Proposal to restrict off-leash dogs on federal parklands has owners howling and environmentalists cheering
But the GGNRA plan has pitted environmentalists against dog advocates. The Sierra Club and Golden Gate Audubon Society support the plan and even argue that more restrictions are needed than proposed. Those groups, along with six other organizations including the California Native Plant Society and Nature in the City, wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors April 8 opposing Wiener's resolution.
"The GGNRA was created in part to bring a national park-caliber experience to all Bay Area residents and visitors, not to expand recreation opportunities for dog owners," the letter states. "Contrary to what some are saying, the proposed plan is not about keeping dogs out of the GGNRA. Rather, it is about inviting dogs into the park in a manner that is sustainable and fair to all park users."
The Sierra Club has even used the dog debate as a big factor for its mayoral endorsement. Sen. Leland Yee has spoken in support of the plan, while mayoral candidates Sup. John Avalos and Board President David Chiu voted to oppose it.
"I'm concerned that the Sierra Club is going to use a microscope on a tiny, insignificant measure to make a decision on mayoral endorsement," Avalos told us. "The dog policy is insignificant compared to so many other environmental issues."
Others disagree. Michael Lynes, director of the Golden Gate Audubon society, thought Wiener's resolution was hasty and did a disservice to the years of work NPS has put into the plan.
"They keep talking about the impacts to the city, while here they are trying to do something that impacts the National Park," Lynes said. "The resolution is really strange. It opposes the Park Service's effort to regulate land in a way that is sustainable and equitable."
Opponents say evidence of dog-induced damage to wildlife and humans is unclear, but the plan gives hundreds of pages of studies and incident reports. In 2008, nearly 900 dog-related incidents were reported, including attacks on vulnerable populations such as young children, seniors, and, disabled people. In 2005, Guide Dogs for the Blind found that 89 percent of their graduates had guide dogs interfered with by off leash dogs.
Plus, as difficult as it may be for dog lovers to fathom, not everyone wants to be around dogs when enjoying the outdoors. Currently, dogs are allowed on all but one major trail in the GGRNA, and China Beach in the Presidio is the only beach where people can have a dog-free experience.
"At the end of the day," Lynes said, "people don't want to change their behavior."