and she asked him if the “commission would consider writing a letter raising concerns about the farm’s impacts on the seals.”

The Inspector General reported, “Our investigation determined that Ragen faxed a letter to Neubacher… the day of the hearing based on Neubacher’s and Allen’s request. The letter states the following in part…. ‘Unfortunately, I have just learned of this issue and have not had time to bring this matter to the attention of our commissioners.’”

home_topbar1.jpgNonetheless, as investigators noted, at the supervisors’ hearing “Neubacher portrayed the Marine Mammal Commission’s interest in the issue by stating, ‘I mean it’s that complex, because now you’re talking about the Marine Mammal Commission [which] wrote us a letter this morning. They’re going to take it up on a national level.”

Neubacher’s statement,” the commission’s executive director Ragen commented to investigators, “was ‘a shade of not quite accurate.’”

Investigators then asked the park superintendent about the untruth, and “Neubacher conceded that it might have been a little bit misleading for him to say that the Marine Mammal Commission was taking up the issue and had written the National Park Service a letter.”

Equally misleading, park advisor Allen told the supervisors, “This year, chronic disturbance and the placement of bags on nursery areas has caused an 80 percent reduction of the seals.”

Federal investigators, however, reported that “an official transcript of the hearing revealed that [while] Allen did initially specify that seals had abandoned one area of the estero, [she] did not clarify in her next sentence that the 80 percent reduction to which she referred only applied to that particular site in the estero.”

100_0417_11.jpgWell before the supervisors’ hearing, the park’s propaganda war against the oyster company was underway, with several prominent West Marin environmentalists unwittingly lending their credibility to the park’s misrepresentations of science.

As previously noted, the Inspector General reported, “Our investigation determined that in her [Sheltered Wilderness] Report and in a [Point Reyes Light] article, Point Reyes National Seashore senior science advisor Sarah Allen had misrepresented research regarding sedimentation in Drakes Estero completed in the 1980s by USGS scientist Roberto Anima.”

She claimed Anima had found “oyster psuedofeces [to be] the primary source or a primary source for sediment” in the estero,” but Anima told investigators “his report never said that oyster feces were affecting the sedimentation in Drakes Estero.”

Nonetheless, as was noted here last week, investigators reported, “Both the article titled Coastal Wilderness: The Naturalist, which Allen co-authored in The Point Reyes Light in April 2007 and an editorial piece titled Save Drakes Estero published in The Coastal Post as a ‘collaborative effort’ by conservation groups in May 2007 refer to oyster feces as the primary cause of sedimentation in the estero.”

The Inspector General reported that “the other authors of [The Light] column, John Kelly, the director of Conservation Science and Habitat Protection at [PRBO’s] Cypress Grove Research Center [in Marshall], and Jules Evens a self-described ‘naturalist and biologist’ [in Point Reyes Station], told investigators that Allen was the primary author of the column.” Allen agreed.

Dr. Corey Goodman of Marshall, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, was the first member of the general public to suspect the National Seashore administration was misrepresenting research. Investigators reported that Dr. Goodman had tried unsuccessfully to get the park to provide copies the “over 25 years of seal data from Drakes Estero” Allen had told county supervisors the Park Service possessed.

100_04181.jpgIn the course of filing a series of Freedom of Information Act request on harbor seal data, investigators noted, Dr. Goodman claimed “there was a ‘double standard’ in the way the National Park Service supplied information to members of the public.

“Specifically, Goodman referenced an article that Gordon Bennett of the Sierra Club had published in the July-August issue of the Sierra Club Yodeler.

While I was denied access to 2007 harbor seal data based on deliberative [legal] process privilege… Bennett… appears to have free access to this data.” Investigators asked Bennett about this, and “he said there were times he would simply ask for materials from either Neubacher or Allen and he would receive the information….

“He said he also obtained specific numbers pertaining to seals for that [Yodeler] article without filing a Freedom of Information Act request.” An investigator wrote, “We confirmed that Bennett was able to obtain some information from the Point Reyes National Seashore with only an informal, verbal request.”

doi_banner_02_1.jpgAlthough an agent of the Interior Department’s Inspector General said that Bennett and Dr. Goodman had asked for different seal data, Dr. Goodman’s repeated requests for data on seals finally forced the Park Service to admit it had none prior to 1996. Allen herself would later admit to investigators that her statement to county supervisors that the Park Service possessed 25 years of data on seals in the estero was untrue.

