Golden Gate National Recreation Area Proposes New Dog Rules; Let the Debate Begin

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By Katharine Fong and Dan Brekke

Ivy, the dog, runs at Fort Funston. (Molly Samuel/KQED)
Ivy, the dog, runs at Fort Funston. (Molly Samuel/KQED)

The traditional dogs days of summer are over. But in San Francisco, they might be just starting. The National Park Service today released the second draft of a dog management plan and environmental impact statement for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The first draft, released in January 2011, sparked a loud, prolonged debate, as we noted in several posts. The plan called for pooches to be leashed or banned outright from parts of San Francisco's Crissy Field, Ocean Beach, Fort Funston and other parts of the GGNRA where they are now allowed to run free. Thousands of public comments poured in, on one hand from dog owners passionate about man's best friend being free to frolic, and on the other from environmentalists concerned about the impact of off-leash dogs on park flora and fauna. Those concerned about off-leash dogs' impact on humans and their park experience weighed in too.

Action is needed because GGNRA resources and values, as defined by the park’s enabling legislation and the NPS Organic Act, could be compromised to the extent that, without action, these resources and values in some areas of the park might not be available for enjoyment by future generations. Additionally, a dog management policy inconsistent with NPS regulations and increased public expectations for use of the park for dog recreation have resulted in controversy, litigation, and compromised visitor and employee safety, affecting visitor experience and resulting in resource degradation.The Park Service says its proposal and environmental impact statement aim for a balance between visitor experiences, with areas that allow on-leash and off-leash/voice-control dog walking, as well as areas that prohibit dogs.

The Park Service says its proposal aims to strike the complicated balance betweem the wants and needs of dog-walkers with those who want a "dog-free experience," all the while maintaining the park's sensitive natural assets.

"Our task is to do several things," said GGNRA spokesman Howard Levitt. "First of all of course we have a mandate to protect resources for the future. But we also have a mandate to do what we can to provide a broad range of experiences and allow for people who want to enjoy the park in different ways, and that's where the challenge comes in."

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And the park's popularity heightens the stakes, he said: "Everybody loves this park. We have among the highest visitation of any national park in the system. Everybody loves the same areas of the park, so it's probably understandable that people are going to be very passionate about those areas and have strong views."

Conservationists, including members of local environmental groups, have generally supported the Park Service's more restrictive approach. But dog-access advocates say they're disappointed with the new proposal.

Martha Walters of San Francisco's Crissy Field Dog Group, says the new draft falls far short of striking the balance the Park Service talks about. Her group is among many that made detailed comments on the first draft of the dog management proposal.

On first blush, she said, "We were taken aback by how restrictive it is. They really haven't made a lot of movement since their draft EIS which the released about two years ago. So, for all of us who have been working very hard on educational aspects of dog-walking in the GGNRA, we feel very betrayed by the park service in this action."

Walters said she questions whether the draft proposal for some popular areas makes sense. She pointed to restrictions proposed for some parts of Crissy Field that now allow dogs to be off-leash and under owners' voice control. The draft rules would require dogs to be on leash in many areas and set up a relatively confined off-leash area that Walters suggested would soon be overcrowded.

"We've been working this issue for at least a dozen years," Walter said, "and we understand about safety and about community and what dogs mean to people, and it's all about coexistence with other park users in the GGNRA."

Walters said her group and other advocates would examine the Park Service draft closely for the scientific justification underlying the proposal.

The plan will be open for public comment for 90 days, closing on Dec. 4, 2013. A final rule is not expected until late 2015. You can comment online here, or attend one of three public meetings:

Saturday, November 2, 2013, 11:00 AM-4:00 p.m., Fort Mason Center, Bldg. D, Fleet Room, 2 Marina Blvd., San Francisco

Monday, November 4, 2013, 4:30-8:30 p.m., Farallone View Elementary School, 1100 LeConte Ave., Montara

Wednesday, November 6, 2013, 4:00-8:00 p.m., Tamalpais High School, Ruby Scott Gym, 700 Miller Ave., Mill Valley