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GGNRA Tries to Restrict Dog Walking Again

For nearly two decades, people have been fighting with the National Park Service to preserve their right to walk with their dogs on a few beaches and trails in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. When, in late 2017, the GGNRA terminated a proposed Dog Management Plan that would have severely restricted that access, we thought the fight was over. We were wrong.

On the Friday before Labor Day this past September, after many people had already left for the long holiday weekend, the GGNRA released the 2019 Superintendent’s Compendium, a document that is supposed to be a way for park service staff to make minor clarifications to management policies. 

But the Park Service used this superintendent’s compendium to make significant changes that will negatively impact dog walking in the GGNRA. And that’s just not legal. 

The compendium closes parts of several trails to dog walking at three locations in San Mateo County and establishes the precedent that areas can be closed at Fort Funston (and potentially anywhere in the GGNRA) simply by putting up a sign that says: “sensitive restoration area.”

The compendium also unnecessarily redefines “voice control,” “managed dogs,” and “unmanaged dog” in ways that enable — and even encourage — park rangers to stop and harass people legally walking their dogs off-leash in the GGNRA. It even allows rangers to impound dogs who don’t come “immediately” when called. 

Dogs have been allowed off-leash on some beaches and trails in the GGNRA, including at Fort Funston, Crissy Field, Ocean Beach, Muir Beach, and Rodeo Beach, ever since the park service developed a pet policy for the GGNRA in 1979. But in 2011, the park service released a proposed Dog Management Plan intended to severely restrict dog walking access in those same locations. As we fought against the plan, a coalition of groups — SFDOG, Marin County DOG, Coastside DOG of San Mateo County, and Save Our Recreation — filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for documents relevant to the development of the dog plan.

The lawsuit revealed that GGNRA staff used private email accounts to conduct business, displayed a strong bias against dog walking, and colluded with groups who opposed dog walking. We put all the documents provided to us by the park service on the website
www.WoofieLeaks.com. After an internal investigation into staff actions during the development of the Dog Management Plan, prompted by the WoofieLeaks revelations, the park service terminated the Plan. 

But they clearly didn’t forget it.

GGNRA staff took some of the closures and definitions from the withdrawn Dog Management Plan and put them into the 2019 compendium, even though they cannot legally do that. Three federal judges have ruled that any change in access that is significant or highly controversial must go through a formal notice and comment rulemaking process. That means they propose the changes they want to make, people comment on the changes, the park service analyzes those comments and changes the proposal as needed in response to what was said. 

The compendium process, however, is not a formal notice and comment rulemaking process. It is nothing more than an announcement of minor changes that the GGNRA will make to its management policies. It cannot be used to make significant, controversial changes to dog walking.

If the park service gets away with closing access and changing definitions through the compendium process, we fully expect more restrictions in future compendiums. Within a few years, GGNRA staff will have implemented all the restrictions that were in the terminated Dog Management Plan, all without going through the legally required notice and comment rulemaking process.

SFDOG and other dog groups are working with our elected officials to stop this misuse of the compendium process. Our lawyers are watching closely as well. We’ll post updates, as warranted, on our website: www.sfdog.org. We cannot — and will not — allow the park service to restrict long-standing recreational access in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Comments on the compendium can be submitted until Oct. 28 to goga_public_affairs@nps.gov. For more info, go to www.SFDOG.org.

Sally Stephens is the chair of SFDOG, a nonprofit dedicated to responsible dog guardianship and off-leash recreational opportunities for people whose dogs are under control. SFDOG has fought the GGNRA for decades to preserve dog walking recreational access at its sites.

Main article photo by: Photo Alex Chaffee (by Chris HayesP) - Flikr