In an effort to explain why Goodman was initially denied the 2007 harbor seal data,” an investigator wrote somewhat sarcastically, the director of the Pacific West Region of the Park Service, Jon Jarvis, said, “We don’t require Freedom of Information Act requests generally to get this kind of information… because… it’s publicly accessible information.”

100_7740_1_1_1.jpgHow did some environmental groups come to be primed for an attack on the oyster company? To some degree, it would appear, this happened during one or more meetings at the park. One gathering was in January 2005, Lunny (right) told investigators. He said it included “Neubacher and local environmentalists Ken Fox, president of the Tomales Bay Association; Jerry Meral, member of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin; and Gordon Bennett, vice chair of the Sierra Club’s Marin Group,” the Inspector General reported.

Fox told investigators he remembered such a meeting in the Red Barn at park headquarters but couldn’t recall whether Neubacher was there. “Bennett recalled attending at least one meeting at the Point Reyes National Seashore with Neubacher, Fox, and Meral,” the investigators added.

100_0405_1.jpgThe inspectors did not report what was said at these meetings. They note only that Fox — like Bennett — said their discussions did not include “financially ruining the Lunnys or about trying to shut Drakes Bay Oyster Company down prior to 2012.”

Be that as it may, Bennett and other environmentalists would later take part in spreading negative publicity (much of it misrepresentations provided by the park) regarding the company.

A company barge brings freshly harvested oysters ashore.

When Marin Agricultural Land Trust held a tour of the company on Oct. 28, 2006, for example, Bennett showed up with copies of Allen’s since-discredited Sheltered Wilderness Report and handed them out to counter positive comments about the business.

“Neubacher said he did not ask Bennett to disseminate the report,” investigators noted. However, the park superintendent did say he had “a stack of copies in his office…. [and] he was sure Bennett got a copy of the report because he (Bennett) was very active in local politics.” Active on Supt. Neubacher’s behalf, it might be added.

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A California prionus beetle. Sounds sort of like a fuel-efficient car made jointly by Toyota and Volkswagen, doesn’t it?

I found this huge beetle (more than two inches long) near my woodstove a couple of weeks ago, and Inverness Park biologist Russell Ridge identified it for me. The prionus beetle is usually described as a “boring insect,” not because it’s mundane but because its larvae feed on the roots of trees, often killing them. The larvae can reach four inches long and be as big around as your finger.

Among the trees they attack are oaks, populars, black walnut, some fruit trees, and some conifers. Their range extends from Central California to Alaska.

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Western gray squirrels are common sights on this hill, but they disappear so fast when they see a human that it took me months of trying before I managed to photograph one.

Except in stands of redwoods, gray squirrels can be found in trees throughout Marin County. This one is on my deck.

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Gray squirrels breed in early spring and have a gestation period of approximately two months. Although females typically give birth in hollow trees or other hidden spots, they move their young into nests of leaves and twigs (called dreys) within a few days.

Dreys such as this one on the property of neighbors George Stamoulis and Carol Waxman are often lined with grass or moss.

In late fall and early winter, squirrels hide acorns in a variety of places to feed on during lean months. However, not all the hidden acorns are recovered, and gray squirrels are often credited with inadvertently planting oaks around the West.

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Young raccoons up a tree.

These kits are about four months old, and every night their mother leads them on hunts around my cabin. Because I see them only after dark, I have to use a flash to photograph them. The raccoons don’t seem to notice the flashes, but my results nonetheless have been uneven.

For most of my 35 years as a newspaper man, I shot photos with film, and I’m still learning the fine points of digital photography.

100_0455.jpgIn recent months, two problems in particular been been bugging me: white specks caused by shooting through windows and digital “noise” — tiny dots of color where there should be none.

Fortunately, I’ve become friends with a San Francisco photography student, Jasper Sanidad (right), who contributes to The Point Reyes Light, and he is now my coach.

For example, when I had been photographing nocturnal creatures, I’d usually tried to remain unseen behind closed windows, but Jasper noted that dirt on the windows was a large part of my problem.

In addition, he told me, I’d been depending too much on my camera’s zoom to show the critters up close.

