Will the GGNRA Learn Pet Management Lessons from SoCal?

08 April 2012 - 11:30
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In a rapid response to poor pet management, the Rancho Palos Verde city council closed its pilot off-leash dog beach a mere two months after it was created.

The beach, illegally used for off-leash dog walking despite city ordinances prohibiting dogs on beaches and golf courses, was opened in February to accommodate demands for free off-leash dog access. Unsurprisingly, the lack of restrictions unleashed a massive influx of dogs from all over Los Angeles county, where there are only two other beaches that allow dogs. “Frankly,” said Councilwoman Susan Brooks, “it was like Woodstock for dogs. This is not the space, not the place.”

Mayor Steve Wolowitz supported the decision to close the park and “cited an ‘intimidation factor’ presented by some animals, possible dangerous encounters between dogs and children, and the responsibility of the city to step in when ‘interests of a limited group conflict with the public at large.’”

The contested beach lies below the Ocean Trails Ecological Reserve, a spectacular area very similar to San Francisco’s Fort Funston in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The beach continues past the Trump National Golf Course.

The similarity to San Francisco and the GGNRA regrettably does not stop at the nature of the terrain. For years, the GGNRA has allowed the park’s most treasured locations to be operated as unofficial, unsafe off-leash dog parks. Presently park management is considering formalizing this practice, making each of these areas an official off-leash dog park. If the lesson from Southern California provides any indication, this will make the numerous management problems facing the GGNRA—off-leash dogs being lost, injured, and sometimes killed; people being harassed and intimidated; guide dog users being excluded from the park; and incessant wildlife harassment and habitat degradation—even worse.

This “People Behaving Badly” segment contains heartbreaking footage
of an off-leash dog attacking a sick seabird at Ocean Beach.

The only proven and consensus-based way to allow off-leash dogs in parks with multiple user groups is to create fully-enclosed off-leash dog play areas, and only in areas where there is no risk of environmental harm. Inside those areas, rules and regulations must be enforced to keep the dog park healthy and safe for all of our dogs, and outside of those areas leash laws must be strictly enforced—where dogs are allowed at all. During the GGNRA’s extensive and protracted negotiated rule making for pet management at the GGNRA, anti-wildlife groups like the SFSPCA joined with local wildlife champions like the Sierra Club, Golden Gate Audubon, and the Center for Biological Diversity reached consensus to create an off-leash dog trail in Marin County based on these principles, while failing to reach consensus on anything else.

One of many rescues conducted by the GGNRA
when off-leash dogs fall off cliffs at Fort Funston.

Given the reluctance of GGNRA policy and staff to aggressively manage off-leash dog walking as stringently as other impacts, such an idea will only get traction if enough people protest aggressively enough against the current onslaught of off-leash dogs. That is the other lesson from Rancho Palos Verde: park policy will respond to noise and numbers.

Contact the GGNRA loudly and often to complain about off-leash dogs in the GGNRA and to demand creation of enclosed, off-leash dog parks.


  1. Mitch Gogge — 11 April 2012 - 13:00

    Although I reside in Mountain View now I am from RPV and still have family and property there. I grew up about two blocks from this beach. Quite frankly, the lesson to be taken from RPV (and the stretch from LA up to Santa Barbara) is far different from what your headline says. L.A. and San Francisco beaches need to be managed differently because conditions and uses are vastly different. (Beaches along PCH are crowded most of the year with swimmers, surfers and sunbathers, and activities are highly regulated all the way down to the type of volleyballs and frisbees that are permitted.) When groups are excluded from beaches that’s when problems arise. There need to be beach areas that allow for different types of recreation and experiences, including walking dogs. If San Francisco is at fault for not enough dog restrictions, LA is at fault for too many. But let’s get real. The predominate safety issues at RPV and most, if not all, California beaches are caused by people, mostly people who are boozing and causing altercations, and people who either can’t swim or enter dangerous surf. I spent two summers as a lifeguard who had to deal with it all.

  2. Brent Plater — 11 April 2012 - 14:02

    The fundamental fallacy in your argument, Mitch, is your suggestion that somehow beaches in the GGNRA are not “crowded” because there aren’t as many swimmers or sunbathers as there may be in the warmer waters of Southern California. Anyone who has seen Ocean Beach on a sunny day, for example, would probably contest that point. Moreover, areas that aren’t filled with people are almost always where wildlife find refuge—and they also deserve a place on the beach, particularly on beaches in our national parks.

    Time and time again studies have shown that the most significant threat to wildlife at the GGNRA is off-leash dogs. This is so because even our sweetest pets chase birds, and even if our dogs have no mal-intent when they do so, birds will generally don’t consider the chase fun and games. And our dogs, with their speed and agility, are far more effective at chasing birds than we are, or horses are, or any other activity currently occurring at Ocean Beach and our other national park properties.

    Despite this, the Wild Equity Institute agrees with you that the Park Service should provide appropriate places for people to walk their dogs, and we particularly believe that on-leash dog walking can be a reasonable accommodation in many areas of the park. But making official off-leash dog parks akin to those that were provided in SoCal will most certainly replicate the same problems, and would be doubly regretful because of the important wildlife habitats and the nationally recognized outstanding values that would be put at risk in the Bay Area.

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