In a win for dog enthusiasts and their four-legged companions, the National Park Service announced last week that it had permanently ended a more than decade-long rulemaking process intended to establish stricter dog management regulations in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
As a result, the park service will continue to enforce the regulations detailed in its 1979 pet policy and other guidelines, which allow visitors to walk dogs, in some places without leashes. The nixed plan would have applied to 22 areas of federal land, including eight areas in Marin; it was supported by environmental groups, but riled dog owners.
The plan proposed that off-leash dog walking could continue in just one area in Marin, at Rodeo Beach; currently, dog owners can walk pets without a leash at Muir Beach, Rodeo Beach, Oakwood Valley Road, Homestead Valley and Alta Avenue.
Last year, four groups—Save Our Recreation, the San Francisco Dog Owners Group, the Marin County Dog Owners Group and the Coastside Dog Owners Group—sued the park service for withholding documents and data requested under the Freedom of Information Act regarding the plan. Emails released as a result of the lawsuit revealed that park employees had used private emails to communicate about the planning process, a violation of federal law.
“The emails also revealed intentional destruction of documents involved in the rulemaking process, the purposeful omission of scientific data, and extreme bias on the part of the Park Service against people with dogs and against dog walking as a recreational activity,” a press release from Save Our Recreation stated.
After filing the suit, the park service, with help from the Interior Department, conducted a 10-month internal review, suspending its finalization of the plan. (The lawsuit has not been settled.) According to a recent park press release, the review concluded that the use of personal email by employees to conduct official business “was inappropriate,” but that the reviewed emails “ultimately did not influence the outcome of the planning and rulemaking process.”
Nevertheless, the park’s acting director, Michael Reynolds, said in a release: “We can do better and in the interest of upholding the highest standard of transparency and trust with our Bay Area neighbors, we have determined that it is no longer appropriate to continue with the current dog management rulemaking process.”
Though federal law prohibits off-leash dogs in national parkland, an exception was made for the recreation area upon its founding in 1972, in light of the diverse lands and their former uses.
Historically, efforts to rope off 12 acres for a threatened swallow at Fort Funston sparked a lawsuit against the park. After losing that battle, the park took steps to align its informal pet policy with standard federal law—sparking another lawsuit at that time, in which the plaintiffs once more prevailed.
In the public process that was part of writing an environmental impact statement for the dog management plan, the vast majority of comments were in favor of looser, not stricter, rules.
“This is a huge win for the people of the Bay Area,” Laura Pandapas, a Muir Beach resident and co-founder of the Marin County Dog Owners Group, said. “G.G.N.R.A. engaged the public in a bad-faith process from the beginning. The park service and Interior Department have come to the right decision—and we finally have some accountability and transparency.”
The park service estimates it will spend $430,000 a year to enforce its existing dog regulations, compared to the $2.5 million it would have spent on the new rules.