Proposal to restrict off-leash dogs on federal parklands has owners howling and environmentalists cheering
"The policy was adopted by the superintendent at the time of the GGNRA, and even that wasn't really enforced," GGNRA spokesperson Howard Levitt told us. "This was relatively early in the parks history, and in the early days, we didn't really understand the importance of natural resources and history in the park."
According to NPS, GGNRA is home to more threatened and endangered species than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, Death Valley, and Kings Canyon national parks combined. It has a higher concentration of sensitive species than all but four of the 394 parks in the system.
The new pet plan would not be implemented until late 2012, after public comment is taken and the plan is revised. For six to 12 months, monitoring areas to measure compliance with leash laws will be conducted. If 75 percent of users do not comply, further restrictions will be made.
Current regulations are broken everyday at Ocean Bean and Fort Funston. Like the lax marijuana laws that are synonymous with San Francisco, leash laws have historically been considered more of a suggestion than a rule. At Crissy Field, one of the most popular recreation spaces for off-leash dogs, NPS observed dog owners disobeying the guidelines more than 60 percent of the time.
Many people do not realize that the four-mile stretch of Ocean Beach slated for restriction currently only allows dogs from May to June, or that the Great Meadow of Upper Fort Mason has never allowed the many off leash dogs seen there every day. Dog advocates say better signage about existing rules would help.
"To me, they went this way instead of having any intermediate steps in current policy and off leash areas," said Rebecca Katz, director of the Animal Care and Control. "I am not supportive of the alternative. This isn't like any other national park, and we don't want it to be."
On a recent visit to Fort Funston, it was evident that the park was, as some environmentalists call it, a de facto off-leash area. Dozens of dogs, most off leash, romped in the windy dunes, far outnumbering dog owners and professional dog walkers. Most dogs happily jumped from car to sand without ever being put on a leash.
Longtime San Francisco resident Candy Deboer and her giant schnauzer, Leila, have been coming to the park for years after finding city parks unsatisfactory.
"Golden Gate Park? I've tried that and I ended up stepping over hypodermic needles," Deboer said. "Plus, I have a dog that loves junkie poop. I grew up camping, hiking, and fishing. I know how to preserve wildlife and take care of a park."
Many said closing Fort Funston and Ocean Beach in March during tsunami warnings resulted in horribly crowded dog parks, and felt that GGNRA's plan would deliver more of the same.
"We are using the parks the way they are supposed to be used," said San Francisco resident Willa Hagerty, who also spoke at some of the hearings on the plan. "If we are doing something wrong, let us know with signs or fences."
For some, walking dogs isn't just a means of enjoying the outdoors, it's a source of income. "The plan would really affect a lot of jobs like mine," said SF resident and dog walker Josh Boutelle, who impressively handled eight different dogs while on a run for SF Pup Prep. "There will be more incidents in parks when there is crowding."
Although everyone surveyed at Fort Funston stridently opposed the plan, most supported regulations in some form, from limiting the number of dogs professional walkers can handle to requiring leashes in some parts of the park. Sup. Wiener is also in the process of devising regulations for dog walking in city parks.