Point Reyes National Seashore


She’ll be missed. Thursday was the last day of February, which also meant it was Kathy Runnion’s last day working in the Point Reyes Station Post Office. With the Postal Service eliminating employees, closing post offices, and stopping Saturday deliveries to save money, Kathy accepted an early retirement offer.

Kathy on Thursday said her goodbyes while serving refreshments in the post office’s lobby. One of the reasons for doing so was to assure postal customers she was in good spirits and hadn’t “gone postal,” she joked. With her are Oscar Gamez from Toby’s Feed Barn (at left) and David Briggs from The Point Reyes Light (at center).

Kathy, who lives in Inverness Park, worked 24 years for the Postal Service — 14 years as a clerk in the Point Reyes Station Post Office, four in the Bolinas Post Office, and one in the Inverness Post Office plus five years as a rural carrier in Glen Ellen.

It’s not that Kathy had been angling for early retirement. Seated at a Toby’s Feed Barn table near the post office, Kathy (at right) in November 2011 distributed American Postal Workers Union literature. The flyers urged the public to back a congressional measure, House Bill 1351, so that the Postal Service would be saved rather than savaged.

“The problem,” the APWU explained, “is that a bill passed in 2006 is pushing the Postal Service into bankruptcy. The law imposes a burden on the USPS that no other government agency or private company bears. It requires the Postal Service to pay a 75-year liability in just 10 years — to ‘pre-fund’ healthcare benefits for future retirees… The $20 billion in postal losses you heard about doesn’t stem from the mail but rather from [the] congressional mandate.”

Unfortunately, Congress as usual wasn’t up to protecting the public interest once politics got involved.

Another lost cause. Kathy (right) in May 2008 joined other West Marin residents in trying to dissuade the Vedanta Society from letting the Point Reyes National Seashore use Vedanta property as a staging area for slaughtering a herd of fallow deer. Estol T. Carte (center), the Vedanta Society’s president, listened to the polite group of demonstrators but promised nothing and delivered just that.

US Senator Dianne Feinstein, then-Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, then-Lt. Governor John Garamendi, famed zoologist Jane Goodall, and the senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, John Grandy, PhD, were likewise on record as opposing the impending slaughter, but the Park Service was out for blood.

Nearly all the fallow and axis deer in the park were gone within months despite recent assurances from the National Seashore that the killing would be carried out over 11 years, which would allow time to take another look at whether to get rid of all the exotic deer. It was one more frustrating flip-flop by the Park Service, which in 1974 had insisted the deer belonged in the National Seashore because they were “an important source of visitor enjoyment.”

Kathy feeding denizens of a Planned Feralhood enclosed shelter at a Nicasio barn.

Retiring from the Postal Service will not take Kathy out of the public eye, however. For 12 years she has headed Planned Feralhood, an organization that traps and spays or neuters feral cats.

More than 700 of them have been adopted for pets. Some of those which could not be domesticated were let loose but with feeding sites established so they don’t have to fight over scraps of food and garbage. Others are being cared for in Planned Feralhood shelters.

Planned Feralhood recently became a non-profit corporation after operating for years under the fiscal umbrella of other nonprofits. Donations can be sent to Box 502, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

Two gray foxes basking in the sun as seen from a rear window of the Point Reyes Station Post Office. The foxes are on the roof of a shed that’s part of Toby’s Feed Barn and adjoins the Building Supply Center’s lumberyard.

In December 2009, I was at home one morning when I got a call from Kathy at the post office. I’d probably like to get a photo of a pair of foxes sleeping just outside a post office window, she said. I grabbed my camera and rushed into town, managing to get there in time to record the scene.

Two days before she retired, I received a similar message from her: “I’ve got a downtown wildlife story for you that needs investigation.” Naturally, I asked what was up. Kathy said she had seen some kind of hawk — although not a red-tailed or a red-shouldered hawk — walking on the cement floor  just inside the Feed Barn next door.

