Wed 31 Jan 2007
Fallow deer in the Point Reyes National Seashore range from white to spotted to black. Naturally gentle, they are among the few deer that can be easily domesticated, and they are widely raised for meat. The fallow herd was periodically culled by the park until Don Neubacher became superintendent in 1994. He stopped the culling and now claims the herd is becoming too large and must be totally eliminated. (Photo by Janine Warner)
West Marin residents need to start paying attention to how much the administration of the Point Reyes National Seashore has come to reflect ideologically rigid policies of the Bush Administration Park Service, not to mention the Bush Administration’s belligerent approach to Homeland Security.
Combativeness, ideological zeal, and indifference to public opinion are the hallmarks of this approach. At the National Seashore, it is taking the form of:
• A widely criticized program to slaughter the long-resident white and spotted deer from Asia, which much of the public finds enchanting, on grounds it would be cheaper to eliminate them than to control herd sizes with culling or contraception.
The only public hearing on the pogrom before the National Seashore administration last year approved it was so tightly controlled as to be meaningless. No general discussion, with public debate, was allowed. Supt. Don Neubacher assembled a panel of like-minded folks to present the administration’s point of view. Respected organizations that oppose slaughtering the deer, such as the Humane Society, were noticeably left off his panel.
These fallow deer (originally from the Near East) and axis deer (originally from India and Sri Lanka) have been a part of the Point Reyes ecosystem for 60 years, far longer than the Park Service. (Photo by Janine Warner)
Yet the Neubacher administration talks about the fallow deer as if the growth of its herd is out of control. No it isn’t. The Neubacher administration in 1994 merely stopped the park’s periodic culling.
The park administration in trying to rationalize the pogrom claims that because non-indigenous deer eat acorns and so do indigenous blacktail deer, the wellbeing of the blacktail is being threatened. The claim is typical of the pseudo-environmental malarkey we’ve come to expect from the Bush Interior Department that also claims opening up the Artic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling is environmentally necessary.
Blacktail deer are abundant throughout West Marin as this herd, including a doe who’s found one of my persimmons, bears witness.
There’s no shortage of blacktail deer in and around the park. Yes, a lot of them are dying on and off parkland here. And whose fault is that? Almost entirely motorists, many of whom are among two million visitors a year drawn to West Marin by the Point Reyes National Seashore.
• National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher’s announced intention to close down the venerable Drake’s Bay Oyster Company when its lease expires in five years.
There may be ranches, not to mention a Coast Guard station, next door, but Neubacher claims the land around the oyster company’s waters is “potential” wilderness and that it would take an act of Congress to keep the oyster company open. If that’s true — and county officials are skeptical — then it’s Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey’s responsibility to take action in Congress.
Like the exotic deer, the oyster company has been on Point Reyes far longer than the park, which opened in 1965. Oyster growing has become part of the Drakes Estero ecoystem, and oysterman Kevin Lunny notes that because oysters filter water, the water is cleaner in his part of the estuary than where oyster growing has ended.
For many visitors to the National Seashore, buying oysters at the oyster company brings them far more pleasure than visitor centers, sandcastle contests, boarded-up ranch buildings, and the Morgan horse stable — not to denigrate any of them but merely to take note of the obvious.
I’ve never heard Lunny himself say this, but some ranchers on Point Reyes see Supt. Neubacher’s plans to close the oyster company as “payback time.”
They believe that Lunny, who is also a beef rancher, roused the superintendent’s ire two years ago when he helped organize the Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association so that ranchers in the park can collectively negotiate their leases with the National Seashore administration. Ranchers I’ve talked with say Neubacher (pictured) reacted bitterly to formation of their association.
One indication of the park administration’s attitude toward the association occurred a year ago when the National Seashore hired a “range ecologist.” No sooner had he arrived than he showed up at an association meeting to introduce himself, say he’d noticed some ranches had fences in need of repair, warned that he would give ranchers one notice to make repairs, and said if they didn’t then hop to it, he would seek to have their leases revoked. Dick Cheney couldn’t have said it better.
(Ironically the Jan. 30 San Francisco Chronicle described in detail the sorry state of Golden Gate National Recreation Area fencing at Crissy Beach. Neubacher administers, along with the National Seashore, part of the GGNRA but not the beach in San Francisco.)
One rancher, who doesn’t agree with the “payback” theory, instead believes the oyster grower’s problems began when Gordon Bennett, chairman of the Marin Unit of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the national Sierra Club, got Neubacher’s ear by becoming part of the park superintendent’s kitchen cabinet. *
With Congress stalling on reviving the Citizens Advisory Commission to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore, the park superintendent has been able to cherry pick whom he listens to. Sometimes the arrangement reminds me of our government’s unstated alliance with the Taliban during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
An environmental fundamentalist, Bennett is the loudest critic of Drakes Bay Oyster Company, which he considers equivalent to a 165-foot-high old Buddha in potentially Taliban-pure wilderness. The opposition of Bennett, who lives in Paradise Ranch Estates, to a popular oyster farm founded more than a century ago is perfectly in character.
A major stopover for birds migrating on the Pacific Flyway and a haven for harbor seals, seabirds, and long-legged wading birds, Bolinas Lagoon may completely fill with silt if its channel isn’t dredged and tidal circulation restored. The chairman of the Marin Unit of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club opposes the necessary dredging.
When the nonprofit Marine Mammal Center needed to upgrade its treatment facilities on the Marin Headlands or when people around Bolinas Lagoon hoped to dredge silt from its channel before the lagoon becomes a meadow, Bennett was always there to lend a criticism.
* The term “kitchen cabinet” in its political sense originated in the 1820s during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Jackson abandoned official cabinet meetings and instead took his advice from an informal, kitchen-table cabinet more to his liking. A number of these advisors, such as influential newspaper editors, were chosen because they had a pulpit for defending his policies.
Next week: Bringing the voice of democracy back to the Point Reyes National Seashore delayed by congressional Democrats’ distrust of Bush Administration.