Because my flash was too far from the animals, Jasper explained, my camera wasn’t picking up enough color detail, and the noise in my photos resulted from the digital system trying to provide what wasn’t there.

What I needed to do, he added, was to get closer to the creatures myself and keep my zoom at a wide angle. That would eliminate the noise.

100_0234.jpgAs it’s turned out, Jasper was right, but what a surprise! I was able to shoot my nightly raccoons at close range, I discovered, mainly because they walked right in the kitchen door when I left it open to avoid shooting through the glass.

Notwithstanding the crisp images I could get by having the raccoons so close at hand, I didn’t really want them in the house. So I threw some bread out the door, and they went back outside to get it.

Investigators from the Inspector General’s Office of the Interior Department, as was detailed here last week, found far more deception by the Point Reyes National Seashore superintendent and the park’s senior science advisor than has been reported in West Marin’s newspapers. Likewise getting almost no attention in the press is the chagrin investigators found among government scientists elsewhere in the West over the park’s misrepresenting research involving Drakes Bay Oyster Company.

home_topbar.jpgThe federal investigation was launched in April 2007, the Inspector General wrote, shortly after oyster company owners “Kevin and Nancy Lunny wrote to us requesting an investigation into the actions of Point Reyes National Seashore Supt. Donald Neubacher. Specifically, the Lunny family… alleged that Neubacher had undermined and interfered with the family’s business and had slandered the family’s name….

“During his initial interview,” investigators noted, “Kevin Lunny… added that opponents of his shellfish operation were using faulty science to vilify him in the media as someone without regard for the environment.”

Here’s what Inspector General’s Report says about: (1) some of the park’s equivocations and misrepresentations; and (2), a variety of government scientists’ unhappiness with them:

• “Our investigation determined that the Point Reyes National Seashore published a report on Drakes Estero — where the Lunny family farms oysters — containing several inaccuracies regarding the source of sedimentation in the estero.

“After receiving complaints from Corey Goodman [of Marshall], a neurobiologist, the National Park Service removed the report from its website on July 23, 2007, and two days later, it posted an ‘acknowledgment of errors’ in its place.

100_0417_1.jpg• “Our investigation determined that in this report and in a newspaper article, Point Reyes National Seashore senior science advisor Sarah Allen had misrepresented research regarding sedimentation in Drakes Estero completed in the 1980s by US Geological Survey scientist Roberto Anima.

• “In addition, we determined that she failed to provide a germane email message between Anima and herself in response to a Freedom of Information Act request [by Dr. Goodman] that specifically sought such correspondence.

• “And [she] stated in a public forum [a May 2007 Marin County Board of Supervisors meeting] that the National Park Service had over 25 years of seal data from Drakes Estero when, in fact, that was inaccurate.”

As Jon Jarvis, director of the Pacific West Region, later said, the National Park Service has no data before 1996. Confronted with her untruth, Allen told investigators that while she was still a student 25 years ago, she had written a thesis on the estero — but admitted she possesses no data from her research.

• “While Allen denied any intentional misrepresentation of Anima’s work, our investigation reveals that Allen was privy to information contrary to her characterization of Anima’s findings in the Sheltered Wilderness Report [which she wrote] and other public releases — and she did nothing to correct the information before its release to the public.”

100_0387.jpgAnd where did this “information contrary to her characterization of Anima’s findings” come from? Both a fisheries biologist with the National Park Service and an environmental scientist with the California Department of Health Care Services.

An oyster-company worker rinses off freshly harvested oysters on Wednesday.

In September 2006, investigators noted, the park wrote to the state Health Department, complaining that a “sanitary survey” of Drakes Estero by one of the department’s environmental scientists was “incomplete” because it failed to say oyster feces caused major sedimentation.

“The letter,” investigators noted, “referenced Anima’s work and contained the following sentence, which Allen wrote: ‘Anima (1991) stated that the presence of the oysters and their feces were the primary source of sedimentation.’

dhcs.jpg“The Department of Health Services environmental scientist said he told Allen in a telephone conversation in approximately October 2006 that Anima had not tested any correlation between sediment and oyster feces in Drakes Estero.”

Nonetheless, the Sheltered Wilderness Report (which contained Allen’s discredited reference to Anima’s research) “was uploaded to the Point Reyes National Seashore website” three months later, investigators noted.

