by Thomas K. Pendergast
New rules for walking dogs on Ocean Beach, Baker Beach and at Fort Funston are expected to come out this month, ending decades of confusion, ill-defined parameters and sporadic enforce- ment.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), which manages the beaches, recently released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and began to finalize a dog management plan. A final ruling on where dogs are welcome, whether off-leash or on- leash, or not at all, is expected in January and will become effective by March.
According to plans now proposed by the GGNRA, on Ocean Beach, dogs will only be al- lowed north of Stairwell 21, which sits a few stairwells south of the Beach Chalet restaurant, but they may be off-leash on the north side of that beach. South of Stairwell 21, all dogs will be prohibited. Dogs will be allowed on-leash on the boardwalk adjacent to the parking lots.
For Baker Beach, dogs will only be allowed on-leash at the beach north of Access Trail Number 2, but prohibited entire- ly on the beach south of there. They will also be allowed on- leash along the coastal trail, plus the north and south picnic areas.
At Fort Funston, dogs will be banned completely to the north of the Funston Beach Trail, but are allowed on or off-leash on the beach south of there, plus the area surrounding the Chip Trail and northeast of the Funston Trail. They will only be allowed on-leash at the Battery Davis trails, east and west, plus the John Muir Trail stairs, the Coastal Trail and the parking lot.
“We’re looking at areas that we can designate ‘dog-free.’ The other goals are to reduce conflict and to provide clear, enforceable rules for dog management,” said Nathan Hale Sargent, a spokesperson for the GGNRA. “In the park, we have about 300 law-enforcement actions every year involving dogs.”
The current rules allow for on-leash dog walking south of Stairwell 21 down to Fort Funston from July to May, about 10 months of the year, when the Western Snowy Plovers are in the grassy sand dunes near the southern section of the beach. During that time, dogs are not al- lowed off leash, however, this was only sporadically enforced, if at all.
“Throughout the park we do have a few zones, I believe Ocean Beach is one, where because of species considerations we have seasonal use,” Sargent said. “The practices that are in place now are nearly 40 years old and we find that they’re not meeting the needs of today … where we have these seasonal uses or timed use that conflicted with the goal of having clarity and enforceable rules. … There are some snowy plover protection areas. There’s a protection area at Fort Funston as well, and so this plan, moving forward, frees us up from those seasonal zones. We just have one set of rules, one set of dog areas, year round, and folks will know where they can bring their dogs.”
But not everyone is pleased with the new plan, including SF Supervisor Katy Tang, who represents the Sunset and Parkside districts, which sits adjacent to the southern end of Ocean Beach and the northern border of Fort Funston.
“I am extremely disappointed that the GGNRA refused to take into considera- tion the thousands of comments nor the statements from many public officials who have gone on record to say that limit- ing access to dogs and their guardians in such an extreme way is not the right solu- tion,” Tang recently wrote in an open let- ter. “I understand the need to protect our public lands and our beloved snowy plovers. But, I believe the current regula- tions along Ocean Beach are sufficient – they just have not been sufficiently en- forced. I also understand that not every- one likes to be around dogs, and would rather enjoy the public outdoors without them. That’s fine. But after this new dog management plan goes into place, we’ ll have many more people crowding our parks and streets with their dogs.
“So, many families and young children are exposed to the wonderful outdoors be- cause they regularly engage in activities such as bringing their dogs out for walks. This is how people become more engaged with the environment, and how they also learn to respect it,” Tang said.
Some people argue, however, that re- specting the environment includes both the Western Snowy Plover, an officially listed “threatened species,” and the Bank Swallow, which nests and breeds in the cliffs at Fort Funston.
“The snowy plover could easily be breeding here,” said Dominik Moser, who collects field data on both species in the area and gives guided tours. “The snowy plover could be nesting on Ocean Beach because they nest on the beaches in Pacifica and they nest on the beaches in Marin and Point Reyes. So, basically, if you give snowy plovers a stretch of sandy dunes, they will nest there if the disturbance level is low enough where they can lay eggs and those will hatch and the babies will survive.”
He noted that the beach in that area
has been eroding over the past few years, so the amount of space the birds have is becoming smaller.
“The habitat itself is already degraded and reduced. On top of that you have in- creased pressure from humans and their dogs, because there are more people with more dogs using the beaches, year by year,” Moser said. “Then, you have predators like ravens and gulls; they’ ll also eat plovers if they get a chance.”
Moser said Western Snowy Plovers fit the parameters of a threatened species.
“They winter in relatively few sites in California, and I think up to Oregon. There’s only about 3,000 of them,” he said. “The habitat that they use is subject to tides and changes in tidal patterns, changes in weather patterns. If you have several consecutive harsh winters, beach- es tend to erode, which means that they lose roosting sites. This is a bird that po- tentially could disappear.”
There are only two colonies of Bank Swallows left on the coast of California, and one of them is at the Fort Funston cliffs, where they breed in the spring and early summer.
But some question the basis for the proposed rules, claiming that the GGN- RA did no monitoring or studies to iden- tify problems and support the changes.
Suzanne Valente has been leading a pack of dog lovers fighting the changes.
“They have nothing, so, from the very beginning this was a farce” said Valente. “Our comments, we would say, ‘where’s your information? Where’s your site-spe- cific, peer-reviewed study?’ A nd they ad- mit that they don’t have it.
“Ocean Beach and Crissy Field are not critical habitat for the snowy plover. They don’t nest or breed at either location. They like to breed and nest in areas that are not real busy. They go in the dry sand up in the dunes. That provides camouflage for them,” Valente said. “There’s no reason to take away recreational ac- cess for the plover. Whatever happens at that location is not going to affect the survival of the species.”