Talking Points Feb 23, 2016

FAQ: Golden Gate National Recreation Area Dog Accommodations and Rule

The National Park Service has recognized that dog-related recreation in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) is threatening the park’s natural resources and degrading the park experience for many user groups. GGNRA’s new zoning plan will replace an outdated, 1979 “pet policy” that was developed without considering scientific research and the diverse park uses.

  1. Why is this rule needed? What has changed since the formation of the park that necessitates a modern dog-walking policy?
  2. Is the National Park Service proposing to ban or accommodate dog walking at GGNRA?
  3. How large is the GGNRA and how many acres does this plan address?
  4. What zoning does the National Park Service propose for popular GGNRA parklands (Crissy Field, Ocean Beach, Fort Funston, Muir Beach, and Marin Headlands)?
  5. How does GGNRA’s proposed off-leash dog walking accommodations compare to other local agencies in Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties?
  6. What zoning is proposed at GGNRA’s Rancho Corral de Tierra in San Mateo County and why? How long has off-leash dog walking been occurring illegally at Rancho Corral?
  7. How does GGNRA support and promote recreation for all park users?
  8. Who will this zoning plan benefit?

  1. Why is this rule needed? What has changed since the formation of the park that necessitates a modern dog-walking policy?

    Since its designation in 1972, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s (GGNRA) visitation and use has dramatically increased to nearly 15 million annual visitors (17.5 million including Fort POint and Muir Woods within GGNRA). The population of the Bay Area has also increased, from ~5.9 million in 1980 to ~7.5 million in 2015, and to a projected ~9.5 million in 2040. 

    During this time, the number of recreational activities has increased and diversified, mainly at popular destinations within the national park site, such as Crissy Field, Fort Funston, and Ocean Beach. Competing for parkland space include a wide variety of users, such as hikers, bikers, joggers, wildlife viewers, horseback riders, hang-gliders, picnickers, school groups, and dog-walkers.

    Additionally, scientific research has increased knowledge about the park’s unique natural and cultural resources. GGNRA has more threatened and endangered species than Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon combined. The park has been recognized by the international community by its inclusion in the UNESCO Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve, the same status granted to Brazil’s Central Amazon rainforests.

    The Park Service has recognized that dog-related recreation in the GGNRA is threatening the park’s natural resources and degrading the park experience for many user groups. The status quo continues to put park users, employees, wildlife and dogs at undue risk because of the lack of zoning, regulation, and enforcement.

    Every land management agency in the Bay Area region, except for the GGNRA, has finalized dog regulations to address environmental protection and visitor conflict issues.

    GGNRA’s new zoning plan will replace an outdated, 1979 “pet policy” that was developed without considering scientific research and the diverse park uses.

  2. Is the Park Service proposing to ban or accommodate dog walking at GGNRA?

    For more than a decade, the park service has been working to create a special rule that would allow this unit of the National Park System to accommodate on and off-leash dog walking – a use that is prohibited in every other national park site. The accommodation will create zones for off-leash, on-leash, and dog-free uses through a formal environmental review process, that for the first time since the park was created, considers the needs of all park users and natural resources.

    The rule allows dogs walking in 22 locations, 7 of them allowing off-leash use.

    Dog walking will be allowed on 31% of beaches, with most of that allowing off-leash.

    On-leash dog walking will be allowed on 34% of trails.

    At Crissy Field, 30% of the airfield and 40% of beachfront mileage would be available for off-leash use. The remainder of the airfield, the East Beach Picnic Area, and the Crissy Field trails would be available for on-leash. 

    At Fort Funston, 45% or 35 acres of usable land (i.e. not cliffs or steep vegetation) would be available for off-leash use. All trails, except the Funston Horse Trail, would be available for on-leash use.

  3. How large is the GGNRA and how many acres does this plan address?

    The GGNRA only owns and manages roughly 18,000 of the 80,000 acres within its boundaries. The remaining ~62,000 acres are managed by agencies such as the City of San Francisco, Marin Water District, and California State parks.

    This plan addresses only 18,000 acres, the majority which is rugged parkland in San Mateo and Marin Counties that is in a natural, undeveloped state. GGNRA owns and manages 10,786 acres in Marin County, 1,278 acres in San Francisco County, and 6,842 acres in San Mateo County; GGNRA also manages Fort Point National Historic Site (29 acres) and Muir Woods National Monument (523 acres).

