Tue 5 Aug 2008
“[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
A symbolic depiction by Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) of official ‘Cruelty‘ toward 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.
The 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.”
Lunny 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:
• 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.”
And 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.