Peaceful meeting belies frustrations over park dog plan
By Sara Donchey
Dog lovers gathered in support of their furry friends Saturday in the second of four public informational meetings intended to make sense of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s proposed Dog Management Plan.
Several dozen people attended the open house at San Francisco State University – and although the event was peaceful, it was clear that not everyone was happy with the reason they were there.
“This is a disaster,” said Sally Stephens, chair of SFDOG, a nonprofit organization that teaches responsible dog ownership. “It will have a huge impact on the social communities of people with dogs, as well as negative impacts on city parks.”
The Dog Management Plan would reduce off-leash areas and even ban dogs entirely from parts of the national park that stretches from Marin to Half Moon Bay.
Stephens, who said she lives near Ocean Beach, is concerned that as dog-friendly areas are eliminated, dogs and their owners will be forced into the smaller, overcrowded areas that remain.
“Thousands of people are in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area every day with their dogs,” said Stephens. “Where are they all going to go? They’re not going away. They’re going to end up in city parks. You’re going to have a lot more people in much smaller spaces.”
Ben Jackson, who runs his dog at Fort Funston at least once a week, is also concerned with possible overcrowding if the plan is implemented.
“Fort Funston is the least extreme out of all the changes they’re making,” said Jackson. “We could probably still take our dog there, but it’s already packed. Is it going to be even more packed as one of the few options left to go run your dog?”
Professional dog walker Stephanie Turner, who takes her clients’ dogs to run at Ocean Beach, also attended the meeting to voice her frustration with the new pooch plan.
“Not only would it ruin me financially, but emotionally as well,” said Turner. “It would take away a lot of joy for me.”
For people such as Turner, who turn to Ocean Beach as a local haven for doggy playtime, new regulations would restrict dogs to the area from Stairwell 21 across from the Beach Chalet north to the Cliff House.
Representatives from the National Park Service were present to facilitate the meeting and to address public concerns.
Howard Levitt, director of communications for the GGNRA, explained that the Dog Management Plan is an attempt to create a balance between park-goers with and without a four-legged friend.
“We hear from people who love to enjoy the park with their dog, and we hear from other people who feel like we shouldn’t allow dogs at all,” said Levitt. “We have to create a balance. At the same time, we have some fundamental national park values that we have to adhere to, like keeping visitors safe and protecting species.”
A large portion of the Dog Management Plan addresses the need to preserve endangered wildlife such the federally protected snowy plover.
Mark Bohrer is a former wildlife photographer with an affinity for wildlife biology and conservation. Although he owns a dog, he recognizes the importance of protecting endangered species as discussed in the plan.
“Dogs do have the scent of predators,” said Bohrer. “That does have a big effect on the species that are out there. I probably would’ve tried to implement something similar to what they’re trying to do.”
The Dog Management Plan is still in preliminary phases, and the National Park Service will accept public comment through May 29 – a change from its previous deadline of April 14. To comment about the proposed Dog Management Plan, visit one of the open-house meetings; mail comments to Frank Dean, General Superintendent, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Building 201, Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA 94123-0022; or comment online.
Sara Donchey is a San Francisco journalist. Read more from her at her Inside Lands blog.