Obama signs first wilderness legislation since 2009

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Image courtesy Wikimedia.

President Barack Obama  has signed a bill designating land for addition to the National Wilderness Preservation System, heralding the first designation of new wilderness since 2009.

Obama approved legislation that protects about 32,500 acres in Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The action came Mar. 13.

For more details about the new wilderness designation, see this post.

Ninth Circuit denies en banc review in Drakes Bay Oyster case

A federal appeals court has denied a request that a panel decision upholding the Obama administration’s move to evict an oyster farm from Point Reyes National Seashore be reviewed by a larger group of appellate judges.

In an order released Jan. 14, the court rejected a request for en banc review. As is the usual practice in such circumstances, the court did not provide substantive explanations for why review by 11 judges on the court of the three-judge panel opinion was refused. The order said only that no judge outside the panel voted to grant such review.

The decision in Drakes Bay Oyster Co. v. Jewell upheld a decision by former Interior secretary Ken Salazar not to renew a lease that allowed an oyster farming operation to harvest shellfish within the confines of an area in the Point Reyes National Seashore that is eligible for wilderness protection.

The lessee argued that it had a right, under a provision of a federal appropriations law, to have its lease renewed and that the Obama administration had not completed environmental impact studies required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Ninth Circuit panel, over the dissent of one of the three judges who sat on it, rejected those arguments in an opinion released in Sept. 2013.

Salazar orders trigger of wilderness protection at Point Reyes National Seashore

A scenic estuary within California’s Point Reyes National Seashore that is thought to be the site of 16th century explorer Francis Drake’s landing in North America, and the locus for a long controversy over commercial oyster harvesting operations within the preserve, is set to become part of a designated wilderness area.

Interior secretary Ken Salazar announced Thursday that he has directed the National Park Service to decline  a renewal of Drakes Bay Oyster Company‘s long-term operating lease. The company, which has been harvesting oysters since 1972, will no longer be authorized to do so.

The decision triggers 1976 legislation that designates Drakes Estero as protected wilderness and ends commercial activities on about 1,000 acres of federal land and waters.

I believe it is the right decision for Point Reyes National Seashore and for future generations who will enjoy this treasured landscape,” Salazar said.

Drakes Estero is known for its large seal population, as well as its status as California’s most plentiful source of oysters. Environmentalists and supporters of the oyster farm have engaged in a long-running battle about the commercial harvesting of that resource within the preserve.

In 2009 Congress enacted legislation granting Salazar discretion to decide whether to renew permission to operate there for another ten years or to terminate the existing authorization.

The oyster harvesting operation began in 1938, according to a recent NPS environmental impact statement that examined the potential consequences of allowing it to continue. In 1972, ten years after Point Reyes National Seashore was established, NPS entered into a forty-year lease with Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s corporate predecessor. That lease, called a “reservation of use and occupancy,” expires today along with a required permit.

Salazar’s memorandum to NPS director Jon Jarvis noted that continued commercial use of resources within the national seashore violates agency policy and would be inconsistent with Congress’ decision to restore wilderness qualities to Drakes Estero. 

Drakes Bay Oyster Company will have 90 days in which to remove its property from the preserve. The government will provide employees with job re-training and relocation assistance.

Drakes Estero Wilderness is the only marine wilderness on the nation’s west coast outside of Alaska. The designation of the area as part of the federal wilderness preservation system applies to about 8 square miles of the 31 square mile-size watershed.