Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced Thursday that he would not renew the Drakes Bay Oyster Co.'s operating permit, which will expire at Point Reyes National Seashore on Friday as Drakes Estero returns to wilderness.

The move will bring a close to a yearslong environmental battle over the site.

Salazar visited the oyster farm last week and said he did not make the decision lightly.

"I've taken this matter very seriously," Salazar said in a written statement Thursday. "We've undertaken a robust public process to review the matter from all sides, and I have personally visited the park to meet with the company and members of the community.

"I believe it is the right decision for Point Reyes National Seashore and for future generations who will enjoy this treasured landscape."

Oyster farm owner Kevin Lunny, whose family also operates one of the cattle ranches, said he was disappointed by the decision and was still trying to figure out his next move. He had been asking for a 10-year extension of his lease.

"This is going to be devastating to our families, our community and our county," Lunny said. "This is wrong beyond words in our opinion."

He said Salazar called to tell him about the decision.

Lunny bought the oyster company in 2004, knowing the lease expired in 2012. But his lawyers felt an extension could be negotiated, so he decided to take on the fight.


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The 40-year lease, originally to Johnson's Oyster Co. in 1972, was made with the understanding that the 2,000-acre estuary would be returned to wildnerness. It expires Friday.

Point Reyes National Seashore was added to the national parks system by Congress in 1962, and protects more than 80 miles of California coastline.

The oyster company will have 90 days to remove its personal property from the lands and waters. Salazar has asked the National Park Service to help the 30 employees who might be affected by the decision, including assisting with relocation, employment opportunities and training.

The oyster farm has outspoken supporters, Sen. Dianne Feinstein among them.

"I am extremely disappointed that Secretary Salazar chose not to renew the operating permit for the Drakes Bay Oyster Co.," Feinstein said. "The National Park Service's review process has been flawed from the beginning with false and misleading science, which was also used in the environmental impact statement."

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune lauded the decision.

"We're thrilled that after three decades this amazing piece of Point Reyes National Seashore will finally receive the protections it deserves," he said. "Once the oyster factory operations are removed, as originally promised ... this estuary will quickly regain its wilderness characteristics and become a safe haven for marine mammals, birds and other sea life."

Salazar's decision ensures that, in keeping with the historic use of the land, existing sustainable ranching operations within the Point Reyes seashore national park will continue, Salazar said. There are 15 such ranches operating in the area.

Salazar directed the National Park Service to pursue extending the terms of agriculture permits from 10 years to 20 years to provide greater certainty and clarity for the ranches operating within the national park's pastoral zone and to support the continued presence of sustainable ranching and dairy operations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Mark Prado via email at mprado@marinij.com