Environmental Heavyweights Urge Interior Secretary To Remove Oyster Farm From Point Reyes National Seashore

Some environmental heavyweights -- E.O. Wilson, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Sylvia A. Earle, Thomas E. Lovejoy, and Tundi Agardy -- have urged Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to see that an oyster farm is removed from Point Reyes National Seashore when its lease ends this fall.

Their letter, released Thursday by the National Park Service's Washington office, comes as Point Reyes officials are crafting a final environmental impact statement examining the impacts of the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. on Drakes Estero.

"You are now in a position to protect the only marine wilderness area on the West Coast for the benefit of the public and generations to come," reads a portion of the letter. "This policy decision does not require Congressional or Presidential approval, providing you with a unique opportunity for a significant conservation victory in today’s challenging political climate. We urge you to please seize this significant opportunity."

The oyster company's 40-year lease runs out in November, and Congress long ago said the estero should be designated as official wilderness once all non-conforming uses are removed from it. The 1976 legislation that set aside 25,370 acres of the seashore as wilderness cited another 8,003 acres encompassing the estero that would be "essentially managed as wilderness, to the extent possible, with efforts to steadily continue to remove all obstacles to the eventual conversion of these lands and waters to wilderness status" -- and the oyster operation is seen as being incompatible with such a designation.

The draft EIS was released for public review back in December, and the final EIS is expected later this summer.

The interest in the fate of an oyster company that produces between 450,000-500,000 pounds of Pacific oyster meat a year for Bay Area outlets has been fanned by both U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, an ardent supporter of the oyster company and its small workforce, and environmentalists and conservationists who want to see the estero granted official wilderness designation.

The letter from Professor Wilson, Mr. Cousteau, Dr. Earle, Dr. Lovejoy, and Dr. Agardy is below in its entirety.


Dear Secretary Salazar:

We are writing to you about a policy decision you will be making regarding the protection of the only marine Wilderness area on the West Coast: Drakes Estero in Point Reyes National Seashore. We urge you to protect this critically valuable estuary as long intended by the public and Congress.

When Drakes Estero was designated as a Wilderness Area in 1976, Congress allowed the existing oyster farming business to continue until its operating rights expired in 2012. This compromise meant the public would have to wait nearly 40 years for Drakes Estero to receive the conservation protections afforded by wilderness designation. For years, the leasing deal has been honored by the people of the country despite growing awareness of the immense benefits derived from protecting natural areas like the Estero.

You are now in a position to protect the only marine wilderness area on the West Coast for the benefit of the public and generations to come. This policy decision does not require Congressional or Presidential approval, providing you with a unique opportunity for a significant conservation victory in today’s challenging political climate. We urge you to please seize this significant opportunity.

The new owners of the company understood the terms of the lease when they acquired the business from the original owners in 2005, and now seek a new permit to continue private use of this public resource. Granting a new permit would be poor public policy and weaken the integrity of the Wilderness Act. We urge you not to do this.

Drakes Estero can be restored to its natural beauty and biological productivity. A commercial oyster operation fostering non-native species within such a sensitive, rare habitat is in direct conflict with the Seashore’s mandate of natural systems management as well as wilderness laws and national park management policies.

The National Park Service’s environmental review concludes that the “environmentally preferred alternative” is to designate wilderness this year once the operating permit expires. Additionally, tens of thousands of American’s have called on you to fulfill the promise of a protected marine wilderness at Drakes Estero. Thank you for your public service and for your efforts to safeguard America’s great outdoors.

Sincerely,

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle
Former Chief Scientist, NOAA
National Geographic Explorer in Residence
Founder Mission Blue
Former Member, National Park Service Advisory Council and Co-Chair Scientific Committee

Jean-Michel Cousteau
Chairman of the Board and President
Ocean Futures Society
Explorer, Educator, Film Producer

Dr. Tundi Agardy
Executive Director
Sound Seas

Professor Edward O. Wilson
Harvard University
Museum of Comparative Zoology

Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy
Biodiversity Chair
Former President
The Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment

Comments

This is a strikingly beautiful letter, and I am pleased to see that top conservationists see the value in protecting the only marine wilderness on the West Coast. I agree that it is good policy, and would like to see Secretary Salazar uphold this long-standing plan to grant protections. It's time for the shellfish industry to end their campaign to reverse law and policy. Our national parks deserve better than these pointless attacks.