People were at the coffee bar in the entranceway, but they didn’t seem to worry the hawk, which was surprising because hawks tend to avoid humans. Kathy added that all the small birds that used to nest among the rafters of the Feed Barn had disappeared.

I asked Feed Barn owner Chris Giacomini about this, and he confirmed the birds had disappeared, but he didn’t know about the hawk. It seems a hawk had discovered good hunting at Highway 1 and Second Street. All the pigeons that used to perch on top of the Grandi Building also disappeared for awhile, Kathy told me, but a few have returned.

With Kathy’s retirement from the post office, Point Reyes Station is losing not only a first-rate postal clerk but also a first-rate observer of the wildlife to be found in the town’s commercial strip.

I wouldn’t normally visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse on a Feb. 8, but Guido wanted to go there and look for whales. Dr. Guido Hennig, a German who lives in Switzerland, had flown to San Francisco, as he does every year, to attend the “Laser Applications in Microelectronic and Optoelectronic Manufacturing” conference at Mosconi Center.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse was built in 1870 and was manned round the clock until 1975 when it was automated.

This year was the 18th annual laser-applications conference. Last year Guido chaired the whole shebang; this year he chaired part of it. Guido, who works for the Max Daetwyler Corporation, invented a technique for using lasers in “the patterning of micro cells on rolls in the printing industry.” (In the company’s words.)

Ever since we met in the Station House Café seven years ago, he always visits when he’s in town.

The view from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard looking down to Drakes Estero at Historic E Ranch, which is operated by the Nunes family.

Because Guido and I headed out to the lighthouse on a Friday and not the weekend, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard was mostly empty. The lack of traffic also meant we could drive all the way to the lighthouse parking lot and just walk the last quarter mile to the information station and overlook. On busy weekends, visitors have to park in bigger parking lots further away and take shuttlebuses to where we parked.

The Great Beach as seen while walking between the lighthouse and its parking lot.

We had no sooner gotten out of our car than we saw a ranger sticking up a sign that said the steps from the overlook down to the lighthouse were closed. “Due to high wind,” he explained.

Just how fierce the wind was quickly became obvious on our walk to the lighthouse overlook. It was so strong and cold it made the inside of my ears ache, but I’ve put up with worse and kept on walking.

A ranger returns from the Point Reyes Lighthouse after all the public has left and the stairs are closed.

Two hundred and sixty-nine stairs lead down to the lighthouse from the overlook. It’s not too bad going down, but the return is equivalent to climbing a 30-story staircase.

A ranger at the information office told me his gauge showed the wind speed at 51 mph. (That’s a strong gale on the Beaufort Scale.) The temperature was in the 40s, he said and estimated the wind-chill factor was down to freezing.

The ranger said the risk from high wind for someone on the staircase is that it can cause a person to trip and fall down the stairs. If the person were injured, a rescue wouldn’t be quick, he added, since it couldn’t be done by helicopter in a high wind. It would require getting the victim all the way to the top of the stairs and an ambulance all the way out to the Point.

Sea spray.

Incidental to the high wind were whitecaps that hid any whales that Guido might see. Nor were there many to be seen. Just an occasional juvenile, a ranger said.

California gray whales winter in the shallow lagoons of Baja California where their calves are born. The southbound migration peaks here in mid-January. They migrate back to their feeding grounds in the waters of Alaska for the summer, with the northbound migration peaking here in mid-March.

When Guido and I returned to my car, I was amazed to see a raven briefly hovering in one place despite the strong gale. Ravens really are as agile in the air as they’re reputed to be.

Elephant seal colony at Drakes Bay.

With Guido unable to see any whales, a docent at the lighthouse overlook suggested we instead take a look at the elephant seal colony at nearby Chimney Rock. We did, and from an overlook there we could see pups, mothers, and bulls sunning themselves beside Drakes Bay.

Elephant seals spend 80 percent of their lives in the open ocean with 90 percent of that being spent underwater “eating, sleeping, digesting, and traveling,” according to the Park Service.

