The National Park Service (NPS) is nearing the tail end of a 15 year process to define, review and implement new rules about where and how dogs can access the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). The GGNRA includes several recreation areas within San Francisco including Baker Beach, Ocean Beach and Sutro Heights Park.
The proposed changes (RIN 1024-AE16) are in response to the overall increase in the number of dogs that visit the GGNRA, as well as to protect “threatened, endangered, or special-status species”. From the NPS website:
- Since 1979, the San Francisco Bay Area population and overall use of GGNRA lands have increased, as have the number of dog walkers in the park based on park staff observation, partly due to the recent growth of the commercial dog walking industry. At the same time, the number of dog-related conflicts between park users with and without dogs has risen, including dog bites and attacks, as has the concern about the effect of uncontrolled dog behaviors on park visitor experiences. Resource concerns have also increased since 1979 as park staff gained greater knowledge of park resources and as a result of the listing of several species with habitat in areas used by dog walkers as threatened, endangered, or special-status species. The NPS has also identified other native plant and animal species that require protection under the NPS’s broader conservation mandate.
The debate over these changes, which further restricts the opportunities for dogs to be off-leash, has been going on since 2002 when the National Park Service first made notice of their intention to put a formal dog management plan in place. Since then, there have been numerous and feisty public meetings, thousands of public comments, and plenty of opinions from both sides of the dog fence.
The proposed rules would result in a re-mapping of each recreation area to define where dogs can go, and if they are allowed, whether dogs have to be on a leash or if they can be off-leash (a.k.a “voice and sign control areas”).
Under the new rules, only five areas in the GGNRA would include off-leash zones: Ocean Beach, Fort Funston, Crissy Field, Fort Mason, and Rodeo Beach in Marin.
The GGRNA defines voice and sight control as the following: “Voice and sight control means a dog that is within direct eyesight of the dog walker and that the dog walker is able to both immediately recall directly to his or her side, without regard to circumstances or distractions, and attach a leash to the dog’s collar. The dog walker must demonstrate this ability when requested to do so by an authorized person.”
And to get into the nitty gritty, a leash is defined as “a chain, rope, cord, or strap not longer than 6 feet in length with a clip or snap for rapid attachment to a choke chain, collar, or harness, all the parts of which are of sufficient strength to hold the weight of the dog and are suitable for walking the dog and controlling it.”
In addition, all dogs must “have identification tags affixed to their collar that confirm proof of current rabies vaccinations and their owner’s name, address, and phone number”, and any dogs under 4 months old (e.g. puppies) must be on-leash at all times. Dogs in heat are not allowed anywhere in the GGNRA.
Changes are also proposed for commercial dog walkers, or anyone who wants to walk more than three dogs at a time. There will be a maximum of four to six dogs allowed in GGNRA areas in San Francisco and Marin, group walkers will be required to apply and pay for a NPS permit, and group dog walking would only be permitted Monday through Friday from 8am until 5pm in selected areas of the GGNRA.
SUMMARY OF PROPOSED CHANGES TO GGNRA AREAS NEAR THE RICHMOND DISTRICT
Below is a brief summary of how the GGNRA areas near the Richmond District (or where we assume Richmond District dog owners would most frequently visit) would be affected with regards to dog walking. There are 11 other GGRNA areas affected that we don’t mention in this article.
Some maps are included in this article, but you can also view the proposed maps for each affected GGNRA park on the NPS website.
Baker Beach: Off-leash walking would no longer be allowed at Baker Beach. A dog must be on-leash at all times and could only be walked in the southern portion of the beach and on some trails adjoining the beach. The northern end of the beach would be off-limits to dogs.
Land Ends & Fort Miley: Dogs would still be allowed but must be on a leash at all times. No off-leash walking is allowed.
Sutro Heights Park: Off-leash walking would be prohibited in Sutro Heights Park. The entire park would still be open to dogs but they must be on-leash at all times.
Ocean Beach: Dogs would still be allowed off leash at the northern end of the beach stretching from Stairwell 21 (roughly across from the Beach Chalet soccer fields) to the base of the cliff below the Cliff House. Note that when you’re ON the stairwells themselves, your dog has to be on-leash. Dogs would also be allowed on-leash on the promenade walkway starting from Lincoln Way & Great Highway north to the Cliff House. Dogs would not be allowed on any other portions of Ocean Beach until south of Sloat Boulevard.
Crissy Field: Dogs would still be allowed off-leash but only on the “Central Beach” area and the central portion of the airfield grassy area. Dogs are allowed in other areas of Crissy Field but they must be on-leash.