It is time for the oyster farm to honor the agreement and vacate the irreplaceable Drake's Estero. This is the public's land and we've more than paid our dues for it: waiting for decades to gain access to the land unimpeded by this commerical enterprise. Do the right thing and honor the original agreement to make this land a publicly accessible wilderness area for all.

Oh yah, beautiful letter. Reminds me of of someone else with similar eloquence and ....ignorance, sorry! All the lofty titles don't mean anything in this real world and in many cases destructive in the end. So, what does Harvard mean anymore, Krugman, Bell, OB, Holder ? How about Oregon State or some other University that has some practical connection to reality.

With all respect to achievement by these notables, I am always scepticle of the titles and lofty accolades used in todays deceptive political speak atmosphere. Vurtue and character have been bystanders in so much of what is going around.
http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/assignment_7&id=8599796

Those letter writers have never visited the area, are uninformed about this specific issue, and know nothing about how PRNS has behaved throughout this process. It's impossible to believe that they would have signed that letter had they known about the manipulation and outright distortion on the part of the NPS and PRNS in service of a predetermined agenda. The signatories to the letter are, for these purposes, willing if ignorant puppets for narrowminded environmental extremists who are operating in direct contravention to the position of the vast majority of West Marin residents, including the local organic-food movement.
The shellfish farm has been in that location for approximately 80 years, long before a national park was ever contemplated. It is surrounded by dairy and cattle farms -- all within park boundaries -- that will not go away even if the mariculture operation is forced out of business. Aside from the fact that shellfish filter water and are demonstrably beneficial to the marine environment, removing the farm will not make Drakes Estero a wilderness, regardless of what it's called.

The oyster company's 40-year lease runs out in November, and Congress long ago said the estero should be designated as official wilderness once all non-conforming uses are removed from it. The 1976 legislation that set aside 25,370 acres of the seashore as wilderness cited another 8,003 acres encompassing the estero that would be "essentially managed as wilderness, to the extent possible, with efforts to steadily continue to remove all obstacles to the eventual conversion of these lands and waters to wilderness status" -- and the oyster operation is seen as being incompatible with such a designation.
Again Kurt, where do you get this? That might be in the Congressional debate, but it's not part of the law. Here's the entire law. Outside of the wilderness plan map attached to the law, this is it.

http://www.nps.gov/pore/parkmgmt/upload/lawsandpolicies_publiclaw94_544.pdf

Public Law 94-544 94th Congress
An Act
To designate certain lands in the Point Reyes National Seashore, California, as wilderness. amending the Act of September 13. 1962 (76 Stat. 538). as amended 16 U.S.C. 459e-6a). and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That, in furtherance of the purposes of the Point Reyes National Seashore Act (76 Stat. 538 16 U.S.C. 459c), and of the Wilderness Act (78 Stat. 890: 16 U.S.C. 1131-36), and in accordance with section 3(c) of the Wilder- ness Act, the following lands within the Point Reyes National Sea- shore are hereby designated as wilderness, and shall be administered by the Secretary of the Interior in accordance with the applicable provisions of the Wilderness Act: those lands comprising twenty-five thousand three hundred and seventy acres, and potential wilderness additions comprising eight thousand and three acres, depicted on a map entitled “Wilderness Plan. Point Reyes National Seashore”, num- bered 612-90,000-B and dated September 1976, to be known as the Point Reyes Wilderness.
SEC. 2. As soon as practicable after this Act takes effect, the Secretary of the Interior shall file a map of the wilderness area and a description of its boundaries with the Interior and Insular Affairs Committees of the United States Senate and House of Representa- tives, and such map and descriptions shall have the same force and effect as if included in this Act; Provided, however, That correction of clerical and typographical errors in such map and descriptions may be made.
SEC. 3. The area designated by this Act as wilderness shall be administered by the Secretary of the Interior in accordance with the applicable provisions of the Wilderness Act governing areas design- nated by that Act as wilderness areas, except that any reference in such provisions to the effective date of this Act, and, where appro- priate, any reference to the Secretary of Agriculture, shall be deemed to be a reference to the Secretary of the Interior.
SEC.4 (a) Amend the Act of September 13,1962 (76 Stat. 538), as amended (16 U.S.C. 459c-6a), as follow:
In section 6(a) insert iinmediately after the words “shall be admin- istered by the Secretary,“ the words “without impairment of its natural values, in a manner which provides for such recreational, edu- cational, historic preservation, interpretation, and scientific research opportunities as are consistent with, based upon. and supportive of the maximum protection, restoration, and preservation of the natural environment within the area,”.
(b) .Add the following new section 7 and redesignate the existing section 7 as section 8:
“Sec. 7. The Secretary shall designate the principal environmental education center within the seashore as ‘The Clem Miller Environ-
mental Education Center’, in commemoration of the vision and leader- ship which the late Representative Clem Miller gave to the creation and protection of Point Reyes National Seashore.”