Elephant seals are big and heavy — a bull Northern elephant seal can get up to 16 feet long and weight 5,400 pounds — but it’s the bull’s elephantine proboscis that give them their name.

Point St. Joseph commercial fishing-boat dock as seen from the path between the Chimney Rock parking lot and the elephant seal overlook.

A short turnoff along the road to Chimney Rock took us to yet another overlook, this one for viewing a sea-lion colony.

The “colony,” however, turned out to include a few elephant seals (such as the bull at upper right) basking in the sun with their sea lion cousins.

Elephant seals were hunted almost to extinction during the 1800s, and there were none at Point Reyes for 150 years. In the early 1970s, they began showing up again, with the first breeding pair being found in 1981.

Since then the colony has grown rapidly, and today “the Point Reyes elephant seal population is between 1,500 and 2,000,” the Park Service says. This growth has, in turn, caused some elephant seals to fan out to other beaches in the area, the Park Service adds. Perhaps that explains why some of them now hang out on the sea lions’ beach.

South Beach.

On our way home, Guido wanted to stop at South Beach to shoot a few last photos, so we did. What the wind did to surf was impressive, but what it did on the beach was less so. The blowing sand was almost blinding, and the wind-chill factor felt even colder than at the lighthouse.

I finally retreated to my car and watched the scene through the windshield. Guido, however, decided to spend some time on the beach. He could handle the wind and sand, he said, because he was used to blizzards in Switzerland. It was a telling comparison. A windy, wintry day on Point Reyes is about as punishing as a blizzard in Switzerland. After Guido returned to the car, we drove straight back to Mitchell cabin, managing to get there before Lynn sent out a St. Bernard with a brandy barrel.

Back in 1975 when I first owned The Point Reyes Light, the paper was constantly getting mail addressed to Mike Gahagan, my predecessor, and even to Don DeWolfe, his predecessor. Why the mail was misdirected could easily be understood; mailing lists don’t get updated very often. More perplexing was the newspaper’s mail from the National Audubon Society, which was always addressed to Mrs. Gloria Eagan. I never met the woman nor knew who she was.

Something similar happened when I previously edited The Sebastopol Times. The paper was constantly receiving mail addressed to B.M. Angel, but I had no idea who the person was. Finally one day, I asked sports editor John Owens: “Have you ever heard of a B.M. Angel?” John thought it over for a moment and replied, “No, but I’ve heard of a tooth fairy.”

From Sparsely Sage and Timely 35 years ago: A young lady created something of a stir in Bolinas by walking her pig through downtown dog-like on a leash. It was a guaranteed double-take until the pig got loose and started down Wharf Road on the run.

It soon caught up with a car traveling slowly in the same direction, causing bystanders to fear the pig might run under the car’s wheels. Pedestrians began shouting, “Pig! Pig! Pig!” to alert the motorist, who unfortunately was a sheriff’s deputy in a patrolcar. Brakes were slammed on; the pig darted past; and everyone breathed a sigh of relief — especially the deputy.

As it happened, a sheriff’s dispatcher a couple of months later alerted deputies to be on the lookout for “a WMA [white-male adult]” brandishing a firearm on Highway 1. He was described as “wearing dark glasses and a t-shirt with a peace symbol on it.” I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought: “Young man, you’re a disgrace to the uniform.”

San Francisco for years has been home to numerous events, such as the Folsom Street Fair, where many of those in attendance are nude. However, some residents have begun complaining about too much public nudity year-round in the city, especially in the Castro District. The Board of Supervisors is now trying to devise an ordinance that would ban public nudity — except for special events.

However, crafting such an ordinance can be tricky. Are striptease theaters public places? Should police cite the parents of children who are naked in public places? What’s the cutoff age? Such questions are not as simplistic as they may seem.

If not carefully written, the result will be a law of unintended consequences. One marvelous example of this occurred in the city of Florence, Oregon, back in 1977 when the City Council decided to shield that city from indecorous sights. In doing so, the council passed an ordinance that made it illegal to have sex “while in view of a public or private place.”

