Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and while the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is notoriously liberal, it made the right decision in the case of clams and oysters – and jobs and the economy and, yes, even the environment at the Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, just north of San Francisco.
The court granted a motion for an emergency injunction pending appeal, which was wanted by Kevin Lunny, allowing him to keep his company open and operating in the case, Drakes Bay Oyster Company v. Salazar, et al.
He was facing a flat-out eviction, ordered by the federal government, after the District Court had rejected an earlier appeal of the order. Never mind that the Lunnys have been accused of environmental crimes, none of which have been substantiated.
But the Ninth Circuit Court ruled on Feb. 25 that “there are serious legal questions, and the balance of hardships tips sharply in the appellants’ favor,” and so the Lunny family got the reprieve they wanted.
Without that ruling, Feb. 28 was the deadline for the family to shut down their shellfish business, remove everything from the land it occupies, fire the employees, end his business relationships with restaurants and retail outlets supplying clams and oysters and to literally destroy his products: living clams and oysters.
In fact, he told me that had he carried out the initial order from the Interior Department on Nov. 29, 2012, he would have had to bulldoze all the clam and oyster beds and dump the seafood into a landfill.
Mind you, we’re talking about living creatures: two million clams and 19 million oysters. They are wholesome food, which the feds ordered destroyed.
Nothing is wrong with the shellfish. Nothing is wrong with how Lunny and his family are operating the business. Nothing is illegal. No laws are being broken.
In fact, there’s nothing wrong with anything except that Ken Salazar, the outgoing (as of the end of March) secretary of the interior had refused to renew the land lease and ordered the whole operation shut down, cleared out, destroyed and the entire area returned to nature.
He wasn’t doing it according to any “law.” It was a decision made at his discretion.
In other words, get people and civilization out and return the land to wilderness.
If that doesn’t smack of the undue influence of out of control bureaucratic government and radical environmentalists, I don’t know what does!
Keep in mind that the National Park Service supports the decision against the farm, as do the National Park Conservation Association and the Sierra Club. They, and many others, want “wilderness,” regardless of the cost.
In other words, nature good, people bad.
The land in question was permitted and licensed for the oyster farm for nearly a hundred years, but there’s been farming there for 150 years. In 1965, it became part of the Point Reyes National Seashore under federal and not state control, but it was understood that the state had the right to issue leases indefinitely. In fact, the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act specifically allowed working ranches and farms on the land.
The Lunny family ranched on the land for years and then purchased the Oyster farm in the late ’90s, spending more than $350,000 to renovate the facility with a visitor’s center. It was all approved, and they were assured it complied with the law.
So when they were notified that the farm’s 40-year lease was up and not being renewed, they were shocked because it was understood the lease was good until 2029. Apparently Secretary Salazar ignored that and ordered the eviction.
It would be a hard economic hit. Thirty employees will lose their jobs and their homes on the property.
Kevin Lunny estimates that his farm produces 30 to 40 percent of California’s oysters, serving retail outlets, restaurants and other food operations.
Without his oysters and clams, local prices will increase because of transportation costs to get product from other states and indeed, likely imports from Asia.
One absolute effect: None of them will be as fresh as the shellfish from Kevin Lunny’s farm.
While farm customers and the more than 50,000 visitors a year – area residents and students on field trips – are furious, area dairy farmers and cattle ranchers who also are operating on neighboring leased land around the farm, are anticipating similar attacks on their businesses.
It’s a real threat: 20 percent of Marin County’s agriculture is on Pt. Reyes National Seashore land. If the Interior Department continues on this tack, it could mean the end of all of that.
It’s not far-fetched speculation, as there’s an ongoing effort across the West to reduce, if not eliminate, the cattle business – which means meat will be more expensive at a time when the economy and employment are in turmoil.
Kevin Lunny told me he’s been fortunate to get pro bono legal assistance for his efforts to protect his business from the government because he didn’t know how he could fight it otherwise.
But he also said that if the final order from the court in mid-May turns out to require the destruction of the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, he will not get a penny of reimbursement from the government for the total loss of his lifetime of work.
We’ll get the end of the story in May.