Fort Funston: Parts of Fort Funston would still be available for off-leash walking including the upper area near the Chip Trail, and the lower beach spanning from the Funston Beach Trail south to the area below where the hang gliders take off. The northern end of the Coastal Trail would require that dogs be on-leash.
Marin Headlands: The Headlands are already pretty unfriendly to dog walking and the new restrictions will provide only a few trails where on-leash walking is allowed.
Rodeo Beach: All of the beach itself would be open for off-leash walking with the exception of the northern end of the lagoon which is only open when the lagoon/ocean surface water is not connected. As for nearby trails, only the circular trail above Rodeo Beach (Coastal Trail to Old Bunker Road to Fort Cronkhite Trail) would be open to dogs and they must be on-leash at all times.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU VIOLATE THE RULES
At a public meeting on Tuesday night at the County Fair Building, we inquired about what the consequences would be if a dog is found to be in violation of the rules.
An example of a violation would be walking a dog off-leash in an on-leash area, walking a dog in an area that is off-limits to dogs, leaving a dog unattended, not having proper identification or proof of rabies vaccination on the dog, or more seriously, having an uncontrolled dog in a GGNRA area.
An uncontrolled dog is one that engages in behavior “that results in uninvited or unwanted physical contact with a person or another animal”.
“Short of actual physical contact, the definition of uncontrolled dog also includes threatening behavior by dogs towards people or other animals such as snarling, growling, snapping, chasing, charging, repeated barking at, howling, or uninvited taking or attempting to take food. Such behavior would violate the proposed rule.”
Enforcement of the rule would be left to law enforcement on site in the GGNRA parks, including park rangers. If a dog is found to be violating the rules, the owner of the dog is subject to a $125 fine according to Mike Savage, the National Park Service lead on the new dog management plan.
That is the current fine for violations and Savage says that the Department of Justice could consider an additional schedule of fines. But a change is not anticipated with the implementation of the new rules.
The NPS would also invest in new signage for all the GGNRA areas so it is clearer to visitors and especially dog owners where canines are welcome on or off-leash, and where they are not.
This has been one of the biggest challenges to enforcing current dog restrictions in the GGNRA according to NPS Superintendent Chris Lehnertz, who took questions from meeting attendees on Tuesday night.
Lehnertz said the NPS would implement an extensive education campaign at GGNRA parks and on the NPS website around the new rules, especially in the early months after the changes take effect.
PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD ENDS MAY 25
To make a comment on the proposed dog management rules, visit this website or send a letter to: Superintendent, GGNRA, Dog Management Proposed Rule, Building 201 Fort Mason, San Francisco, California, 94123 before May 25, 9pm Pacific. The NPS provides a helpful guide called “Tips For Submitting Effective Comments” to help you craft a comment that “is more likely to have an impact on regulatory decision making”.
One very important tip: “A single, well-supported comment may carry more weight than a thousand form letters.” So if you’ve been given a pat statement from an organization to copy and paste into a comment, think twice and perhaps spend some time crafting a more meaningful response to the proposed changes.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors weighed in with their opinion on March 14 when the board voted 10-1 in favor of a resolution by Supervisor Katy Tang opposing the new dog management rules proposed by the NPS.
The sole nay vote? Our own District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar. According to KRON4, Mar said he chose not to oppose the new dog management rules because “he felt the resolution did not give sufficient weight to the need to protect endangered species and critical habitat within the GGNRA”.
“I don’t think this is a resolution that supports this shared balance, it’s more on the pro-dog owner side,” Mar said, adding “My goal is working with the National Park Service.”
TIMING FOR PROPOSED RULE CHANGES
An environmental impact statement is due in Summer 2016 and if all is then approved, the changes would go into effect in Winter 2017 (view timeline).
Once the new rules are in place, the GGNRA will implement a Monitoring-Based Management Program to “gauge compliance with NPS regulations and ensure continued protection of park resources, visitors, and staff.”
They will monitor and record noncompliance with the new rules including “behavior that meets the definition of an uncontrolled dog or an unattended dog, dog walking in prohibited areas, and off-leash dog walking in areas where leashes are required.”
Depending on compliance levels, the GGNRA can leave the rules as they are or take primary or secondary management actions to prevent unacceptable impacts. Such steps could include further restrictions on areas that are accessible to dogs.
Below are some of the proposed maps of the GGNRA parks near the Richmond District (view all 22 maps in PDF format here). Refer to the legend for each map. Note that if an area of a map is unmarked, it means that it is off-limits to dogs.