  4. What zoning does the Park Service propose for popular GGNRA parklands (Crissy Field, Ocean Beach, Fort Funston, Muir Beach, and Marin Headlands)?
    • Crissy Field: Three zones are created (off-leash, dog-free, and wildlife protection).
      • East Crissy Field Beach will provide dog-free beach experiences for park users.
      • Central Crissy Field Beach, the largest of the 3 beach zones at 40%, and 1/3 of the adjacent Crissy Airfield will provide off-leash dog experiences.
      • West Crissy Field Beach will be dog-free to provide wildlife protections for the endangered snowy plover.
      • Existing trails, parking lots, and bike paths at Crissy Field, and 2/3 of the Crissy Airfield, will provide on-leash dog experiences.
    • Ocean Beach: two zones created (off-leash and dog-free/wildlife protection).
      • North from Stairwell 21 for a mile to the Cliff House will provide off-leash dog beach experiences.
      • South from Stairwell 21 will provide dog-free beach experiences for park users and protect endangered snowy plover habitat. Current dog regulations restrict off-leash walking for 10.5 months of the year for wildlife protection but the regulation is rarely followed.
    • Fort Funston: two zones created (off-leash and dog-free/wildlife protection)
      • South from North Funston Beach Trail (roughly half of Fort Funston) will provide off-leash dog experiences on the beach and headland bluffs.
      • North from North Funston Beach Trail (roughly half of Fort Funston) will provide dog-free beach experiences for park users, wildlife protection for Bank Swallows that nest on the cliffs, and allow restoration of the endangered San Francisco lessingia plant.
      • Existing Sunset Trail on the headland bluffs will provide on-leash dog experiences.
    • Muir Beach: on-leash zone created on entire Muir Beach and trail from parking lot, supporting decade-long, multi-million dollar project to restore Muir Beach lagoon, sand dunes, and Redwood Creek, benefitting native plants and threatened and endangered species like coho salmon, steelhead trout, and California red-legged frogs.
    • Marin Headlands (trails and Rodeo Beach):
      • Oakwood Valley, Alta Trail/Orchard Fire Rd/Pacheco Fire Rd, and Homestead Valley will provide on-leash dog experiences, allowing for the protection of vegetation, wildlife, and special status species including the mission blue butterfly, steelhead trout, California red-legged frog, northern spotted owl, and marsh sandwort.
      • More than 75% of Rodeo Beach will provide off-leash dog experiences and the small South Rodeo Beach will provide dog-free beach experiences.

  5. How does GGNRA’s proposed off-leash dog walking accommodations compare to other local agencies in Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties?

    GGNRA’s off-leash dog policy is more accommodating that Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo Counties.
    • County of San Francisco: Manages 3,300 acres and allows off-leash dog use on 114 acres. In 2006, the County of San Francisco approved a moratorium on creating new off-leash dog parks.
    • Marin County: Manages 700 acres of County Parks and does not permit off-leash dog use.
    • San Mateo County: Manages 16,000 acres and does not permit off-leash dog use.
    • Marin Water District: Manages 21,000 acres and does not permit off-leash dog use.
    • Mid-peninsula Regional Open Space: Manages 50,000 acres and permits off-leash dog use on 17.5 acres.
    • State of California: Manages 12,000 acres near or adjacent to GGNRA and does not permit off-leash dog use.
    • San Francisco Watershed: manages 63,000 acres and does not permit off-leash dog use.

  6. What zoning is proposed at GGNRA’s Rancho Corral de Tierra in San Mateo County and why? How long has off-leash dog walking been occurring illegally at Rancho Corral?

    The 3,858 acre Rancho Corral de Tierra property was purchased by the park service in 2011 to be included within the GGNRA. Its riparian, coastal scrub, and coastal chaparral habitats support diverse native plants and animals. The rugged property is home to varied wildlife, including bobcats, mountain lion, coyotes, black-tailed deer, and two species of plants known to exist nowhere else in the world: Montara Mountain blue bush lupin and Montara manzanita. Other endangered wildlife and special-status species include the San Francisco garter snake, San Bruno elfin butterfly and Hickman’s potentilla.

    At the time of NPS purchase, off-leash dog walking was not permitted on the property, yet it was occurring illegally in violation of San Mateo County law. The NPS has permitted on-leash dog walking since taking over, though illegal off-leash use continues to be reported by park visitors.

    The GGNRA rule maintains the existing legal and on-the-ground baseline of on-leash rather than the off-leash use and that occurred illegally prior to NPS purchase. The rule increases on-leash trail access from the preferred alternative in the SEIS, create three regions (Montara, Moss Beach, and El Granada access points) for on-leash trail use, including loop trails.

  7. How does GGNRA support and promote recreation for all park users?

    GGNRA allows the most varied recreational experiences of the country’s 410 national park sites. On any given day, one can find adventure-seekers hang-gliding and mountain-biking, families picnicking and hiking, and numerous school groups studying rare species. Recreation and public use in the GGNRA also includes wildlife viewing, horseback riding, jogging, enjoying a bonfire, surfing and swimming, playing sports on the beach (e.g. football, volleyball, soccer, frisbee), beachcombing and sandcastle building, fishing and crabbing, wildflower viewing, and dog walking on and off leash.

  8. Who will this zoning plan benefit?

    Creating zones will allow park users to choose if they want an off-leash, on-leash, or dog-free park experience. All national park visitors will benefit from having this clarity and certainty. For example, school group and other activity leaders will know where dog-free zones are for students to explore and learn without interruptions from off-leash dogs. Dog owners can also choose to prevent their leashed pets from interacting with off-leash pets

    Other beneficiaries of the plan include those with disabilities. According to a 2011 survey of guide dog users by The Seeing Eye, a leading national guide dog organization, 44% of guide dog users who responded said their working dog had been attacked by other dogs, with 76% of those attacks coming from off-leash dogs.

    Wildlife and plants will benefit because dog-free and on-leash zones will prevent dogs from accessing sensitive habitat and reduce occurrences of wildlife harassment.