There are competing environmentalist heavyweights who favor an extension of the ROU for the oyster farm. Notable among them is Pete McCloskey, who was a co-founder of Earth Day and a sponsor and co-author of the Endangered Species Act. Here's a position piece by Gary P. Nabhan, who was also a former member of the National Park System Advisory Board.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/12/17/INLQ1MCVA1.DTL

By all appearances, the Park Service is using the environmental impact study to achieve its desired outcome to remove the farm. The current environmental review process must be suspended, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar must require the recalcitrant Park Service leadership to support, rather than disrupt, sustainable shellfish production in Drakes Estero.

Notably, all across the country - with the exception of Point Reyes - the Park Service is committed to working with fishers, farmers and ranchers to demonstrate how sustainable food production is essential to biodiversity conservation. Bagley's archival evidence should be sufficient to restore Park Service memory of the original intent of the seashore and the understanding of the authors of the Point Reyes Wilderness Act that shellfish aquaculture and wilderness were in fact compatible.


I'm also wondering how a "mandate of natural systems management" fits with the cattle ranches in the pastoral zone.

I also don't believe for a second that there's any kind of equitable treatment. Delaware North or its predecessors managed to renew their permits to run the Yosemite High Sierra Camps and the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp in Sequoia NP in what's designated as potential wilderness via the California Wilderness Act of 1984. The impacts at the HSCs is arguably greater than the oyster farm's impacts in the potential wilderness area. They've got permanent structures, flush toilets, tent cabins, cooking facilities, and (strangest of all) regular hauling of waste via helicopter. If the Wilderness Act demands that all non-conforming uses not specifically mentioned in the enabling legislation (and there's a lot of that used to describe pre-existing non-conforming uses in Forest Service wilderness areas) be halted at the first available opportunity, then where's the call to have the permits for the High Sierra Camps allowed to expire at end of their current terms?

Brent:
It is time for the oyster farm to honor the agreement and vacate the irreplaceable Drake's Estero. This is the public's land and we've more than paid our dues for it: waiting for decades to gain access to the land unimpeded by this commerical enterprise. Do the right thing and honor the original agreement to make this land a publicly accessible wilderness area for all.
Do you have any idea what you're talking about?

#1 - The oyster farms's shore operations and docks are not in the wilderness plan; they are located in the pastoral zone, where there are currently several cattle ranches where there is no access to the public. These ranches include feed lots, barns, and milking facilities. Unlike the ranches, the oyster farm isn't squeamish about people walking around their grounds. I've walked into the area near the water, and nobody cared that I was there as long as I didn't mess with their equipment. Try doing that in the cattle ranches and see how long it takes to be kicked out.

#2 - Drakes Estero is publicly accessible right now. OK - maybe not right now since the NPS institutes a ban on public boating during the seal pupping season from March 1 to June 30. The wilderness plan for Drakes Estero only includes the water, so the only way to get into Drakes Estero is either to swim or take a kayak. Some people have been known to take their kayaks right up to the oyster racks. A good many kayakers appreciate that the road to the oyster farm is the best way to get to the launch point, and the oyster farm itself is the primary launch point for kayaks entering Drakes Estero.

y_p_w, I've explained in the past where I got that section pertaining to intended wilderness at Point Reyes. You can find it attached to the your previous question on the matter from an earlier story.