City officials, however, soon realized they had banned absolutely all sex in Florence and decided not to enforce their new ordinance.

I’ll close with an apocryphal story from the world of theater. It seems there was an aspiring actor who had set his sights on Broadway but never made it through the casting calls. Finally after months of frustration, the would-be actor landed a bit part, playing a soldier in an off-Broadway production.

He had only one line: “Hark! I hear a cannon!” Nonetheless, he knew this could be the break that launched his show business career, so he practiced the line day after day, trying to decide just how it should be uttered: HARK, I hear a cannon! Hark, I HEAR a cannon! Hark, I hear A CANNON!

Finally it was the night of the dress rehearsal, and as he stepped onto the stage he was nervous as cat. Just as the time came for his big line, however, there was a loud explosion backstage, and the startled novice exclaimed, “What the hell was that?”

Drakes Bay Oyster Company owner Kevin Lunny headed to Irvine, Orange County, Tuesday to speak before the National Academy of Sciences, which is reviewing a Park Service environmental report on his operation.

He left with the understanding he would receive only three minutes to present his case for continuing to do business in the Point Reyes National Seashore after his present permit expires Nov. 30. When he got to the NAS meeting, however, Lunny received about half an hour to answer questions.

Drakes Bay Oyster Company owner Kevin Lunny.

This wasn’t supposed to be happening. Lunny bought the business from its former owner, Tom Johnson, seven years ago. At that time, Lunny and his lawyer negotiated a “statement of principle” with Interior Department attorneys and Jon Jarvis, then Pacific West Regional Director of the Park Service.

The agreement signed by both Jarvis and Lunny guaranteed the oyster grower that he would have plenty of input if an environmental-impact statement were required when the permit was up for renewal. Nonetheless, when the Park Service began preparing an EIS a year and a half ago, Lunny found himself excluded from the scoping process.

He brought up the legal document he and Jarvis (now national director of the Park Service) had signed only to have the Park Service tell him it was “unenforceable,” he noted this week. “If you don’t like it,” the Park Service added, “take it to court.” It was not the first time the Park Service had used that tactic.

Six years ago, former National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher began a campaign of falsehoods — later exposed by the Inspector General of the Interior Department, among others — regarding the oyster operation in an effort to create opposition to renewing its permit. Lunny at the time reported that when he objected to the way he was being treated by the park, Neubacher’s response was, “You’ve got to remember, I don’t have to pay my lawyers.”

Retail sales building at Drakes Bay Oyster Company.

Neubacher’s political reason — aside from what turned into personal antipathy — for wanting Lunny to shut down operations in Drakes Estero is that Congress in 1976 had declared the surrounding area “potential wilderness.” The park, however, has chosen to ignore the congressional testimony of the legislation’s sponsors who said the proposed potential-wilderness designation would not affect oyster growing in the estero.

Although the Park Service has made no secret of being ready to ruin Lunny with legal bills if he stands on his rights, the stratagem hasn’t worked so far. Already, he has received “over $1 million worth of pro bono legal help” from one law firm, and two others are also joining in, Lunny said.

“The San Francisco Bay Area,” the oysterman explained, is “a tight-knit community, and people have been good to us. All are liberal Democrats, green-minded people, non-corporate. They care about honesty in government.” The unpaid legal representation could prove invaluable to Lunny should he need to legally challenge an adverse decision by the Park Service on his permit.

The Park Service has put forth various claims — each debunked in succession — that oyster growing in the estuary is bad for the environment. In contrast, an earlier National Academy of Sciences review found that oyster cultivation is not causing significant environmental problems and may well be benefiting the estero’s ecosystem.

The estuary used to be rich in native, Olympia oysters, but they were harvested to virtual extinction by the 1950s and 60s. The former oyster-company owners, the Johnson family, then began raising Pacific oysters, which have restored the ecosystem, the first Academy of Sciences review noted. Oysters are filter feeders that clean the water.

