There is a war in the Bay Area that you might not be aware about. It pits dog owners who love exercising their dogs in the small patches of nature that you can find within the city against environmentalists and conversationist, who believe that off-leash dogs are threatening the native species of plants and animals who thrive in those area. The war has been going on for about ten years, since 2001, when the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) first proposed a ban of off-leash dogs on federal parks in the Bay Area, overturning a 22-year-old policy that allowed such canine frolicking. And recently, the GGNRA once again announced a plan to drastically restrict off-leash dogs from many area where they once were allowed to run free, and ban them from other areas entirely. GGNRA new proposal suggests keeping dogs out of places that so many dogs enjoy, like Crissy Field, Ocean Beach, Fort Funston, and Muir Beach (See the Examiner’s maps that show current leash rules vs. proposed leash rules to get a better idea of the impact). The ban would be a huge blow for SF and North Bay dogs!
Since I’m not a dog owner myself, I wasn’t really aware of the controversy until a few years ago. When I was an editor at the SF Chronicle, the writer of our feature on urban outings in the Bay Area told me that she had gotten a few pieces of hate mail, from dog owners who were angry at her for writing that off-leash dogs were not allowed in some of the areas she was spotlighting. Many of these areas are fragile breeding/nesting grounds of the snowy plover, a native, “federally threatened” shorebird, and many conservationists believe that humans, dogs, horses, and other visitors to these areas are perhaps hampering this sensitive bird from thriving. Dog owners, on the other hand, point out that off-leash dogs are only allowed on 1% of GGNRA land, and that GGNRA’s own research (taken in 1996) has shown that there is little evidence that the presence of off-leash dogs has had any negative impact on the numbers of plovers. Closing what little open space dogs have access to would definitely have a negative impact on them — how sad would it be for dogs not to be able to run on the beach (seriously one of the greatest joys in their lives)?
Cameron Scott, writer of The Thin Green Line, a blog on the SFGate, suggests that the ban is actually a proposal created by people who do not like dogs. Scott, an environmentalist AND dog lover agrees that off-leash dogs shouldn’t be allowed everywhere, and that dogs can do damage to environments, but allowing dogs free roam in places like Fort Funston, a paved area, with remnants of military constructions and a giant sewage pipe, doesn’t really make sense. “Those people [who support the ban] are like straight couples who come into a gay bar and want to ban PDA there because they’re not comfortable with it,” writes Scott.
Whether or not the people behind the ban are dog haters, I don’t know, but I do agree with Scott that there should be some spaces in nature allowed for dogs to roam freely and play. If the GGNRA needs to close some sensitive areas to dogs in order to protect native species, I think that’s fair, reasonable, and prudent. We don’t want to lose any more native species; we’ve already killed off and dislocated so many animals and plants with our meddling. But I hope they will in turn, open some other areas that aren’t a threat to the plover or other plants and animals, for dogs, too. And I hope that dog owners will be responsible, respectful, and thankful to having access to these amazing places, while they’re still open and available to be enjoyed.
What are your thoughts on the GGNRA’s proposed ban?