SUBSTANTIVE COMMENTS

The restrictions on access for people with dogs contained in the Preferred Alternative are not warranted. They cannot be used to justify a fundamental violation of the recreational mandate that formed the reason the GGNRA was created.

1)    Severe restrictions are not needed to protect other park visitors from dogs.
Problems with dogs represent a tiny fraction of the total incidents and citations issued by the GGNRA over the past decade. Of those incidents and citations issued to people with dogs, the majority were leash law violations, or being in a closed area, and did not reflect any safety issues between dogs and other park visitors. Target enforcement on the small number of people whose dogs misbehave, not on excluding the entire class of people with dogs from most of the GGNRA. Jean Donaldson, nationally recognized expert on dog behavior testified before the SF Animal Control and Welfare Commission on 2/8/07: “[S]elf-selection operates strongly, i.e., people who take the time to get into their car or walk to a designated off-leash area to exercise their dogs tend not to be the type who are derelict in other areas of dog guardianship, such as training, socialization, or appropriate containment.” [Click here for more information on dog safety in the GGNRA] [MANISH – connect to the Dog Safety in the GGNRA page]

2)    The DEIS does not adequately address dispersion issues.
The DEIS does not adequately address the environmental and social impact of forcing large numbers of people and dogs into much smaller areas. Reducing the amount of area available for off-leash will significantly degrade the park experience for people with dogs. It will increase conflicts. Even more importantly, the DEIS does not address the environmental and social impact on small, neighborhood parks in cities like San Francisco next to the GGNRA. Because the GGNRA is located immediately adjacent to one of the most densely populated areas in the United States (San Francisco), it provides much needed recreational open space for Bay Area residents. If that open space is lost to recreational access, people and their dogs will move to the much smaller city parks and they will not be able to absorb the hundreds or thousands of people with dogs each day that will be kicked out of the GGNRA. As further proof that the GGNRA did not consider impacts on city parks in San Francisco, the Preferred Alternative suggests the nearest legal off-leash area in San Francisco to Fort Funston is Lake Merced. That off-leash area has been closed to off-leash for years and has been turned into a native plant restoration area and habitat for the endangered red-legged frog among other animals. Yet this is where the DEIS suggests people with dogs go.

3)    The DEIS continues a trend of GGNRA claims about impacts by dogs on birds that are not supported by the data. It is based on bad science.
There is no scientific consensus that severe restrictions on off-leash dogs are needed to protect natural resources and wildlife. Some of the most compelling research in the last few years has been by researchers such as Forrest and Cassidy St. Clair (2006) and Warren (2007) who admit that they expected to find that off-leash dogs had a major impact on the diversity, abundance, and feeding behaviors of birds and small mammals. However, when they did the actual research, they found no such impacts. This indicates that assumptions about impacts from off-leash dogs must be tested and proven to be true before they can be used to justify restrictions. Unfortunately, most of the assumptions cited by the GGNRA have not been adequately tested or proven. In addition, the GGNRA has repeatedly cited research that they claim shows major impacts from off-leash dogs. However, when the raw data from these studies is analyzed, it is clear the claimed conclusions are not supported by the data. This is highly reminiscent of the problems documented at the Point Reyes National Seashore, where claims by staff biologists about negative impacts from an oyster farm located within the park were proven to be baseless when the raw data was independently analyzed.[Click here for more information on the non-impact of dogs on birds and wildlife] [MANISH – Connect to the Do Dogs Bother Birds and Wildlife page]
a)Severe restrictions are not needed to protect the snowy plover.
The GGNRA’s own data show that off-leash dogs have no impact on the numbers of snowy plovers, a threatened species that roosts only (does not nest or raise chicks) on relatively small parts of Ocean Beach and Crissy Field. Indeed, larger numbers of snowy plovers frequently coincided with times when dogs were allowed off-leash in the area. The 1999 Hatch Report observed 5,692 dogs at Ocean Beach and found that only 6% chased birds (mostly seagulls). Indeed, of these 5,692 dogs, a mere 19 were observed to chase plovers. That is one-third of 1% of the dogs observed. Target those dog owners for enforcement, but leave the other 99.66% of dogs that did not chase plovers alone. Some studies define “disturbance” of a bird so broadly as to include the fact that if a bird merely looked up when it heard a sound, even if it took no further action, it was a disturbance. The GGNRA’s own studies show that joggers and walkers, not to mention parents with toddlers, equestrians, surfers, and other park users “disturb” plovers, yet there is no attempt to restrict their access in the plover areas.

There are much less restrictive measures the GGNRA could take to protect snowy plovers, including the use of temporary “exclosure” fencing when the plovers are present. This would keep everyone, people as well as dogs, out of the area. Enforcement that targets people who intentionally disturb plovers would also help.

