Baker Beach

Now’s the Time to Get Your Voice Heard on Dog Walking Within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Wednesday March 2, 2016

Last week, the GGNRA dropped a bit of a bombshell on the San Francisco Bay Area: dogs will no longer be allowed off-leash except for a few defined areas. In fact, dogs won’t be allowed at all in several areas of the park.

Commenters on SFGate and SFist have been battling it out. KQED’s Forum dedicated a contentious hour to the new rule. Yesterday, five SF supervisors themselves staged a protest.

People are feeling pretty strongly about this one, wherever they may fall on the off-leash/on-leash divide.

If you also feel strongly about it, now is the time to speak up. The National Park Service will be accepting public comments to it’s proposed dog rule until May 25th.

Click here to read the rulemakingClick here to submit your own public comment.


Shall we back up a bit and discuss how this all came about?

Ocean Beach, Baker Beach, Lands End, Fort Funston, the Marin Headlands, and many many other sites used to all be property of the United States military, some from the get-go in the 1850s. (San Francisco was a major military resource during War World II, sending ships out to the Pacific theater.)

After the war, and after the need for a large military outpost sprawling across San Francisco Bay, the military sites had become obsolete. They also sat atop stunning vistas and ocean views. Marin Headlands was sold off to a developer from Connecticut, with a proposed plan for a new community on top of the hill. The locals weren’t happy; a grass roots organization formed to keep these lands as natural resources

In 1972, President Nixon signed a bill creating the GGNRA, housed within the National Park Service, to “to preserve for public use and enjoyment certain areas of Marin and San Francisco Counties, California, possessing outstanding natural, historic, scenic, and recreational values..” Lands previously held by the US military were subsumed into the new national park. After the suburban plans for the Marin Headlands fell through, the Nature Conservancy purchased it and gave it to the GGNRA. The GGNRA continues to purchase private and corporate lands today.

This is why San Francisco has public beaches for miles, stunning day-hikes, and incredibly preserved terrain, in one of the most expensive cities in the world.


So dogs.

By the early 1970s, more than 20 years after the war, local residents had gotten used to walking their dogs all across these dormant lands.  The NPS didn’t adopt a formal pet policy until 7 years into the GGNRA, in 1979, under the advisement of a specially created advisory commission.

That’s been the pet policy ever since.

The internal NPS conflict of this pet policy is that the GGNRA is the only national park that allows off-leash dogs. The NPS’ statutory mission is to : 1) conserve park resources and 2) provide for the enjoyment of visitors to its parks. But, “where there are conflicts between conserving resources.. and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be the predominant goal.” Basically, in trying to accomplish its two goals, conservation wins over visitor enjoyment.

This puts the NPS in a tough spot with respect to the GGNRA and dogs. The GGNRA is one of the most sensitive habitats in the national park system. It is home to 35 nationally-listed threatened or endangered species; only two other national parks are home to more threatened and endangered species. The NPS can’t exactly totally ignore its authorizing statute saying it has to, before all other uses, conserve the land it is meant to protect, but it is also trying to provide for the historic use of the GGNRA as our urban backyard, dogs included. It is walking a fine line on regulating dog-access to the GGNRA.

The NPS has tried to limit dog-access twice before, in 1989 and 2002, and both times lost in court because they hadn’t followed the proper procedures. That brings us to today. This proposed rulemaking is the NPS’ attempt to do things formerly, following all of the steps required for a new rule on dogs in the GGNRA.


So what exactly does the new proposed rule say?

The NPS has provided a map of all the proposed changes. The changes are too many to list here, so click on over to see how this new rule might affect you.

As you click through it, you’ll see how the NPS is attempting to walk that fine line. Some parts of Ocean Beach will still allow off-leash dogs, while other parts (the majority of it) will no longer allow dogs at all. At Baker Beach, dogs will only be permitted on the western end of the beach on a leash, and not at all on the eastern side.

Furthermore, dog-walkers will only be allowed to walk up to 3 dogs at a time without a permit; a dog-walker won’t be permitted to walk more than 6 dogs at a time. To obtain a permit, a dog-walker will need to have insurance and training.

The proposed rule goes even further, outlining violations of the rule in the case of unwanted and uncontrolled dog behavior. Dog walkers will be required to ask other people whether their dog can approach them or their dog. Unwanted physical contact will be a violation of the rule. Aggressive dog behavior will be a violation of the rule. Keeping a dog unattended in a parked car will also violate the rule.

The NPS will also establish a program to monitor areas where dogs are allowed, and record violations. If violations mount and approach an unacceptable level, the superintendent of the program will have to take management actions (some of which are outlined in the rule). It isn’t exactly clear what will happen to you if you/your dog violates a rule, however.


So, this is a pretty big change to the GGNRA. If you’ve ever gone on a hike or spent a day at the beach, I’m guessing you may have Thoughts and Opinions About Dogs, Pro and Con.

Here is the link again to submit your own public comment.

Not only is this the time to tell the NPS that you oppose or support the rule, this is the time to offer up any ideas or suggestions of your own. Federal agencies are required to read all the comments and respond to each of them in their final rule. If you provide a substantive comment with an idea, edit, or request, the NPS will have to take it into consideration. If you think the proposed rule is too stringent and that the NPS could accomplish its conservation mission with a more fine-tuned strategy, now is the time to offer up that strategy. Likewise, if you think six dogs per dog-walker is still too many dogs for one person to control, now is also the time to make that opinion heard. They will have to respond, one way or another, to all of those suggestions. But, if you don’t comment, you don’t get heard.

I strongly recommend that you get involved in this one. It has the potential to change the way we use our parks for generations to come.



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