I believe that NPS should revisit other units that have been victims of similar actions by the overreaching and the over-empowered if things are to be righted with NPS. Would imagine it would actually improve morale inside NPS for some serious humbling and re-evaluating of the mission. "Let them eat cake," won't work anymore I'm sensing.

Hi Kurt,

I remember your recent exchange with y_p_w about the law. I found it less than compelling. Your confidence in your argument appears to rest entirely on the February, 2004 letter from field solicitor Mihan. (In that same March 19 post, you also provide a citation from the National Research Council, which you seem to imply is additional evidence; but that citation is simply a reference to the same letter from Mihan.)

To me the most interesting thing about the letter from Mihan is its first sentence. Writing to then-Superintendent Neubacher, Mihan says: “As requested, this memorandum opinion reviews the Point Reyes wilderness situation as it related to the Johnson Oyster Company 40-year Reservation of Use and Occupancy which expires in 2011, or might be terminated sooner for cause or other processes.” Putting aside the error (2011 for 2012), and the fascinating term "other processes," what was the context of this letter? Why had the Superintendent requested this opinion? That’s the story I’m working on, and nothing I have learned so far suggests that this letter written by a field solicitor at the request of a Park Superintendent ought to be considered a definitive legal opinion.

In your March 19 reply to y_p_w you say: "...while that letter references House and Senate discussions of the legislation in the Congressional Record, I haven't yet found that language, but I'm not going to doubt the Solicitor's Office."

Given that so many other accounts differ, I see no reason *not* to doubt this solicitor.

Yes Kurt, I understand that the language came from House Report 94-1680. However, the official discussion of the PRWA also included a lot of discussion that the oyster farm could stay even with a wilderness designation. The report is not the law. It's not even an interpretation of several laws, as with something like a CRS paper. The law is the law.

I've mentioned the High Sierra Camps. Potential wilderness. Clearly a non-conforming use with those buildings and the regular use of helicopters. Kurt - you mention these them in several articles without a word that they're in potential wilderness or any controversy over whether or not the NPS violates the spirit of the Wilderness Act by not simply allowing their permits to expire. Your name is on the byline of all these articles that talk about the HSCs in glowing terms:

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/review/2010/treasures-americas-national-parks5990
http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2009/06/badger-pass-icon-nic-fiore-passes-taught-thousands-ski-yosemite-national-parks-ski-area
http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2009/09/reservations-high-sierra-camps-yosemite-national-park-now-available-internet4550
http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2010/04/summering-yosemite-national-park-logistics5671

y_p_w, the wilderness description for Point Reyes was indeed provided for in the public law passed by Congress in 1976 to designate wilderness at the seashore.

http://www.wilderness.net/NWPS/documents/publiclaws/PDF/94-544.pdf

I see no mention in that law for allowing the oyster farm to continue beyond its lease.

I am trying to track down a copy of the map, and a description of its boundaries, that Interior was to produce "as soon as practicable" to delineate the wilderness area. That map, and its accompanying text, hopefully will clear things up one way or another.
As for those other stories, they're a separate matter from the oyster farm at Point Reyes, which this story is focused on; it's not an examination of how the NPS addresses wilderness across the system, so let's not cloud the issue at hand.

That said, I would agree that a story looking at how the NPS deals with non-conforming uses in potential wilderness could be revealing. It's possible that the High Sierra Camps were given an exemption to continue operations, as they were operating long before The Wilderness Act was passed and long before the Yosemite wilderness was designated in 1984.

OK - I'll take it one at a time. First is the High Sierra Camps, since that's of interest to me. I don't have a map, but I do remember reading an EIS for Merced High Sierra Camp maintenance issues, which noted that its boundaries were within "potential wilderness".