Why was the state Health Department’s information ignored? “Allen said she ‘vaguely’ remembered the Department of Health Services environmental scientist’s comment and that she was surprised by it,” investigators reported. She said she had “flagged a couple of pages (of Anima’s report )…. ‘But I just don’t remember more than that.'”

• Allen used a UC Davis assessment of the estero, written by Professor Deborah Elliott-Fisk and herself, as the basis for a number of her allegations against the oyster company, but the professor was unhappy with how the assessment was cited.

100_03981.jpgAllen, for example, had cited the assessment in blaming oyster growing for invasive species showing up in Drakes Estero. Dr. Elliott-Fisk, however, told investigators that although any introduction of an invasive species to the estero was “‘bad’…researchers could not definitely attribute the invasive species to the mariculture operation.”

Park visitors enjoy an oyster picnic near the company shop.

• “In another example of omission,” investigators wrote, “Allen did not include the following statement regarding the impact of oysters on sedimentation, drawn from the Drakes Estero Assessment, in either version of the Sheltered Wilderness Report:

“Although pseudofeces from the suspended oysters may contribute to the amount of organic matter below the racks, adding to the system, the amount of organic matter resulting from eelgrass decomposition is likely far greater considering how expansive and dense the beds are within the estuary, making any significant organic inputs from the oysters undetectable in this study.”

• “Likewise… not addressed in the Sheltered Wilderness report,” investigators wrote, was a statement in the assessment that “a significant difference in the percent of organic matter in areas below and adjacent to the oyster racks was not detected.”

100_0418.jpg• Going even further in his criticism was John Wullschleger, a fishery biologist with the National Park Service in Fort Collins, Colorado. The fisheries biologist had provided “technical oversight” for the UC Davis’ assessment of Drakes Estero, and he didn’t consider the assessment thorough enough on some matters to be cited as authoritative on key claims in Allen’s Sheltered Wilderness Report.

Investigators reported, “Wullschleger told the Office of Inspector General he was concerned about the Drakes Estero Assessment report because it was ‘basically trying to make statements from things…that weren’t statistically significant and say, “Well, they’re different. So therefore there must be an impact on the estuary.’

“…. He opined that the Point Reyes National Seashore was ‘aiming to find out a little too much in a relatively short period of time with a small amount of money’ [by working mostly from] the Drakes Assessment report by Elliott-Fisk.”

Biologist Wullschleger wrote Allen, “Given that [the assessment’s] sample sizes were small and that most results were not statistically significant, I was surprised that the conclusions section began with the relatively strong statement, ‘Oysters mariculture has had an impact on the marine fish and invertebrates of Drakes Estero.’”

100_943_1_42.jpg• National Seashore Supt. Neubacher (right) repeatedly comes off in the Inspector General’s report as deceitful — even in petty matters. For example, The Point Reyes Light on May 18, 2006, published an article that cited a UC Davis assessment of Drakes Bay in concluding that oyster farming was not harming Drakes Estero, prompting Allen to write the Sheltered Wilderness Report as a rebuttal.

Once again careless with the truth, Supt. Neubacher told investigators that in writing the report, “the Point Reyes National Seashore was not attempting to counter The Point Reyes Light article but to get ‘objective information’ to the public.” Investigators, however, turned up correspondence between the Point Reyes National Seashore ecologist and Allen, as well as between Allen and UC Davis, showing that the Sheltered Wilderness Report was indeed written “to counter the conclusions drawn in the article.”

• Despite the loud complaints from the National Seashore administration, The Light drew a reasonable conclusion in its article on the Drakes Estero Assessment, the Park Service biologist told Allen.

100_7740_1_1.jpgThe article, which also quoted Kevin Lunny (left), said the assessment showed that oyster growing “has no statistically significant effects on the estuary’s water quality, fish, and eelgrass.”

On Feb. 6. 2007, biologist Wullschleger wrote Allen: “I can see how the oyster grower could point to this Drakes Estero Assessment report as evidence that their operation is not having an impact on the aquatic communities of the estero. After all, only one of the differences associated with the oyster racks was statistically significant.”