The Park Service in response has claimed there never were native oysters in the estero despite millions of Olympia oyster shells found in the middens (shell heaps) of Native Americans who lived beside the estuary.

Carbon dating has now determined the shells in the middens are prehistoric, prompting the Park Service to claim — without evidence — that Native Americans must have caught these millions of oysters in Tomales Bay and for unknown reasons hauled them all the way to Drakes Bay to eat them. To Lunny, the scenario seems ridiculous.

Larvae for today’s Pacific oysters, which are the variety grown on the West Coast, come from “carefully controlled” hatcheries in Oregon and Washington, Lunny said.

Growing oyster larvae into seed oysters (Photo by Janine Warner).

He raises the larvae in tanks until they are large enough to attach themselves to old shells and then start growing their own shells. Only when these “seed oysters” are large enough not to fall through mesh growing bags are they hung from racks in the estero. In other cases, shells holding the seed oysters are hung in a line from the racks.

In response to EIR-related questions from the Park Service, Lunny on July 5 wrote to National Seashore Supt. Cecily Muldoon:

“Approximately 40 percent of Drakes Bay Oyster Company income is from onsite retail sales, 40 percent is sold directly to local markets and restaurants — all delivered by DBOC directly, 18 percent is sold to Tomales Bay shellfish growers, and 2 percent is sold through a wholesale seafood distributor based in San Francisco.”

Oysters from racks in Drakes Estero are unloaded from a barge at the oyster company’s onshore site.

In a very good year, DBOC might produce 850,000 pounds of oysters, Lunny wrote. Those numbers would suggest that if the full 18 percent of DBOC’s total production in a very good year were to go to to Hog Island and Tomales Bay oyster companies, the total would be a whopping 153,000 pounds.

“The Tomales Bay growers have a huge demand they can’t meet,” Lunny said Monday. If Drakes Bay Oyster Company were shut down by the park, the effect on Tomales Bay growers would be significant, and those growers have supported DBOC’s efforts to renew its permit.

“We like to work with neighbors and colleagues,” Lunny said, and want the oysters sold locally to “come from locals.”

Washing freshly harvested oysters.

Nor is there any opportunity for Drakes Bay Oyster Company to relocate to Tomales Bay.

In his July 5 letter to Seashore Supt. Muldoon, Lunny wrote: “It is important to note that in late 2008 through early 2009, the National Park Service (NPS) seriously misled the public by telling US Senator Dianne Feinstein, the DBOC, and the public that NPS had a plan and an offer to relocate DBOC to Tomales Bay.

“In fact, NPS did not consult with the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) prior to making this assertion and did not have a plan to relocate DBOC.

“After NPS made the claim that it had a plan to relocate DBOC to Tomales Bay, NPS was informed by CDFG that this relocation was impossible for several reasons:

• “NPS has no authority over the Fish and Game Commission (FGC) and CDFG leases and has no say over how shellfish leases are issued by the FGC.

• “Tomales Bay shellfish production is already maximized to the extent practicable.

• “There were no available leases in Tomales Bay to relocate DBOC.

“DBOC, in good faith, participated in discussions, committed to negotiations, and was willing to evaluate a proposal. It was only later that it became clear that the NPS did not have a relocation plan or proposal when it told Senator Feinstein and DBOC that it did. The NPS promised a relocation that was impossible.

“Nevertheless, the public remains misinformed about this relocation proposal. Members of the public known to be working closely with NPS staff continuously criticize DBOC for failing to negotiate with NPS regarding relocation.

“NPS has certainly heard these misrepresentations from the NPS supporters yet NPS has failed to correct the public record.”

A check on Tuesday with Kirsten Ramey, who is in charge of marine aquaculture for Fish and Game, found that while it technically might be possible to get a new shellfish-growing lease in Tomales Bay, in practical terms, it could not be done. The permits and studies necessary would be overwhelming.

Among the agencies that would have to study the proposal and approve it, she said, would be state Fish and Game, the County of Marin, the California Coastal Commission, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and possibly others. Virtually no one can afford the cost, which is why no new leases have been issued for years, she explained.