If there were any exemptions for Yosemite, they weren't in the law. The California Wilderness Act of 1984 is about 20 pages long, and less than one page is devoted to the description of Wilderness Areas in Yosemite and SEKI. The only other mention of NPS is about the transfer of lands from the Forest Service to NPS as NPS additions. Most of the Act is about the definition of Forest Service Wilderness Areas (w/o any definition of "potential wilderness") and there are several mentions of exemptions for such pre-existing (or even future) uses such as motorized access to grazing lands, non-motorized recreation, and the construction of electric transmission lines, etc. There were several hydroelectic projects within the Forest Service Wilderness Areas that predate this Act, and they are specifically mentioned.

http://www.nps.gov/legal/parklaws/1/laws1-volume1-appendix.pdf

NATIONAL PARK WILDERNESS
SEC. 106. The following lands are hereby designated as
wilderness in accordance with section 3(c) of the Wilderness Act (78
Stat. 890; 16 U.S.C. 1132(c)) and shall be administered by the
Secretary of the Interior in accordance with the applicable provisions
of the Wilderness Act.
(1) Yosemite National Park Wilderness, comprising
approximately six hundred and seventy-seven thousand six
hundred acres, and potential wilderness additions comprising
approximately three thousand five hundred and fifty acres, as
generally depicted on a map entitled “Wilderness Plan,
Yosemite National Park, California”, numbered 104-20, 003-E
dated July 1980, and shall be known as the Yosemite
Wilderness;
(2) Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Wilderness,
comprising approximately seven hundred and thirty-six
thousand nine hundred and eighty acres; and potential
wilderness additions comprising approximately one hundred
acres, as generally depicted on a map entitled “Wilderness
Plan—Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks—California”,
numbered 102-20, 003-E and dated July 1980, and shall be
known as the Sequoia Kings Canyon Wilderness.

MAP AND DESCRIPTION
SEC. 107. A map and description of the boundaries of the areas
designated in section 106 of this title shall be on file and available
for public inspection in the Office of the Director of the National
Park Service, Department of the Interior, and in the Office of the
Superintendent of each area designated in section 106. As soon as
practicable after this title takes effect, maps of the wilderness areas
and descriptions of their boundaries shall be filed with the Committee
on Interior and Insular Affairs of the United States House of
Representatives and the Committee on Energy and Natural
Resources of the United States Senate, and such maps and
descriptions shall have the same force and effect as if included in
this title: Provided, That correction of clerical and typographical
errors in such maps and descriptions may be made.

CESSATION OF CERTAIN USES
SEC. 108. Any lands (in section 106 of this title) which represent
potential wilderness additions upon publication in the Federal Register
of a notice by the Secretary of the Interior that all uses thereon
prohibited by the Wilderness Act have ceased, shall thereby be
designated wilderness. Lands designated as potential wilderness
additions shall be managed by the Secretary insofar as practicable
as wilderness until such time as said lands are designated as
wilderness.

ADMINISTRATION
SEC. 109. The areas designated by section 106 of this title as
wilderness shall be administered by the Secretary of the interior in
accordance with the applicable provisions of the Wilderness Act
governing areas designated by that title as wilderness, except that
any reference in such provisions to the effective date of the
Wilderness Act shall be deemed to be a reference to the effective date
of this title, and where appropriate, any reference to the Secretary of
Agriculture shall be deemed to be a reference to the Secretary of the
Interior.

I agree entirely with you. The vagueness is frustrating. But I'd venture that there are supporting documents that address the continued operation of the High Sierra Camps.

Excellent Position. I support most strongly.
As a retired university research scientist, professor and physician who has also published in Nature, academic scientists always have their differences and argue mostly about the fine points of methods, statistics and results, and as with any other cohort, fight pissing battles among themselves. Any scientific work is often subjected to more trivial rather than substantive criticism.
Bringing science as it has been introduced into the "oyster farm" "scientific" "public dialogue" is a red herring.
The only point that must be made clearly and sent to Washington is that any time the government or anybody else opens the door to allowing commercial enterprises in wilderness areas, this precedent constitutes a go ahead for other enterprises such as oil and gas exploration, uranium mining etc in other wilderness areas deemed necessary and politically relevant at the moment, but that in the end ursurp and or destroy our wilderness. Period

Kurt Repanshek:
y_p_w, the wilderness description for Point Reyes was indeed provided for in the public law passed by Congress in 1976 to designate wilderness at the seashore.

http://www.wilderness.net/NWPS/documents/publiclaws/PDF/94-544.pdf

I see no mention in that law for allowing the oyster farm to continue beyond its lease.

