GGNRA Off-leash Dog FAQ

For many years the GGNRA has illicitly permitted off-leash dog walking in many locations. When park visitorship and the number of dogs were low, this had little impact. But today the GGNRA receives millions of visitors annually and San Francisco purportedly now has more dogs than kids. This has led to increasing numbers of negative impacts in the park: dogs are being lost, injured, and killed; people and horses are being bitten and attacked; endangered wildlife are put at risk; and it has even impacted the diversity of the GGNRA’s users.

The GGNRA’s ad hoc off-leash policy is no longer tenable. The GGNRA is currently reviewing comments on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement that discusses pet management in the Park. The outcome of this environmental impact assessment process will dictate how the park is managed for many years.

We all love our dogs. The question facing us all is whether we love each other enough to recognize that how we recreate with our dogs at the GGNRA has impacts on other people and other forms of life. The Wild Equity Institute believes that the GGNRA has not struck a proper balance with its draft document, because it fails to ensure that off-leash dogs remain safe in the park.

The best way to ensure dogs remain safe while roaming off-leash is to ensure that any off-leash area is enclosed with a physical boundary. These boundaries could be post-and-cable fences or natural features. But if a physical boundary cannot be placed around a specific off-leash area, than that area should not be an official off-leash area: it is simply too risky for our dogs.

The following Frequently Asked Questions discusses the GGNRA’s proposal and the Wild Equity Institute’s position on pet management at the GGNRA. It is based on documents created by Golden Gate Audubon Society, the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, the San Francisco League of Conservation Voters, the California Native Plant Society’s Yerba Buena Chapter, Nature in the City, the National Parks Conservation Association, San Francisco Tomorrow, and the Wild Equity Institute. You can download hard copies of these documents here.

  1. Do dogs really have impacts on park users, wildlife, and wildlands in the GGNRA?

  2. Don’t Western Snowy Plovers and other wildlife at Crissy Field and Ocean Beach thrive in the presence of off-leash dogs?

  3. Is the GGNRA a safe place for dogs to roam off-leash?

  4. Isn’t the Golden Gate National Recreation Area subject to fewer protections because it is a recreation area, not a park?

  5. Is the National Park Service trying to ban dogs from the GGNRA?

  6. Will the GGNRA’s preferred alternative in the Pet Management Draft Environmental Impact Statement severely restrict dog use in the GGNRA?

  7. Will the GGNRA’s proposed pet management plan eliminate dog recreation in San Francisco?

  8. Can the City of San Francisco “take back” the lands it gave to the National Park Service to create the GGNRA if the pet management plan is adopted?

  9. Has the GGNRA recently abandoned providing recreation in favor of creating wildlife preserves?


  1. Do dogs really have impacts on park users, wildlife, and wildlands in the GGNRA?

    Dogs absolutely impact park users, wildlife and wildlands in the GGNRA: and often in surprising ways. The effects of dogs and dog-related recreation on park users include:

  2. Don’t Western Snowy Plovers and other wildlife at Crissy Field and Ocean Beach thrive in the presence of off-leash dogs?

    Plovers and other birds are often disturbed by dogs, which they see as natural predators, and disturbance triggers reactions that can lead to death of these birds. Disturbance of wildlife by dogs has been recorded within the GGNRA and documented in several published studies and reports, many of which are cited in the Draft Dog Management Plan DEIS.


    Are we having fun yet? Federally protected Western Snowy Plovers
    chased by an off-leash dog at Ocean Beach. Photo © Alan Hopkins.

    When considering dogs’ impacts on wildlife, it is important to remember that most shorebird species in North America are suffering population declines, in large part due to loss of habitat and disturbance. Just as dog owners want to be good guardians for their pets, we all share the responsibility of being good stewards for wildlife and their habitats. That responsibility means we all must accept reasonable regulations of our recreational activities where they result in impacts to wildlife and habitats.

  3. Is the GGNRA a safe place for dogs to roam off-leash?

    No, the GGNRA is not currently a safe place to allow dogs to roam off-leash. Over the past 30 years, hundreds of dogs have been lost, injured, or killed, while roaming the park off-leash. This is because the alternative to a leash, voice control, is not an effective means to protect pets from getting lost or hit by cars.


    This off-leash dog was lost by its walker.
    It fell off a cliff at Fort Funston.
    The dog was rescued by the National Park Service.

  4. Isn’t the Golden Gate National Recreation Area subject to fewer protections because it is a recreation area, not a park?