Lunny had not received a response to his letter to Supt. Muldoon before his trip to Irvine Tuesday, but DBOC critic Gordon Bennett had read it thanks to the park’s having quietly posted the letter online.

Ramey noted that Bennett — citing the letter — had called her asking about oysters from Drakes Estero being sold at Tomales Bay. His apparent concern, she said, was that organisms or pathogens could be transferred from one bay to the other this way.

However, that is not possible, Ramey said, because Hog Island and Tomales Bay oyster companies sell the DBOC oysters from tanks and do not place them in their bay. Tank water is not discharged into the bay, she added.

By now, Lunny’s fight to get his oyster company’s permit renewed has gone on for years, and if the dispute ultimately lands in court, the fight could go on a good deal longer.

In attempting to justify not renewing in September Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s permit to operate in the Point Reyes National Seashore, park staff falsified scientific data. Fortunately, the Inspector General’s Office of the Interior Department uncovered many of the misrepresentations by National Seashore staff, and in 2008 it issued a report that chronicled them.

Yet Park Service employees are doing it again, as US Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) complained to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (right) last Thursday.

This is the senator’s letter to the Interior Department, which administers the Park Service:

Dear Secretary Salazar,

The Park Service’s latest falsification of science at Point Reyes National Seashore is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The Park Service presented charts of noise measurements in its draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) that appear to irrefutably establish that oyster boats at Drakes Bay disturb the pastoral quiet of the nearby wilderness.

Here is the problem: the noise did not come from oyster boats, nor did it come from anywhere near Drakes Estero or Point Reyes National Seashore. Amazingly, the decibel recordings the Park Service attributed to Drakes Bay oyster boats came from jet skis in New Jersey 17 years ago.

Entrance and picnic area for Drakes Bay Oyster Company.

I am frankly stunned that after all the controversy over past abuse of science on this issue, Park Service employees would feel emboldened to once again fabricate the science in building a case against the oyster farm. I can only attribute this conduct to an unwavering bias against the oyster farm and historic ranches.

My attention was drawn to the Seashore when I fought to extend local ranching leases from five to 10 years so there would be sufficient investment and time for the farmers and ranchers to not only operate viable businesses, but to perform environmental improvements. Despite efforts to comply, the ranches and oyster farm have been subject to repeated mistreatment that is unbecoming of your department.

The Park Service has falsified and misrepresented data, hidden science, and even promoted employees who knew about the falsehoods, all in an effort to advance a predetermined outcome against the oyster farm. Using 17-year-old data from New Jersey jet skis as documentation of noise from oyster boat engines in the estuary is incomprehensible.

It is my belief that the case against Drakes Bay Oyster Company is deceptive and potentially fraudulent.

Senator Feinstein at left.

The Park Service’s conduct is a serious breach of trust with the farming and ranching community at Point Reyes National Seashore. The ranchers are concerned that if Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s permit is not renewed, they will be next. I share that concern.

I firmly believe that renewal of the permit is the only way for the Park Service to send an unmistakeable signal that the Administration’s commitment to scientific integrity is real and that repeated misrepresentations of the scientific record to advance employees’ personal agendas will not be tolerated. I also believe that renewal of the permit is the only way for the Park Service to begin to repair the trust of the Seashore’s ranching and farming community.

I look to you to bring resolution to this very serious matter.

Sincerely, Dianne Feinstein, United States Senator

Once in awhile, I let others use this space to address issues of particular concern to them. This week’s contributor is Dr. Corey Goodman of Marshall, a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Corey was the first to reveal that the Point Reyes National Seashore administration was using bogus data in trying to build a case for kicking Drakes Bay Oyster Company out of the park.

Now he has revealed more Park Service shenanigans in its handling of public comments on an environmental-impact statement about whether the oyster company should be allowed to stay in the park.

— — —

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” — Sir Walter Scott

By Dr. Corey Goodman

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) got turned on its head recently when the National Park Service released a partial analysis of the public comments received in response to the draft Environmental Impact Statement concerning the fate of the oyster farm in Point Reyes National Seashore.

