Battle escalates over farmer operating in National Park

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, April 30 - In a case of government overreach which has set off alarm bells in Congress, the Interior Department seems determined to do whatever it takes to force a California farmer, rancher and oysterman out of business. The targeted third-generation rancher Kevin Lunny says he's been fighting back for four years not only to defend his own family but to prevent government from using “weaponized science” to drive private businesses coast to coast from public lands and waters.

What's at stake, Lunny tells Agri-Pulse, is “our nation's food supply and the whole food-security issue of becoming increasingly dependent on imported food . . . This is a food issue, with everything to do with food security and food safety . . . The Park Service is engaging in nothing less than bogus science to pursue its objectives.”


Point Reyes National Seashore, California: Kevin Lunny, of Drakes Bay Oyster Company on Drakes Estero, checking oysters growing on oyster bents (racks). Photo credit - © Copyright Macduff Everton.

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What raises this battle from being a fight between competing local interests to national significance may be not only the precedent it could set for shutting down other food production operations but the tactics used against Lunny's family-owned Drakes Bay Oyster Company. For four years, a network of hidden National Park Service cameras collected 250,000 time-stamped photos of oystering operations. Yet this documentary record was not shared with the National Academy of Sciences when its researchers were reporting on oyster operations in the park - presumably because the photos showed not a single instance of the oyster business disturbing the area's harbor seal population.

Despite the National Academy report giving the oyster company a clean bill of health, the Park Service issued is own series of reports which include maps with misplaced boundary lines and unfounded claims of seal disturbances. Lunny is requesting that the Park Service retract the reports as inaccurate. Going further, last November respected scientist Dr. Corey Goodman, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, wrote Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to formally request “an investigation by the Department of the Interior (DOI) based on allegations that officials and scientists in the National Park Service (NPS) violated a series of federal government rules, regulations, and codes, and in so doing committed scientific misconduct.”

Salazar responded by ordering an investigation. The result was an official report from an Interior Department solicitor, Gavin Frost. The Frost report made public March 22 concludes “that there was no criminal violation or scientific misconduct, but that NPS, as an organization and through its employees, made mistakes . . .” Frost found that “The errors made by NPS employees, and the circumstances that surround their actions, do not support inferences sufficient to prove the demanding element of intent associated with 'scientific misconduct.'” He also found that the NPS scientists, referred to only by codes such as S1, “violated NPS Code of Scientific and Scholarly Conduct language, from the Interim Guidance, that not only required timely and 'full disclosure of all research methods used [and] available data,' but also obligated the NPS employees to 'communicate the results of scientific activities, objectively, thoroughly, and expeditiously . . . the decision made by S3, S2, and S1, who collectively but covertly used the photographic research to refute arguments unrelated to the information's specific scientific purpose, was arguably inappropriate and violative of the NPS Interim Code provisions requiring 'full disclosure.'”

The Frost report brought an immediate response from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. She wrote Sec. Salazar to charge that “Rather than accepting the Frost Report's verdict of misconduct and taking decisive action, the Department of the Interior responded defensively by noting the absence of 'criminal violation,' admitting that 'mistakes' were made, and declining to inform the public whether corrective action is taken.”

Feinstein's letter charges that in a series of Park Service reports and actions, “agency scientists acted as if they were advocates with no responsibility to fairly evaluate the scientific data.” She calls on Salazar to “publicly disavow the practice of selectively misusing and misconstruing science to achieve a desired outcome. Whether it was intentional or because of personal bias, these practices must not be tolerated nor allowed to continue.”

To back up her call for corrective action, Feinstein pointed out to Salazar that “Three separate investigative reports have reached the same conclusion:

■ The Frost Report details a “collective but troubling mindset” (p. 32) of misusing science for advocacy purposes. “This misconduct arose from incomplete and biased evaluation and from blurring the line between exploration and advocacy through research.” (p. 35)”

■ “The National Academy of Sciences found that the Park Service “selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available science on the potential impacts of the oyster mariculture operation.”

■ “Likewise, the Office of the Inspector General concluded that the Point Reyes science advisor “misrepresented research.”

Currently, the National Park Service is conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on oyster operations inside California's Point Reyes National Seashore. The problem, says Lunny, is that “the Park Service is in charge of the EIS process and they've hired the same people who've done the past reports, the same people who have every reason for this EIS to find harm to the seals because that's what they've been insisting for years . . . we feel there's already a pre-determined outcome here.”

Lunny says he's running out of resources to fight back - that he and his wife Nancy are on their own when they sit across the negotiating table facing “a whole tableful of people, Interior solicitors and managers, and scientists and others.” He says his main hope rests with Senator Feinstein who he says “recognizes that this is not about one family farm, this is about an important food resource for the whole San Francisco Bay area and a precedent for the country as a whole.” What he's fighting, he says, are people determined to create “a private country club out there and they want the taxpayer to finance their private country club, their idyllic wilderness.”

Responding to Agri-Pulse requests for interviews, Interior solicitor Gavin Frost, author of the March 22 report, said he couldn't comment without authorization from Interior spokesperson Kendra Barkof. She told us that “At this time, we're not talking about it, we're not commenting on it . . . We're in the middle of conducting the Environmental Impact Statement, so at this time we just, we haven't made a decision one way or another . . . I'm not commenting at this time.”

To read Interior Department solicitor Frost's 36-page March 22 report responding to complaints of scientific misconduct, click HERE. To read Interior's March 22 press release on the Frost report, click HERE. To read Sen. Dianne Feinstein's March 23 letter to Interior Secretary Salazar regarding the Frost report, click HERE.

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