Americans are captivated by wilderness; it comes in all shapes and sizes from the forested Olympic National Park to the field of grass in the Everglades. The National Park Service preserves many of these inspiring places where the crisp air and sights and sounds of nature dominate.
After waiting nearly 40 years, northern California's majestic coast where the ocean meets the hills in Point Reyes National Seashore is next in line to officially become designated wilderness. This transition should be easy.
Congress passed a law designating the Drakes Bay estuary within the seashore the first marine wilderness area on the west coast. There was one caveat -- a commercial oyster company planting non-native oysters could continue operating, but their permit would expire by the end of November this year. Once the commercial operation ended the estuary would be returned back to its undeveloped natural state. A promise made should be a promise kept, right? Unfortunately, the company recently changed ownership and the new business is not honoring the contract and wants to stay.
National Parks are some of the most well-known places unimpaired by development. One example in California is Yosemite National Park's backcountry, known for its granite peaks that rise above wildflower-filled meadows and glacier-filled lakes that spill into streams forming some of the most amazing landscapes in America. In California and throughout the country, we celebrate these places and so many Americans dream of their once-in-a-lifetime visit to them. We value wilderness for the clean air and water, scenery and wildlife they provide.
Wilderness is not everywhere. What was once acre upon acre of vast open lands, especially in the West, is rapidly becoming developed. When President Obama announced his America's Great Outdoors initiative, he talked about this very issue:
"Over the last century, our population grew from about 90 million to 300 million people, and as it did, we lost more and more of our natural landscape to development. Meanwhile, a host of other factors -- from a changing climate to new sources of pollution -- have put a growing strain on our wildlife and our waters and our lands."
We agree and our organizations work to protect the last remaining lands and waterways in America to ensure we preserve our natural heritage for all to enjoy. Wilderness protection is one of the best ways to protect our heritage and natural resources.
Will Drakes Bay be protected as wilderness?
The Department of the Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, is a wilderness champion. We worked with him, Congress and President Obama to protect wilderness in Rocky Mountain, Zion, Joshua Tree, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks just three years ago. For Drakes Bay to become a full-fledged wilderness, it does not require additional congressional approval. This decision to let the permit expire as planned now is uniquely in Secretary Salazar's hands.
Wilderness is an endangered species in the continental United States, and marine wilderness is even less common. Providing full wilderness designation to Drakes Bay as planned and paid for will enhance opportunities for public access to a uniquely protected marine environment near the major urban hub of San Francisco and the nine Bay Area counties, home to more than 9 million people. Without the bustle of business and a noticeable commercial footprint in the middle of Drakes Bay, enhanced opportunities for recreation, wildlife viewing, and the much-revered quality of solitude will be enjoyed by all who visit Point Reyes National Seashore. Such an experience simply cannot be replicated; nor can the opportunity before Secretary Salazar.
On behalf of our collective 2 million members and supporters, we support and applaud Secretary Salazar's dedication to wilderness, and ask that he make the right decision to protect Drakes Bay.
By Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, and Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Click here to view a short slideshow about "Saving the heart of Point Reyes."
Follow Tom Kiernan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TomCKiernan