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Losing Wildness for the Sake of Wilderness

Losing Wildness for the Sake of Wilderness

The Removal of Drakes Bay Oyster Company

(p.100) 11 Losing Wildness for the Sake of Wilderness
Laura Alice Watt
University of Chicago Press

In 2014, Drakes Bay Oyster Company, a historic oyster farm operating sustainably within the Point Reyes National Seashore, was forced to end operations by the National Park Service, which considered it incompatible with wilderness designation at the Seashore. This decision ran counter to the original intention behind the 1976 legislation that not only established 25,000 acres of wilderness at Point Reyes but also placed 8,000 acres of tidelands in a novel category of “potential” wilderness. Wilderness law history shows its origins in a pragmatic approach, accommodating rural land uses while limiting federal agencies’ tendencies toward road-building and overdevelopment. In 1976, legislators and environmentalists alike considered the oyster operation to be compatible with wilderness designation; only the State of California retained rights in the tidelands, which necessitated creation of the “potential” category as a compromise measure. Since then, however, shifting conceptions of wilderness have become more purist, and environmental advocates fought hard to remove the oyster farm, insisting its continued operation would set a harmful precedent for wilderness nationwide. This absolutist interpretation of wilderness fundamentally misconstrues the meaning of the “potential” category, and allows little room for working landscapes, in which humans play beneficial roles while keeping the land relatively wild.

Keywords:   wilderness designation, National Park Service, wilderness legislation, oyster cultivation, Point Reyes, Wilderness Act, Drakes Bay Oyster Company, potential wilderness

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