A win for wilderness at Pt. Reyes

November 30, 2012

Four years ago, Resource Media conducted a strategic communications training in a big red barn next to the visitor’s center at Point Reyes National Seashore. We discussed a number of challenges threatening the Seashore’s spectacular natural assets, one of which was a brewing controversy over an oyster operation at Drakes Estero, the ecological heart of Point Reyes.

The oyster company sat on a site that Congress long ago decided should be afforded America’s strongest protection when the operation’s lease expired in 2012. And that’s where the controversy – and Resource Media – came in. The owner of the operation didn’t want to leave, even though his agreement with the National Park Service clearly stated that as of November 30th, 2012, he would have to close shop. The quiet beauty of Drakes Estero would then be restored for people and wildlife, and the sanctity of our national park system preserved.

Easier said then done. Tension between federal agencies and land inholders is nothing new, but in this instance we’re talking about the west coast’s  first marine wilderness, and that is a different kettle of fish. Add to the mix a recalcitrant local businessman, a powerful Senator, multiple scientific reports and high emotions on both sides of the issue.  We had our work cut out for us.

This week, after a protracted and political battle, public interest won out over private profit. It took a lot of hard work by fiercely dedicated groups like Environmental Action Committee of West Marin and National Parks Conservation Association.  It also took the development of spot-on messages, convincing messengers, targeted media outreach and dogged determination to keep to the high road.

Resource Media helped wilderness advocates hone in on the values that local residents, visitors and members of Congress share, and make the case for protection in terms that would appeal to their hearts and minds (see below for a slideshow we created to help tell the story of this special place). In the case of Drakes Estero, the value of integrity became the rallying cry; the owner of the oyster operation signed an agreement, and now he wants out of it. A deal’s a deal; audiences respected that, and ultimately Secretary Salazar saw it that way too, in affirming Wilderness status for Drakes Estero.

All campaigns are different, yet some core principles apply to every project we take on. Specify a goal. Identify your key audiences and develop messages that speak to their values. Utilize spokespeople that are trusted by the people you are trying to influence. Then, stay the course – it might take a while. The four-year campaign to secure wilderness protection for Drakes Estero is proof that adhering to these fundamental strategies is key to success. We couldn’t be more proud that we had a hand in protecting this magnificent place.