    No, all units of the National Park System are managed as one, regardless of title. “National Recreation Areas” were names given to parks either in or near urban areas as part of the “national parks to the people” movement in the early 70s. The GGNRA was properly suited for this designation, providing habitat for more threatened and endangered species than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks combined. It is a world-class repository and it boasts the second-largest archival and museum collection in the National Park System, which tells the the cultural and historical story of the area.

  5. Is the National Park Service trying to ban dogs from the GGNRA?

    No, the GGNRA is not trying to ban dogs from the park.

    The proposed Dog Management Plan is designed to accommodate dogs in the national park while protecting people, our pets, and wildlife. Dogs will be allowed on-leash throughout much of the park, and several large off-leash areas are being created for dogs and their owners to enjoy.

    Under the plan, only one trail—the Batteries to Bluffs trail in the Presidio—and one small beach—China Beach—will not allow dogs. Other than those exceptions, people can walk with their dogs on-leash within or adjacent to every single wild land and conservation area in San Francisco.

    This policy is more accommodating to dogs than any other park in the National Park system and is consistent with every other land managing agency in the region, including San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, California Department of Parks and Recreation, Marin Municipal Water District, Marin Open Space District, and California Department of Fish & Game. Like these agencies, the Park Service is trying to balance the needs of people, pets and wildlife in a high density, urbanized environment.

  6. Will the GGNRA’s preferred alternative in the Pet Management Draft Environmental Impact Statement severely restrict dog use in the GGNRA?

    No, the GGNRA’s preferred alternative will not severely restrict dog use in the park—but it will leave dogs at risk of being lost, injured, or killed unless physical boundaries are required at the GGNRA’s proposed off-leash dog play areas.

    Within the GGNRA, there are a total of 115 miles of recognized walking and hiking trails. The Preferred Alternative would allow 31 miles of these trails for dog walking use (27%). In Marin County alone, there are over 440 miles of on- and off-leash dog recreational trails.

    But none of the GGNRA’s proposed dog-play areas meet basic industry standards for safe off-leash dog play area design, save one: an off-leash dog trail in Marin County. This fully-enclosed off-leash dog trail was the only consensus product that emerged from a multi-year negotiated rulemaking process involving dog owners, horseback riders, conservationists, and advocates for the elderly, children, and the disabled. Although this was the high-point of consensus in this process, the GGNRA failed to follow the lead of the negotiated rule making committee in the rest of its proposed off-leash dog play areas.

  7. Will the GGNRA’s proposed pet management plan eliminate dog recreation in San Francisco?

    No, the GGNRA’s proposed plan will not eliminate dog recreation in San Francisco—not even close.

    San Francisco’s city park system has 28 off-leash dog parks in 47 square miles for over 800,000 residents. This is more off-leash dog parks than Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Denver, and Sacramento combined, and nearly ten times more per capita than New York City. San Francisco continues to add dog parks as well. Moreover, because the GGNRA’s proposed policy offers extensive on- and off-leash dog recreation in the GGNRA, there is no evidence that dog owners or dogs will lack for open space to recreate.

  8. Can the City of San Francisco “take back” the lands it gave to the National Park Service to create the GGNRA if the pet management plan is adopted?

    No, the City cannot take back the lands, nor would it want the management headache that would come with it. It would take an act of the U.S. Congress to give the lands back to San Francisco (as opposed to San Francisco “taking” them back).

    The agreement that gave areas like Ocean Beach to the GGNRA called for the lands to be used for “recreation.” It does not require that off-leash dogs be permitted, nor does it specify that recreation can only be defined as off-leash dog walking.

  9. Has the GGNRA recently abandoned providing recreation in favor of creating wildlife preserves?

    No, not at all. Many, many recreational activities occur with the GGNRA, including bicycling, horseback riding, bird watching, jogging, hiking, boardsailing, hang-gliding, fishing, surfing, soccer, picnics, and volunteer habitat stewardship. Many of these activities do not conflict with one another, but not all of these activities are compatible with one another, nor are many of them directly compatible with off-leash dog walking. Balance is essential to provide access to all user groups, not just people who have dogs.


Comments

  1. Liz Newman — 18 June 2013 - 11:57

    My main concern is will the park reconsider patrolling off leash areas such as Chrissy Field with horses?
    Voice control just does not work Horses & dogs are usually not a good mix.
    How’s about putting up some natural borders ,fences,hedges,plants to keep dogs safely away from mounted patrol.
    Also I’m concerned that mounted patrol officer would ride his horse on patrol, before a leg facture on his horse, was fully recovered.
    The issue of park officers allowing to tase pet owners is disturbing.
    If the pets are causing stress for the park wildlife,it seems the answer would be to fence off an area for unleashed dogs to play.


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