I am trying to track down a copy of the map, and a description of its boundaries, that Interior was to produce "as soon as practicable" to delineate the wilderness area. That map, and its accompanying text, hopefully will clear things up one way or another.

I see no mention in the law what the requirements are for removal of any "non-conforming use". There is no mention of the oyster farm in the text of the law. As a counterpoint (not that it applies to Point Reyes) the California Wilderness Act of 1984 also doesn't establish any rules for how "potential wilderness additions" are to be added to full wilderness except that the NPS may do so once the non-conforming uses have ceased.

As for the map, it's on page 8 of the following:

http://savedrakesbay.org/uploads/DOI_Solicitor_opinion_on_Drakes_Estero.pdf

It's not a great map, and the legend says that it's a reduced size reproduction. It was obviously transmitted via a FAX machine. It does however include such landmarks as "YOUTH HOSTEL" and "OYSTER FARM". That's the only time I know of that the oyster farm is noted in the law or its supporting map and description of the wilderness areas The map is also somewhat outdated, as it specifies a piece of private land south of Abbotts Lagoon, and that is clearly now within the NPS boundaries.

The "potential wilderness additions" are marked with a cross-hatched pattern. The only land portion was a small area which I understand used to have an electric transmission line that was eventually rerouted. This section was added to full wilderness when it was published in the Federal Register. The other potential wilderness additions are exclusively water areas, including Drakes Estero, Estero de Limantour, Abbotts Lagoon, and a uniform-width thin strip of Pacific Ocean from Tomales Point to Bolinas Point, save sections between Chimney Rock/Drakes Beach and Limantour Beach to Coast Campground.

You can see this better on the official park maps, although they don't specify what are full and potential wilderness. They use a green color for land and a dark blue for water wilderness.

JVL Inverness:
The only point that must be made clearly and sent to Washington is that any time the government or anybody else opens the door to allowing commercial enterprises in wilderness areas, this precedent constitutes a go ahead for other enterprises such as oil and gas exploration, uranium mining etc in other wilderness areas deemed necessary and politically relevant at the moment, but that in the end ursurp and or destroy our wilderness. Period
I would note several issues with your argument. This isn't an issue about a new use in a wilderness area, but about a pre-existing commercial use. There are many such uses in NPS Wilderness Areas (and a heck of a lot more in Forest Service and BLM Wilderness Areas) that are allowed to remain indefinitely.

Another issue is that the State of California still maintains all fishing and mineral rights to Drakes Estero, and can't cede them to the federal government without legislation that I suspect won't happen anytime soon. I guess fishing is pretty basic. Someone could use a rowboat to enter Drakes Estero and fish. The mineral rights are trickier. I don't really imagine that California is going to issue leases for oil wells in Drakes Estero should there be a discovery, but theoretically California reserves the right. If the oyster farm is still there, I would expect them to raise a stink about it.

On the above; I have been edited. Second. The oyster company signed a contract agreeing to the termination of their tenure. Now others wish to negotiate a continuation of the contract. Not. A casual entry of a lone fisherman into the Estero in a rowboat cannot be compared with a commercial operation financed by deep pockets. Enough Already.

JVL Inverness:
On the above; I have been edited. Second. The oyster company signed a contract agreeing to the termination of their tenure. Now others wish to negotiate a continuation of the contract. Not. A casual entry of a lone fisherman into the Estero in a rowboat cannot be compared with a commercial operation financed by deep pockets. Enough Already.
First of all, how has anything been edited? I cut and pasted an entire section of your comment without any edit to the content. It's not your entire argument, but I'm not responding to the part where you claim your credentials and argue your opinion on the use of science.

I was wondering when we were going to get to the "contract". The "contract" as you describe says no such thing. It was written before the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act and did include a section that allowed for a special use permit to be issued to extend the term. It was written while John Sansing was the Superintendant, and he was far more amenable to the oyster farm than his successor. The "contract" mentions an "extended use period" in case the term is extended via a special use permit.