• Despite this warning, investigators added, “three days later, on February 9, 2007, the Sheltered Wilderness report, which drew on the Drakes Estero Assessment report, was uploaded to the Point Reyes National Seashore’s website for the first time.” (You’ll recall that three months earlier the state Health Department had also informed Allen of allegations in the report that misrepresented research.)

doi_banner_02.jpg• Even within the regional office of the Park Service, the National Seashore administration’s politicizing research bothered staff. Investigators reported, “A scientist for the Pacific West Region of the National Park Service opined that in the Sheltered Wilderness report, Allen and ‘probably her colleagues’ had ‘drawn conclusions… that simply cannot be sustained, particularly since there was something a little bit sketchy about the [underlying Drakes Estero Assessment],’ which ‘itself is overreaching.’”

• Anima of the USGS was even more upset. Contrary to how Allen had described his research, the scientist told investigators, “his report never said that oyster feces was affecting the sedimentation in Drakes Estero but rather reflected that studies done elsewhere indicated that oyster waste was a factor in sedimentation in those bodies of water….

“When interviewed, Anima agreed that as written in the Sheltered Wilderness Report, Allen’s use of the estimate of how much waste oysters could produce in a year seemed attributable to Drakes Estero even though he attributed that estimate to a study done in Japan [in 1955]….

“Agent’s note: Both the article titled Coastal Wilderness: The Naturalist, which Allen co-authored in The Point Reyes Light in April 2007, and an editorial piece titled Save Drakes Estero published in The Coastal Post as a ‘collaborative effort’ by various conservation groups in May 2007 refer to oyster feces as the primary cause of sediments in the estero….

header_graphic_usgsidentifier_white-1.jpg• “After reading those articles, Anima told Allen that his report did not state that he had ‘collected sediment cores from the estero,” as she had claimed, investigators said. Nor had he “‘identified pseudo feces of oysters as the primary source for sediment fill.’

“He said he was ‘ticked off’ that she had misrepresented his findings that way.”

• Investigators noted, “Anima also contended that a partial quote Allen used in her report about oyster racks acting as a ‘baffle to tidal currents’ was problematic because his report stated that the arrangement of oyster racks appeared to be serving as a baffle.”

The investigators went on to comment, “Allen presented Anima’s quote about the racks acting as a baffle to tidal currents in a decisive manner, but Anima’s full quote on the subject is speculative….

100_0409.jpg• “Further, Anima’s statements that the effects of oyster mariculture on sediment in Drakes Estero required further study were omitted from both versions of the Sheltered Wilderness reports that were released to the public.”

Oyster workers use a boat to tow a barge of harvested oysters to the company dock.

• Investigators wrote that “Anima said he let Allen know that he was ‘not happy’ with her portrayal of his research.

“According to him, she did not offer a ‘good justification’ for inaccurately referencing his work,” an investigator added. The USGS scientist “recalled that she tried to justify her actions by telling him about an agreement the National Park Service had with the oyster company….

“She explained that the current owner of the oyster farm wanted to extend his lease with the National Park Service when it expired and that the Point Reyes National Seashore was trying not to allow the extension of that lease.”

To be continued…

An exhibition titled Silver & Oil: Landscape Photographs and Paintings opened Saturday at the Claudia Chapline Gallery in Stinson Beach, drawing an appreciative crowd.
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The photographs are by Art Rogers of Point Reyes Station (seen here with gallery owner Claudia Chapline). Rogers is best known for his black-and-white portraits of people in West Marin, but his landscape photos stray as far afield as Kentucky where his wife Laura’s parents live.
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The painter, Thomas Wood of Nicasio, has gained widespread acclaim for his oils, a number of which are reminiscent of French Impressionists’ landscapes.

The exhibition of photography by Rogers and paintings by Wood will continue through Sept. 14 at the gallery on Highway 1.

Although Point Reyes National Seashore abuse of Drakes Bay Oyster Company is thoroughly documented in the report issued three weeks ago by the Inspector General’s Office of the Interior Department, the local press has shied away from going into details.100_0286.jpg

With an amazing lack of indignation, most news reports have reduced documented revelations of park-administration abuse to he-said-she-said pablum in order to claim “fair-and-balanced” coverage.

This is ironic because the Inspector General’s investigators found that National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher’s hostility to the oyster company — along with his and park senior science advisor Sarah Allen’s misrepresentations to county supervisors and the public — was in part a reaction to what had appeared in The Coastal Post and Point Reyes Light.