The Citizen’s Guide to NEPA, published by the Council on Environmental Quality (part of the White House), wrote: “It is important to understand that commenting on a proposal is not a “vote” on whether the proposed action should take place.” Dr. John Felleman, a NEPA scholar at State University of New York, wrote concerning the intent of the public comment period: “The intent is to assess the adequacy of the data, alternatives, and analyses, not to have an opinion poll.”

Nevertheless, the park triggered just such an opinion poll.  In an action that appears to be unprecedented, the park released a partial “preliminary content analysis report” of the National Park Service’s draft environmental impact statement, telling the community that there were more than 52,000 public comments, and that more than 47,000 of them were for Alternative A – elimination of the oyster farm.

Although the park analysis contained lots of numbers about the geography and origins of the comments, what was conspicuously absent was what is most obvious when one first examines them – more than 90 percent of the comments are duplicate form letters (sent by email).

No surprise, within minutes of the Park press release, Neal Desai of the National Parks Conservation Association and Amy Trainer of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin concluded, based upon Park Service analysis, that 92 percent of the public comments favored eliminating the oyster farm from Point Reyes, and proclaimed that “the people have spoken.”

A week later, on March 9, 2012, the Marin IJ published an editorial on the 52,000 public comments, and wrote: “Both sides in this battle have well-funded advocacy groups that can generate letters, postcards and e-mails in support of their cause.”  Given the intervening week, it is too bad the Marin IJ didn’t dig a bit deeper into the origin of those comments to determine how they were generated, and thus how the public was spun by NPS and its supporters.

Last week, The Point Reyes Light and The West Marin Citizen newspapers reported, based on analysis from Sarah Rolph and me, that 86 percent of those comments were duplicate emails generated by mass emails from four environmental organizations: Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), and the National Wildlife Foundation (NWF).

These groups’ emails misinformed people, falsely claiming environmental harm where no such data exists, and asked the recipients to click — over and over again — to send pre-written messages that advocated evicting the oyster farm.

The Park Service released those biased numbers completely unfiltered.  Such behavior was contrary to NEPA guidance and irresponsible of the Park Service and the NGOs.

Reporting that 86 percent of 52,000 comments were click-and-send form letters was an under-estimate.  Further computer analysis revealed another 2,445 comments (5 percent) were fragments of form letters.  The total based upon form letters was thus nearly 91 percent

Desai of NPCA correctly pointed out that pro-oyster farm supporters also submitted several hundred form letters, but these amounted to fewer than 1 percent vs. his side’s 91 percent.  These numbers are a wee bit more one-sided than the Marin IJ editorial led readers to think when it stated both sides “…have well-funded advocacy groups that can generate letters …”

The spikes in the graph correspond to the days that four groups sent out mass emails that asked recipients to click on a button which would send an email to the Park Service urging it to get rid of the oyster company. The responses came from throughout the United States although according to National Seashore figures, 70 percent of the two million people who visit the park annually come from the nine-county Bay Area. That would suggest that most of the emails came from people who had no direct knowledge of the oyster farm.

If all duplicate form letters are eliminated, from all sides, less than 5,000 comments remain, of which many are duplicates.  For example, Rick Johnson, an NPS supporter, was counted nine times. Nevertheless, if those 5,000 comments are surveyed, over 80 percent support renewing the oyster farm lease while less than 20 percent support eliminating it.

That is a far cry from the 92 percent for eliminating the farm announced by Trainer of the EAC and Desai. Perhaps the people have spoken, just not in the way Trainer and Desai misled the community to believe.

A challenge to the park: do a better analysis. Since the park has already turned NEPA on its head by releasing a partial analysis, let’s encourage them to at least do the right analysis.  Release another count without form letters – or form letter fragments — from both sides.  Count only original letters; count each person once.

If the majority favors renewal of the lease, as our analysis shows, then you and your supporters owe the community the truth and an apology for misleading us.

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