In the ongoing legal troubles of Drakes Bay, the company responsible for about 40% of California's oysters was denied an appeal that would have allowed the 2,500 acre oyster farm to stay open. [Update: Drakes says they will be appealing the courts decision. Read more below.]
In a 2-1 ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar acted within his authority when he declined to renew the farm's 40-year lease that expired in 2012. The farm was granted a 10-year lease extension in 2009 after gathering support from Senator Dianne Feinstein and local food luminaries like Alice Waters, but Salazar terminated that lease last November, claiming the area was was meant to return to a wild, commercial-free state after the original lease expired.
According to the court yesterday, the 2009 legislation left the decision up to the Secretary of the Interior, and the court can't reverse the secretary's call. According to Drakes Bay and their supporters, however, neither the 2009 legislation nor the 1976 federal law Salazar cited ever specifically required that the oyster farm be removed in order to make a wilderness area in Drakes Estero. The lone dissenting judge believed both pieces of legislation viewed the oyster company as, "a beneficial, pre-existing use whose continuation was fully compatible with wilderness status."
Meanwhile, a spokesperson from the National Parks Conservation Association told the Chronicle that the court decision was a good thing that prevented "attempts to hijack America's wilderness."
Drakes owner Kevin Lunny lamented the loss to the Weekly: "I can't get my mind off what this really means for Marin County and for the San Francisco Bay Area. What it means for West Marin, our history and culture of a small coastal community. What it means for all the people whose jobs depend on this, all the families who enjoy coming out and learning where their food comes from and enjoying fresh, sustainable seafood."
Update: In a late press release, the Oyster Company says they will remain open for now and will be petitioning for a rehearing in front of a full eleven-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit. Lunny said his family's company is confident they will prevail "based on the merits of their case" — especially given the dissenting judge's opinion.