Full disclosure: I love oysters, and I love to go eat them right out of the water at the Point Reyes peninsula, a part of the National Park Service's Golden Gate National Recreation Area. My love for oysters might cloud my vision and my brain, but I don't think I'm hallucinating when I conclude that historian Richard White is incorrect to declare the Drake's Bay Oyster Company out of bounds.
The pending demise of Drake's Bay Oyster Co. has been almost a forgone conclusion in the San Francisco Bay Area, with their lease expiring at the end of this month and the site of their oyster farm slated to become restored as "wilderness." There's a sliver of hope that the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will intercede to preserve the farm. I won't rehearse the entire back-and-forth — the latest is available from the Chronicle — but I had a few conversations "off to the side" with some environment-minded friends about this.
On the one hand, one can't argue with White. Aside from being an expert Western and environmental historian, he has the law on his side. The Wilderness Act is clear; the oyster farm is incompatible. But what part of all this #climateurbanism is completely clear and legible? Almost none of it! Here we have a working oyster farm in what is, basically, San Francisco's patchwork greenbelt. And it's wonderful in that cultural and ecological hybridity. It could even be much better, sure, but evicting the farm is actually the wrong way to go — the exact opposite of what to do.
Besides, look around the San Francisco Bay Area, the American West, or any other American city, for that matter. Do you see the Wilderness Act being upheld? No. In fact, we as a society make gaping, enormous exceptions to some of the most stringent environmental laws in the world. These are exceptions that we literally drive oil tankers through. Exceptions that fell the forests. Or worst of all, we make, frankly, ridiculous exceptions —exceptions that are so non-exceptional that they are the real norm— for the Pentagon. The military tests its weapons and sails its submarines through veritable whale sanctuaries.
In other words, what Richard White says is that we should make an example of the oyster farm by evicting it. The result would be a pyrrhic victory. Wilderness instead of wildness. Drake's is a landscape that humans have come to treasure, one where a person can have an interesting and complex relationship with nature. Such a vital interplay would be lost for the most minor and symbolic of ecological gains, while the rest of wilderness destruction continues — business as usual.
Back to the Wild in Point Reyes (h/t to @the_wrangler)
View Larger Map