Carefree walks on the beach or on coastal trails with your dog may soon be a thing of the past.
In early December, the National Park Service released a final environmental impact analysis of its plan to severely cut where you can walk with your dog (both on- and off-leash) in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, or GGNRA, which includes popular dog destinations such as Fort Funston, Muir Beach, Ocean Beach, and Rancho Corral de Tierra. The Park Service hopes to finalize the dog plan in mid-January.
Why the rush? The current director of the Park Service, Jon Jarvis—who famously once told dog owners that he’d “rather give up the GGNRA than have dogs running there”— retires in January. Clearly, the agency wants this plan on the books before Jarvis leaves, and before the new administration in Washington, D.C., takes over.
They claim this is a compromise, but it is nothing of the sort. People have only ever been able to walk with a dog on less than 1 percent of GGNRA land. The new dog rule will cut that tiny amount by nearly 90 percent for off-leash access. That’s not balanced.
Those doing foster and rescue work will be treated like professional dog walkers, required to get a permit and banned from walking more than three dogs on weekends, evenings, and at many sites.
Despite overwhelming public opposition to the plan at every stage of the process—including by nearly every local elected official—the Park Service made few changes to its original plan. The Park Service cannot cite site-specific evidence that dogs cause significant impacts anywhere in the GGNRA. Yet the agency persists in the efforts to force people with dogs out.
Dog groups in Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo Counties have banded together and are working with lawyers at Morrison Foerster to stop this new rule. We will soon be posting documents online from the Park Service we received as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. We are also reaching out to Congress. And if the rule does go forward as the Park Service intends, we will go to court to stop it.
The Park Service may think this will be over soon. They’re wrong. We will continue to fight.
If the Rules Go Into Effect
Ocean Beach: Dogs banned entirely from 80 percent of beach. People walking more than three dogs banned on the whole beach.
Crissy Field: Loss of 60 percent of dog walking space (both on- and off-leash).
Fort Funston: Loss of 60 percent of dog walking space.
Lands End: Loss of all off-leash space.
Baker Beach: Loss of all off-leash space.
Off-leash dog walking banned on all trails.
On-leash trails cut from 24 miles to 8 miles.
Rodeo Beach: This remote location with a treacherous surf will be the only off-leash dog walking area in Marin.
Muir Beach: Off-leash dogs banned. No access, even on-leash, to any of the fire roads in and around Muir Beach.
San Mateo County Impacts
Three acres of off-leash at Flat Top in El Granada (part of the 4,000-acre Rancho Corral de Tierra).
Loss of half the on-leash dog trails at Rancho, Mori Point, Milagra Ridge and Sweeney Ridge (from 29 miles to 15 miles).
No dog walking access to Sweeney Ridge from Pacifica. Pacifica residents will have to drive eight-plus miles to San Bruno to access this area that was once accessible from their doorsteps.
People walking more than three dogs will be banned on all trails.
If people do not comply with the new rule, the Park Service can change an area’s status. The few remaining off-leash areas could be changed to on-leash or even no dogs at the stroke of a pen.
Walking more than three dogs
Anyone walking more than three dogs must have a permit, whether a professional walker or not. Permit holders will only be allowed to walk more than three dogs on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and only at a few sites: Alta Trail, Rodeo Beach, a small portion of the Marin Headlands Trails, Fort Baker, Fort Mason, Crissy Field, Baker Beach and Fort Funston. No one walking more than three dogs will be allowed anywhere on Ocean Beach.
Rangers can stop anyone with a dog and ask for proof that you have a dog license and rabies vaccination, and proof of immediate recall if your dog is off-leash. So much for that relaxing walk in the GGNRA.
Sally Stephens is the chair of the San Francisco Dog Owners Group, or SFDOG, and has been fighting with the GGNRA over dog issues for over 15 years.
Main article photo by: Photo by David Spencer