Obama Administration Delivers on Longstanding Promise to the American People Drakes Estero Receives Full Wilderness Protection

Highest Level of Protection Granted to Vital Wildlife Habitat

11-29-2012 // Melissa Samet
Harbor Seal

The National Wildlife Federation applauds the Obama Administration and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for granting full wilderness protection to Drakes Estero, the ecological heart of Point Reyes National Seashore in northern California. This decision guarantees vital protection to the hundreds of fish and wildlife species that rely on the Estero and fulfills a longstanding promise to the American people.

“This is the right decision for people and wildlife,” said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Secretary Salazar honored this historic agreement with all Americans to protect marine wilderness, and this legacy will be enjoyed for generations of people and wildlife to come.”

Drakes Estero has long been recognized as the ecological heart of Point Reyes National Seashore and provides vital habitat to an astounding array of fish and wildlife. The Estero is home to one of the largest mainland breeding populations of harbor seals in California, and is used by tens of thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl, including more than 100 different species, and at least 35 different species of fish.

“There are many places where commercial oyster operations are appropriate, but Drakes Estero is not one of them,” said Schweiger. “Drakes Estero is an ecological treasure that deserves and needs the high level of protection that wilderness provides.”

Designated as potential wilderness by Congress in 1976, this remarkable estuary did not receive full wilderness protection at that time due to the pre-existing operating rights of a commercial aquaculture business that plants non-native oysters. Congress made it clear, however, that the Estero was to be granted full wilderness protection when those rights expired this year.

Drakes Bay Oyster Company purchased the last 7 years of the lease, knowing that it was set to expire on November 30, 2012. However, instead of establishing a business plan that would account for that expiration, the company pushed to extend and expand its commercial operations while ignoring permit conditions and requirements established to protect the resource. The California Coastal Commission has advised the company on numerous occasions, most recently on October 24, that it is violating its special use permit and has issued two separate cease and desist orders.

The National Park Service’s Environmental Impact Statement concluded that providing full wilderness protection to the Estero this year is the “environmentally preferred alternative” and the alternative most consistent with law, policy, and science. Tens of thousands of Americans from across the country have urged the National Park Service and Interior Secretary Salazar to honor the promise of wilderness by granting full wilderness protection to Drakes Estero this year.

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