Notwithstanding the Point Reyes National Seashore’s attempt to dismiss its misrepresentations as merely a mistake or two, the pattern of untruthfulness is far more egregious. Here’s the initial sequence of events as federal investigators reported them:

• On May 18, 2006, The Light published an article headlined Drakes Bay Oyster Company Has Little Impact on Estero. The information in it came from a Drakes Estero Assessment of Oyster Farming Final Completion Report that, according to investigators, “Dr. Deborah Elliott-Fisk of the University of California at Davis wrote with Allen’s input. The report reflected the findings of research done by graduate students Angie Harbin-Ireland and Jesse Wechsler, whose master’s theses summarized their work in the estero.”

The National Seashore administration’s subsequent lamentations over The Light’s getting a copy of the Drakes Estero Assessment and reporting on it are pure opéra bouffe. The Inspector General wrote, “A reporter from The Point Reyes Light requested and received the Drakes Estero Assessment from a Point Reyes National Seashore marine ecologist, something Neubacher described in an interview as a mistake.

“During his interview, the… marine ecologist said, ‘I just generally share information pretty freely, so it didn’t occur to me that it was not a good thing to send it to the reporter.’

• “The day after The [Light] article was published, Allen sent [an] email message to Dr. Elliott-Fisk… ‘Check out the article. As is usual, I am misquoted and the article is heavily slanted pro-oyster. I stated to them that when your study occurred that the oyster farming was at its lowest level in 30 years, talked about other invasive species introduced by oyster farming, and about the major source for sediment being from oyster feces based on a USGS study, but he chose not to include that information.” (In fact, as the park itself would later admit, these allegations misrepresented what scientific studies had and had not found.)

100_0291.jpgThe Inspector General’s report also reveals that Neubacher shares Allen’s low opinion of The Light. A federal investigator said Neubacher had “opined” to him “that although The Point Reyes Light was not very objective, it …carried a certain amount of weight in the community — but not a lot.”

Seabirds congregate on a no-longer-used oyster barge anchored near the oyster-company store

• “With the [park] ecologist’s input,” the Inspector General noted, “Allen began working on a report to counter the conclusions drawn in the article. [This is] indicated by an email message from the ecologist to Allen on July 18, 2006, and a statement by Neubacher during a [KWMR] radio program… the next day.

“During the radio broadcast on July 19, 2006, … Neubacher said Allen had recently put together a paper listing ‘long-term, serious impacts’ caused by oyster farming. He subsequently confirmed to the Office of Inspector General that he was referring to what became the Sheltered Wilderness Report.”

So although Neubacher on KWMR cited Allen’s “recently put together” paper (i.e. the Sheltered Wilderness report) as authority for saying oyster farming was having “long-term, serious impacts,” the document didn’t exist. Investigators determined that Allen, in fact, “began working on the report” just hours before the park superintendent went on the air.

After the report’s untrue statements were revealed, Allen and Neubacher tried to dismiss her scientific-sounding Sheltered Wilderness “report” as nothing more than a poorly written news release. “In a briefing paper prepared in July 2007 [a year later],” investigators noted, “Neubacher described the Sheltered Wilderness report as a ‘park news’ handout.”

(The park also posted this “handout” on its website and was later forced to retract it, acknowledging that what it had said was not accurate. But more about that next week.)

This sort of carelessness with the truth has become a hallmark of Supt. Neubacher’s management style, but no newspaper reporter — only Point Reyes Light columnist John Hulls — seems to care. In commentary published last Thursday, Hulls wrote, “The distinction between a park management/planning report and a park news item is not trivial….

“This pattern of management misrepresentation runs throughout the Inspector General’s report, as well as recent community relationships with the park, ranging from the notorious ‘pepper spray’ incident, in which two rangers used excessive force on two local teenagers, to the controversy surrounding the rapid eradication of the white deer, rather than the phased reduction of the herd which the community was led to expect.” (Phasing the reduction would have allowed time to reassess the program.)