This is what "Save Drakes Bay" titles as "Drake's Bay Oyster Company's Reservation of Use (non-renewable operating rights contract) (1972) - Held by Johnson's oyster company from 1972-2005, purchased by Drake's Bay Oyster Company in 2005":

http://savedrakesbay.org/uploads/Drakes_Bay_Oyster_Company_Reservation_of_Use.pdf

11. Upon expiration of the reserved term, a special use permit may be issued for the continued occupancy of the property for the herein described purposes, provided however, that such permit will run concurrently with and will terminate upon the expiration of State water bottom allotments assigned to the Vendor. Any permit for continued use will be issued in accordance with National Park Service regulations in effect at the time the reservation expires.

The regulations in effect include the rider that Sen Feinstein added to the 2009 Interior Dept appropriations bill. That specifically gives the Secretary of the Interior the authority to extend the term for 10 years.

Also - the reservation of use only applies to the shore operations. The map attached to the "contract" only shows an area "leased" from NPS that's about 3 acres of dry land. The "water bottom allotments" (i.e. the part that's actually in the wilderness plan) are leased from the State of California and were renewed for a term that expires in 2029, but are contingent on maintaining the current shore operations.

Dear Secretary Salazar,
Drake's Estero in the Point Reyes National Seashore is a treasure not only for those of us lucky enough to live nearby, but for all who value preservation of wild places. Congress was right in designating this land "potential wilderness" in 1976, and generous in honoring the pre-existing 40 year oyster company lease. Soon that lease will expire, and it is now time to honor the original intent of Congress that Drake's Estero be given full wilderness protection. The need to preserve the very limited wilderness areas which remain has become only more urgent with the passage of years.
Katherine Mitchell, Inverness, CA

Kurt Repanshek
That said, I would agree that a story looking at how the NPS deals with non-conforming uses in potential wilderness could be revealing. It's possible that the High Sierra Camps were given an exemption to continue operations, as they were operating long before The Wilderness Act was passed and long before the Yosemite wilderness was designated in 1984.
I noted that the California Wilderness Act of 1984 doesn't make note of the High Sierra Camps one way or another. As for operating long before the Wilderness Act was passed, the same is easily true of Drakes Bay Oyster Farm.

However, I did find several mentions of why the High Sierra Camps were allowed to continue. As I suspected, it not a matter of law, but policy. There is no exemption per se, just that as long as park management decides that they want the HSCs there, they remain there even though their removal would probably establish the land as fully designated wilderness.

Here's a draft report on replacement of the septic system and (I kid you not) the grease trap system at the Sunrise High Sierra Camp. It notes that the High Sierra Camps are allowed to continue under concessionaire contract because of the 1989 Wilderness Management Plan. I've tried finding a copy of this plan and can only find references to it. However, there's pretty solid background that it's a policy decision that they stay. I would think that a leaky septic and grease interceptor problem would make for a golden policy to remove such a camp, but instead they put out bids to replace these systems in a potential wilderness area.

https://ideasec.nbc.gov/ows-cls/NP144302_4181283/Sunrise%20-%20Minimum%20Requirement%20Analyis.pdf

Justification

The Sunrise HSC has been in seasonal operation since it was built in 1961, the current policy as stated in the Wilderness Management Plan of 1989 is to operate the High Sierra Camps under contract to the concessionaire and to continue to afford this opportunity to the public visiting Yosemite National Park. As such, the National Park Service has a fiduciary responsibility to provide a safe source of potable water and to protect both the public and the environment from injury or damage by expeditiously managing the human waste and wastewater generated at the camps in accordance with all applicable federal, state, local or other jurisdictional laws, ordinances and policies. The YNP Wilderness Management Plan states, “Should increased adverse impact on adjacent wilderness environments result from operation of existing facilities, those facilities will be removed”. It is therefore proposed to repair the existing system or replace the existing system in order to protect the environment, water quality and human health from the impacts of wastewater while Sunrise HSC continues to operate.