During a 2/17/07 Negotiated Rulemaking meeting, Barbara Goodyear, Field Solicitor for the NPS, said that deliberate behavior (e.g., training your dog to chase birds) should be the target of a management policy, but that incidental behavior (e.g., walking by a bird and causing it to flush) should not. Yet the Preferred Alternative cites incidental behavior as a justification for increased restrictions on off-leash dogs.

b) Severe restrictions are not needed to protect the bank swallow.
The DEIS claims “continuing” impacts from dogs and/or humans that include digging at or collapsing the burrows of bank swallows, flushing the birds from nests, and causing active sloughing and landslides that may block or crush the burrows. However, there is no documentation that any of these impacts actually occur. Bank swallows burrow near the top (but not at the top) of sheer cliff faces at Fort Funston. There is no way dogs can access these burrows, so there can be no impact on them from the dogs. A GGNRA bank swallow report claimed that these impacts “could occur” even without proof that they actually do. This “could occur” has been changed in the DEIS to “continuing impacts”.

4)    The DEIS is full of impacts of dogs on wildlife and other park visitors that “could” occur, but there is little evidence that these impacts actually do occur.After over ten years of intensive scrutiny of off-leash dogs in the GGNRA, it should be obvious if those impacts really do occur. The lack of data indicates they do not. For example, the DEIS mentions that disease “could” be transmitted to people from unpicked-up dog feces. However there has not been a single case of dog-feces-caused human illness reported by the San Francisco Department of Health for over 50 years. A management policy should not be based on hypothetical impacts. It should be based on actual, observed impacts. Hypotheticals that are not actually seen in the GGNRA cannot be used to justify restrictions on off-leash recreation in the GGNRA.

5)    The claim that environmental justice requires severe restrictions on off-leash dogs is not supported by the studies cited in the DEIS.
a) The DEIS cites a 2007 SF State study that claims all Latinos and Asians surveyed said that dogs were a problem. However, the study itself was not about the “ethnic minority visitor use experience at the GGNRA” as claimed by the DEIS, but was actually intended to address ways to improve “connecting people to the parks.” Off-leash dog walking connects all different kinds of people to the parks. In addition, the SF State study was not an extensive survey – it interviewed less than 100 non-randomly people who were largely unfamiliar with the GGNRA (only 1/3 had visited at least one GGNRA site in the past year).

b) A second study cited by the DEIS (Northern Arizona University phone study) was a scientifically rigorous study that used random sampling in identifying who was interviewed for the survey. This study concluded that there was no real difference in attitudes between the various ethnic groups about dogs in the parks.
c) Indeed the restrictions on off-leash access supported by the Preferred Alternative will have a serious negative impact on the thousands of ethnic minorities who walk their dogs off-leash in the GGNRA, a point not addressed in the DEIS. Off-leash dog walking is the most diverse recreation activity in the GGNRA, enjoyed by the widest variety of people – seniors, kids, the disabled, every ethnic group, every sexual orientation, and every social and economic class.

6)    The claim in the DEIS that they have to manage the GGNRA in a manner similar to the way they manage parks like Glacier National Park or Yellowstone National Park is misleading and cannot be used to justify the restrictions called for in the Preferred Alternative.
a) The GGNRA is a National Recreation Area, not a National Park. The mandate for the GGNRA’s creation was, according to the legislation that established the GGNRA in 1972, for the “maintenance of needed recreational open space”. Off-leash dog walking was acknowledged at the time as one of the traditional recreational uses taking place in the GGNRA when it was created. In 1979, the US Congress passed a law that all national park units, including national recreation areas, national seashores, and national monuments have to be managed uniformly. But, concerned that the unique purposes for each park would be overlooked in this change, they added the following language to the law: “The authorization of activities shall be construed and the protection, management, and administration of these areas … shall not be exercised in derogation of the values and purposes for which these various areas have been established”. So there is no mandate to match the GGNRA’s policies with National Park Service requirements that dogs not be allowed off-leash in a national park.

b) In 2002, a panel of senior National Park Service officials concluded, in part, “[T]hat off-leash dog walking in GGNRA may be appropriate in selected locations where resource impacts can be adequately mitigated and public safety incidents, and public use conflicts can be appropriately managed.” Adequate mitigations and management already exist – target people whose dogs bother birds and wildlife or who jump on people, but leave the vast majority of responsible dog owners free to recreate off-leash with their dogs on the less than 1% of GGNRA land on which they’ve always been allowed off-leash.

c) Dogs are allowed off-leash to hunt in national preserves, and other units administered by the National Park Service. Surely, if it’s okay for a dog to be off-leash while it helps chase, corner and kill a wild animal, it should be okay for a dog in the GGNRA to be off-leash to play with people and other dogs.