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The very picture of deceit: In 2004, two out-of-control National Seashore rangers extensively pepper sprayed a teenage brother and sister from Inverness Park without cause. (This occurred outside the park in Point Reyes Station, and the teens were never charged with any wrongdoing. Ultimately, the Park Service compensated them for the abuse with $50,000.) Shortly after the incident, Supt. Neubacher (at microphone) held a public meeting in the Dance Palace, and 300 concerned residents showed up. To placate the crowd, Neubacher led them to believe he had asked the Marin County District Attorney to investigate the rangers’ behavior, and everyone went home feeling a bit better — only to have the DA set the record straight the next day. The park superintendent had not asked to have the rangers investigated but to have the teens prosecuted, the DA said. Much of the public was outraged at having been deceived. Not surprisingly, the DA refused to prosecute the victims.

Nor has any newspaper paid a lick of attention to inconsistencies within the Inspector General’s report itself. For example, at the beginning of its report, the Inspector General’s Office states, “We found no indication Neubacher was planning to shut Drakes Bay Oyster Company down prior to 2012 when… the company’s Reservation of Occupancy and Use expires.” Virtually every news report used that quotation without qualification.

But wait! “No indication?” Any diligent reporter who read further into the federal report would have found what Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey told an investigator concerning a private meeting with Neubacher at the park in April 2007. (Oyster company owner Kevin Lunny was not present.) Kinsey told the investigator he had suggested a scientific study to determine whether the oyster farm was having a significant effect on Drakes Estero, but Neubacher quickly dismissed the need for one, saying oyster company boats had made cuts in eelgrass.

“Kinsey said the atmosphere was like that of a ‘war room,’” the investigator added. The supervisor also told the investigator, “Neubacher was ‘very upset’ and ‘seemed obsessed with proving that Drakes Bay Oyster company was harming seals and eelgrass in the estuary….’

The tenor of the meeting left no doubt in Kinsey’s mind that Neubacher intended to shut Drakes Bay Oyster Company down prior to 2012.”

100_0283.jpgAlthough both the press and the park have focused their attention on Kevin Lunny, the entire Lunny family feels under attack. In a letter to the Inspector General’s Office, an investigator noted, Lunny complained that “Neubacher was… slandering the family name.”

Lunny’s daughter Brigid, the 2005 Western Weekend queen (seen here carrying freshly harvested oysters into the company store), on Tuesday told me she hopes people “get to the bottom” of what’s being done to her family.

Kinsey told the investigator that Supt. Neubacher had claimed the oyster company was “committing environmental felonies” [and]… summed up Neubacher’s portrayal of Lunny as ‘character assassination.’

Kinsey recalled that during the April 2007 meeting, Neubacher said he had been trying to find a way to keep Lunny operating in the park through the end of his lease with the National Park Service but that a recent ‘pro-oyster’ editorial… in The Coastal Post had changed his mind. Kinsey recalled that Neubacher said something along the lines of, ‘I tried to work with Lunny, but I’m done.’ Agent’s note: An editorial titled Ollie ‘Erster versus Smokey the Bear was published in the April 2007 edition of The Coastal Post.”

The investigator then asked Neubacher about what Kinsey had said, and the park superintendent “conceded he told Kinsey about some criminal violations he believed had occurred related to the G Ranch [the Lunny family’s organic-beef operation, which is discussed in last week’s posting], not Drakes Bay Oyster Company…”

I don’t have the authority to even not work with him ‘till 2012,” Neubacher added in an apparent attempt to weasel out of what he had reportedly said to Supervisor Kinsey. But this claim too was untrue. The investigator double-checked with Interior Department attorneys and reported, “The attorney-advisor and a Department of Interior field solicitor opined that the National Park Service had the legal authority to shut Drakes Bay Oyster Company down prior to the expiration of its Reservation of Use and Occupancy in 2012.”

So what’s all this about there being “no indication” Neubacher wanted to shut the oyster company down before 2012, as the Inspector General’s Office claimed at the beginning of its report? By the middle of this long report, that unequivocal claim has evolved into, “With the exception of Kinsey, no other individuals interviewed said Neubacher or any National Park Service Official had ever indicated they wanted to shut down [the] oyster company prior to… 2012.”

And even that isn’t accurate — unless Lunny is a non-individual. Nor is that the worst of it. Although Lunny, like Neubacher, was interviewed by the Inspector General’s investigators, Lunny, unlike Neubacher, was seldom given the opportunity to respond to statements made by the other side. So says Lunny, and the Inspector General’s report makes that clear.

To be continued

[Point Reyes National Seashore Supt.] Don Neubacher has all the control over all of us out on the point, and we know that, and it’s scary.” — Kevin Lunny, oyster grower and cattle rancher

orozcos-cruelty.jpgA symbolic depiction by Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) of official ‘Crueltytoward common people.

