U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar rejected a request Thursday to extend the lease of a controversial oyster farm on the Point Reyes National Seashore, ending more than 100 years of shellfish production in the area and creating the state's first marine wilderness area.
Drake's Bay Oyster Co. — which produces 40 percent of the state's oysters — has 90 days to remove all trace of its operations and depart from the bay where Sir Francis Drake first set foot in California.
"The estero is one of our nation's crown jewels, and today we are fulfilling the vision to protect this special place for generations to come," Salazar said in a statement.
The decision comes one week after Salazar visited the oyster farm to meet with owner Kevin Lunny and environmentalists fighting to shutter the operation.
Lunny, who bought the farm in 2004 anticipating the permit would be renewed, said Salazar informed him of the decision by phone. He hung up and walked out of his office, where he shared the news with his 30 anxious employees.
"We've never stood on the docks in tears before," Lunny said. "It's a horrible blow."
Salazar, who had sole authority to extend the farm's 40-year lease or terminate it, ordered the National Park Service to allow the permit to expire so that the bay can return to its natural state.
However, he also directed the Park Service to extend the leases of 15 beef and dairy ranches operating along the Point Reyes seashore. The ranches have "a long and important history on the Point Reyes peninsula," Salazar said.
Wilderness advocates hailed the decision as a victory for the public. A study commissioned by the Park Service warned the oyster farm caused harm to harbor seals and grasses. They urged Salazar to return it to a state of wilderness as designated by Congress in 1976.
"This has been a long time coming," said Bruce Hamilton, deputy executive director of the Sierra Club in San Francisco. "We have been waiting for 40 years. It's the right decision."