Energy & Environment

Issa Probes Park Service Science Used to Shut Down Oyster Farm

A leading congressional Republican is investigating whether the National Park Service (NPS) committed “scientific misconduct” in its effort to shut down a century-old oyster farm over claims that it threatens the local seal population.  Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is demanding that the Interior Department turn over certain documents to his panel to determine whether faulty information will close the Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC), which operates in California’s Point Reyes National Seashore.
 
“It has come to my attention that scientific misconduct by National Park Service personnel may be jeopardizing the right of a small business to operate in Marin County, California,” Issa said in an Oct. 20 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
 
“Allegations that NPS knowingly relied on flawed science to support that conclusion as part of an effort to remove DBOC have come from a wide range of stakeholders and disinterested parties,” Issa said.
 
“If true, NPS … will have closed the doors of a family-owned small business without a valid scientific basis,” Issa said.  The science used to suggest oyster farming would have a substantial impact to Drakes Estero [estuary] ecosystem has also been called into question by the National Research Council—part of the National Academies that also includes the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine.
 
The May 2009 report found a lack of strong scientific evidence that the oyster operation had major adverse environmental effects.  “Furthermore, National Park Service reports never achieved a rigorous and balanced synthesis of the impacts from oyster farming in the estero,” said the council’s statement about their report.
 
The council suggested a detailed camera record would help resolve the controversy and determine whether oyster boats disturbed harbor seals during the breeding season.
 
“Unbeknownst to the [council] panel, the NPS had maintained a secret camera system” in the area since 2007, Issa said.  The cameras took minute-by-minute pictures during the pupping season for three years, but they failed to disclose the photos or logs in their efforts to close the oyster farm, creating “the appearance of a coverup,” Issa said.
 
According to a report from the Interior Department’s solicitor’s office, the photos show no evidence the farming methods harmed the seals.
 
Kenny Lunny purchased the oyster farm in 2007 from the Johnson Oyster Company, but the 40-year lease expires next year, and some congressional Democrats are pushing for Drakes Estero to be designated as an official wilderness area, which would conflict with oyster harvesting operations.
 
Issa is demanding the agency turn over correspondence from the solicitor’s office, which investigated the science used by the park service, and other documents related to the department’s Environmental Impact Statement.
 
Additionally, Issa is asking that more than a half-dozen Interior officials agree to committee interviews beginning next week.  “In this matter, the alleged misconduct is serious, and it could result in the loss of the Lunny Family business, which employs a number of local residents,” Issa said.

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