When the Inspector General’s Office of the Interior Department confirmed two weeks ago that Neubacher and park senior science advisor Sarah Allen had misled county supervisors and the public about Drakes Bay Oyster Company, the press reported the fact but unfortunately ignored the surrounding issues:

• The Inspector General’s report is far more critical of Neubacher and Allen than one might think from the spin park officials and their friends have put on it.

• All the press reported Lunny had been initially unwilling to sign a use permit with the park for his oyster company, but only The San Francisco Chronicle even hinted at why: initial drafts of the permit agreement would have ultimately put him out of business.

• None of the press took time to look into Neubacher’s trying to harm the Lunny family’s beef operation (on historic G Ranch) in retaliation for Lunny’s lining up widespread support for his oyster company. Not only did the park superintendent try to sabotage the acclaim their beef ranch was receiving, the Lunny family found themselves in protracted negotiations with his administration over renewal of the ranch’s lease. The Inspector General said it hadn’t found evidence of retaliation but failed to investigate some of Lunny’s key complaints.

Future postings will provide a closer look at what the Inspector General actually revealed about the park’s war against Drakes Bay Oyster Company. This week’s posting looks at merely one of the many ways Supt. Neubacher has harassed the Lunny family.

100_7740_1.jpgThe story begins in 2006. Lunny (left), who is active in Marin Organic, wanted to be able to promote the fact that as a rancher he is a good “steward of the land,” so he applied for certification from an organization called Salmon Safe. The Oregon-based nonprofit issues certificates to agricultural operations that use their land in a sustainable fashion, preventing erosion and avoiding pollution of waterways.

Salmon Safe, which had never before certified a livestock operation in California as sustainable, investigated Lunny’s beef ranch for a day in late 2006. Two weeks later, the organization certified his ranch as sustainable with hearty congratulations for being the state’s first. (Since that time, Mike and Sally Gale’s beef ranch in Chileno Valley and a few vegetable farms have also been certified.)

“We expected the Park Service to be thrilled that one of its ranches met the Salmon Safe certification requirements,” Lunny told me last week, “but Neubacher called Salmon Safe’s executive director and said, ‘You absolutely cannot certify this ranch.’” Lunny said Neubacher accused his family of being “good actors” who were, in fact, “overgrazing.”

nike_homelogo1.jpgLunny also claims Neubacher told Salmon Safe’s executive director, “This is my park, and you will not certify any ranch in this park without my permission.”

Salmon Safe executive director Dan Kent declined to relate Neubacher’s comments but noted that after the park superintendent’s call, the organization put Lunny’s certification on hold until his ranch could be inspected again.

In early 2007, Salmon Safe’s investigators flew in for a second review. In order for the National Seashore to show the investigators its concerns, “the Park Service was going to send a representative,” Lunny recalled, “but the Park Service didn’t show up.”

The investigators then called the park’s range specialist, Lunny said, but “he said he was too busy to show up.” The investigators, however, finally got the park to send a list of complaints. None of them held up. For example:

100_943_1.jpg• The park had complained about piles of plastic left over from covering fermenting silage, but Lunny pointed out that the plastic is hauled off and “recycled two or three times per year.”

• The park had complained that the Lunnys mowed their silage too low, but investigators found the grass was two feet high. In addition, Lunny uses a “no-till drill” to plant grass seed, so the humus mat of his pasture does not erode.

• The park accused Lunny of not having a fence between his pasture and Drakes Estero, where he grows his oysters. In fact, none of the ranches along the estero have such a fence yet cattle seldom go near the water, he said.

Following the second inspection, Lunny at last received certification from Salmon Safe. Kent, the organization’s executive director, told me, “Lunny Ranch is a leader in environmental sustainability. We hope that certification will convey that to the public in Point Reyes and beyond.”

dan.jpgAnd while he would not reveal his dealings with National Seashore Supt. Neubacher (above), Kent (left) on Monday noted, “This was the most politically charged Salmon Safe certification in 12 years and more than 300 site inspections.”

The Lunny family had complained in writing to the Interior Department that Neubacher was “undermining” their “certifications,” but the Investigator General investigators’ report never addresses this example of harassment.