Point Reyes’ Drakes Estero Becomes First Marine Wilderness Area on West Coast

Secretary Salazar Upholds Unique California Habitat as Permanently Protected, Fulfilling 1976 Agreement

San Francisco, CA (November 29, 2012) – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today announced he is preserving Drakes Estero, a vital estuary within California’s Point Reyes National Seashore as a designated wilderness area.

As promised by Congress almost 40 years ago, Drakes Estero – also known as Drakes Bay – will now enjoy full wilderness protection that will enhance opportunities for recreation, wildlife viewing, and public access to a uniquely preserved marine environment near the major urban hub of San Francisco and nine Bay Area counties, collectively home to more than nine million people.  Until now, the Estero had been the site of a commercial oyster company operating under a 40 year lease which will now be allowed to expire as provided by Congress.

Following is a statement from Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke:

“Marine wilderness protection has finally arrived on the West Coast.

“With today’s announcement, Point Reyes’ Drakes Bay becomes the very first marine wilderness along the Pacific, and it will take its rightful place as one of the nation’s most precious and protected wild places along with designated wilderness areas at Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Zion and other national parks. Its preservation will enrich the lives of people today and for generations to come. 

“Secretary Salazar’s action demonstrates the Administration’s commitment to preserving unique wilderness areas.  His name will forever be linked with the very first West Coast marine wilderness. What a tremendous legacy.” 

About Drakes Estero:

Drakes Estero is an expansive estuary on the Pacific coast of northern California, and home to tens of thousands of birds and one of the largest seal colonies in the area.  

In1976, Congress passed the Point Reyes Wilderness Act which contained a provision that granted Drakes Estero full wilderness protection when the lease held by a commercial oyster operation in the estuary expired in November 2012. The oyster operation changed ownership in 2005, and the current owners sought to extend their permit, thereby precluding wilderness status for Drakes Estero. Secretary Salazar rejected this request and upheld the government’s commitment to afford the area full wilderness protection as promised by the 1976 law. 

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