The National Park Service (NPS) announced today that they have put on hold the signing of the Record of Decision and the publication of the Final Rule for Dog Management at Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The NPS said they put the decision on hold “in response to requests from members of Congress to extend the waiting period for the Final Environmental Impact Statement. This pause will also allow the National Park Service to conduct a review of certain records being released in response to an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request related to the park’s Dog Management plan and rule.”
The new dog management rules define where dogs can be in the GGNRA, and if allowed, where they can be on-leash or off-leash. The GGNRA includes several recreation areas within San Francisco including Baker Beach, Crissy Field, Lands End, Ocean Beach and Sutro Heights Park.
Dog advocates have fought against the new regulations which significantly reduce the amount of GGNRA land open to dogs, particularly those where off-leash dog walking would be allowed. Under the new rules, only five areas in the GGNRA will include off-leash zones: Ocean Beach, Fort Funston, Crissy Field, Fort Mason, and Rodeo Beach in Marin.
In total, only 2.8 miles of the recreation area’s beaches would be open to dogs, compared with 7.2 miles at present.
Woofieleaks Exposes Possible Bias, Data Ommission by National Park Service
Earlier this week, a website called Woofieleaks posted internal documents obtained from the GGNRA under the Freedom of Information Act which they say show how the National Park Service has engaged in biased decision making and destruction of records related to the Dog Management Rules.
“Many of the documents on this site raise serious questions and concerns about the National Park Service’s record keeping practices, collaboration with external groups, and ability to conduct a fair planning process. Documents call into doubt the agency’s compliance with numerous laws,” says the Woofieleaks.com website.
One example that the group claims shows bias in the NPS against dog owners comes from a January 2013 email from GGNRA Director of Communications & Partnerships Howard Levitt to colleagues that says, ““Is ‘dog guardian’ the accepted term, or is it something specific to the dog-centric, dog-obsessed Bay Area? I will fall on my sword over including the dog language – it’s got to go.”
In another 2006 document that Woofieleaks claims shows the omission of important data, Bill Merkle, GGNRA Wildlife Ecologist, explains their reasoning for leaving sensitive window data out of the dog management plan’s Environmental Impact Statement.
“We wanted to keep some of the sensitive windows out of the document to avoid having people argue for seasonal use of these habitats or resources outside those seasons,” Merkle wrote.
Other messages called out on the website “appear to show park service officials discussing a failure to retain emails relating to the dog rules and even directing other staff to delete certain messages and communicate instead by phone,” according to SFGate.
To date, the National Park Service has released more than 260,000 pages of documents in response to the FOIA request. In late-December 2016, the Park Service learned that a former park employee had used personal email for official communications related to the Dog Management Plan planning process. After searching the former employee’s personal email accounts for agency records related to the Dog Management Plan planning process, the Park Service recovered approximately 137 pages of emails that were responsive to the FOIA request.
These new documents are posted here under “Records released January 2017: Pages 183,580 – 183,896”.
According to today’s press release from the NPS, they will “conduct an independent inquiry into whether personal email was used in a manner that is not consistent with applicable laws and policies, and if so, whether its use affected the planning and rulemaking processes. The Park Service will report the results of the internal review to the public.”
To help ensure an independent and impartial review, the NPS says the inquiry will be conducted by National Park Service personnel who were not involved in the dog management planning process.
This move to put the approval of the new Dog Management Rules on hold also comes after letters asking for a delay on final action until February from three Bay Area congressional members, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
According to SFGate, “the legislators didn’t mention emails but asked for an extension because, in Pelosi’s words, “a longer waiting period will provide community members with ample time to review the contents of the final rule.””
The recent environmental review process for the Dog Management Rules Plan generated more than 15,000 public comments.