d) The GGNRA is located in the densely populated San Francisco Bay Area. It is in a major urban area. Much of the land was highly modified by the military when they controlled the land before the GGNRA was created. The GGNRA contains numerous missile silos, artillery batteries, and their assorted support structures. The military planted huge amounts of ice plant to stabilize the sand dunes at Fort Funston and elsewhere. Standards of management that treat much of the GGNRA, especially those parts in San Francisco, like pristine wilderness are misguided.

e) During 2/17/07 Negotiated Rulemaking meeting, Barbara Goodyear, the Field Solicitor for the NPS, made it clear that while all parks are managed to the same level (conservation of resources), there is flexibility in how that is done from park to park. She cited as an example, the fact that you don’t manage Yosemite Valley with the expectation that people will have a solitary wilderness experience. You manage it with the knowledge that people will bump into each other in that part of Yosemite. The GGNRA, an urban park located in and immediately adjacent to a large city, does not have to be managed in the same way as Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks.

7)    The level of enforcement required by the Preferred Alternative is excessive and unsustainable. Targeting people walking their dogs irresponsibly and leaving responsible dog walkers alone would be a much more efficient use of GGNRA resources.
The DEIS states that it will cost nearly $1million to enforce the Preferred Alternative, through the hiring of more Park Rangers or Park Police. In an era of shrinking federal budgets, this seems a poor use of scarce financial resources. Existing Park Rangers could easily enforce already existing rules such as picking up pet litter or no chasing of birds. These enforcement actions are all that are needed to ensure responsible dog walking and minimal impact on natural resources and other park visitors from off-leash dogs.

8)    The inclusion of a “poison pill” in the DEIS suggests the GGNRA will use it as an end run to ban off-leash dogs in the near future, bypassing the kind of public process such an action is normally required by law to follow.
The DEIS includes a “compliance-based management strategy” that says that, if there is not enough compliance with the restrictions imposed by the Preferred Alternative, the GGNRA will change the management of the various areas to the next more restrictive level – an off-leash area will become on-leash only, an on-leash area will become no dogs at all. This change will be permanent, with no chance to go back to less restrictive levels at any time in the future. This section must be removed from any final Dog Management Plan.
a) This compliance-based management strategy is decidedly unfair, because it can only be changed in one direction – toward more restrictive levels of access for people with dogs.
b) There is no provision for public comment in the case of a change in status of an off-leash or on-leash area because of the compliance-based management strategy. The GGNRA has already lost two court cases (and one appeal) when it tried to make a significant and controversial policy change without going through a public process. The federal courts have routinely told the GGNRA that they have to hold public meetings and take public comments before making such changes. Clearly, a change in status of an off-leash area to leash-only would be both significant and very controversial, and therefore should require a period of public comment and public hearings before being implemented. The poison pill in the DEIS is an end run designed to allow the GGNRA to make such changes without having to go through a public process (they can claim the public process was the public comment on the DEIS itself, not on the changes it allows at a future time).
c) How will compliance be monitored? Who will do the monitoring? The GGNRA has repeatedly relied on poorly trained volunteers with a deep-seated bias against dogs to monitor the interactions between dogs and snowy plovers. Why would we expect these compliance monitors to be any less biased? Will their claims of non-compliance be valid? Will the GGNRA resort to the use of surveillance cameras to monitor compliance? While noting that there is no mention of surveillance cameras in the DEIS, GGNRA staff have refused to say they would never be used.
d) This allows a few bad actors to result in the removal off-leash access everywhere in the GGNRA, even if there are tens of thousands of hours of incident-free dog walking for every single incident. Including a “nuclear option” in a management plan is not good management policy. Regulations already exist to target those who do not control their dogs when they are off-leash. Target enforcement at those bad actors, not at the huge numbers of dog walkers who do not cause problems.

9)    Off-leash play decreases the likelihood of dog aggression in dogs.
In comments to the SF Animal Control and Welfare Commission on 2/8/07, Jean Donaldson, then head of the Dog Training Program at the SF/SPCA and a nationally recognized author on dog behavior said: “There is not only no evidence that allowing dogs off-leash for play opportunities increases the incidence of aggression, to a person, every reputable expert in the field of dog behavior in the United States is of the opinion that it is likely that off-leash access decreases the likelihood of aggression.” She also said: “Interestingly, it could very well be that the safest dogs are those that attend off-leash dog parks.” And she said: “There is no research demonstrating that dog parks or off-leash play contributes to any kind of aggression, including dog-dog aggression.”

10)A well-exercised dog is a well-behaved dog.
Dogs that are not adequately exercised can develop behavior problems such as barking, destroying property in the home, etc. Behavior problems are one of the primary reasons that people surrender dogs at shelters. San Francisco has a “No Kill” goal that no potentially adoptable animal in a city shelter (SF Animal Care and Control, SF/SPCA, Pets Unlimited). Representatives of the SF/SPCA have said that the Preferred Alternative will make it harder for the SF/SPCA to perform their mission to reduce surrenders to city shelters and make San Francisco a truly No Kill city.