Will the GGNRA Learn Pet Management Lessons from SoCal?

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.

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