Celebrating a Big Win for Dogs and Their People

National Park Service overrules restrictive dog policy
By Claudia Kawczynska, October 2017, Updated June 2021

We just got the great news that affects not only dog lovers in the SF Bay Area but those who might be planning dog-friendly trips here. After a long drawn out battle with the National Park Service that we have covered in detail, the NPS has decided to drop their onerous and ill-conceived “rulemaking process” for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and go back to their 1979 pet policy, one that is a much more welcoming to us and our dogs.

What the GGNRA and some of their supporters were trying to do was nothing short of turning a national recreation area into a more restrictive national park. They aren’t the same thing. The GGNRA is surely a national treasure but it is also parkland that serves the citizens of the Bay Area long before it became the GGNRA. Created by Congress in 1972, back then it was made up of a mix of land in San Francisco and Marin Counties, to “concentrate on serving the outdoor recreation needs of the people of the metropolitan area.” It was part of a Nixon administration’s farsighted campaign to “bring parks to the people” and increase outdoor recreation in urban areas. San Francisco also gave Ocean Beach to the National Park Service (NPS) for inclusion in the GGNRA. What is important to note, is that when they did that, they required that the NPS promise to protect and preserve the land’s traditional recreational uses, inclouding off-leash dog walking.

The 1979 rules allowed people to walk dogs, including off-leash dogs, at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, Fort Funston, Marin’s Muir and Rodeo Beaches, and on miles of trails in the Marin Headlands—somewhat less than 1 percent of the total holdings. Those were the rules that the “rulemaking” process were attempting to abrogate. But it took a long, concerted, multiyear effort from thousands of dog lovers, their attorneys, many elected officials (including notably, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, whose district includes a portion of the GGNRA) and many others to stop this takeover.

So we all are celebrating here. We often go to Crissy Field with our three dogs, where all of us, humans and dogs alike marvel at the long expanse of pristine beach with its vistas of the Golden Gate and how well all the users get along. Dogs fetch, fisherpeople fish, joggers run, couples stroll, SUPers row, tots dig, recreation at its finest. Why try to change that?


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Below is the release from the NPS:

National Park Service News Release

Date:         October 19, 2017

Contact:    newsmedia@nps.gov


National Park Service ends effort to update regulations on dogs at Golden Gate National Recreation Area


WASHINGTON - Today, the National Park Service (NPS) announced it has permanently ended a planning and rulemaking process intended to establish new regulations related to dog management at Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) in California. The decision follows the completion of an independent review of the dog rule planning and rulemaking process.


In its report, the independent review team concluded that the use of personal email by NPS employees to conduct official business was inappropriate, but the emails the team reviewed ultimately did not influence the outcome of the planning and rulemaking process. However, NPS officials, with the support of the Department of the Interior leadership, concluded that it is no longer appropriate to proceed with the rulemaking process.


"We can do better and in the interest of upholding the highest standard of transparency and trust with our Bay Area neighbors, we have determined that it is no longer appropriate to continue with the current dog management rulemaking process at Golden Gate National Recreation Area," said NPS acting Director Michael Reynolds.


In January, the National Park Service asked an independent group of experts in government planning efforts to review the use of personal email accounts for official communications related to the Dog Management Plan planning and rulemaking process. Additionally, the NPS took several steps to educate staff about the importance of conducting official business using official email accounts. In May, a memo from Acting Director Reynolds was sent to every agency employee to highlight the importance of ethical behavior and appropriate use of email.


GGNRA will continue to enforce existing pet regulations detailed in a 1979 pet policy and the Superintendent's Compendium. The current regulations allow visitors to walk managed dogs under voice or leash control in specific areas of the park. The nationwide National Park Service regulation requiring dogs to be on-leash will apply to areas not covered by the 1979 policy. The NPS has also adopted two special regulations that modify the 1979 policy for parts of Crissy Field and Ocean Beach. For the time being, the interim permit requirement for commercial dog walkers will remain in effect.


In 2002, the park began enforcing the National Park Service's nationwide pet regulation, but a 2005 federal district court decision found that the park could not rescind its 1979 pet policy without first completing a rulemaking process. The park's subsequent decision to examine alternatives to the 1979 pet policy triggered the Dog Management Plan environmental review and the associated rulemaking process. A final rule was anticipated in early 2017 but was placed on hold in January, pending completion of the NPS initiated independent review to determine whether the use of personal email by park employees affected the planning and rulemaking processes.


The report and the information that the review team considered are available to the public here. GGNRA's existing pet regulations are available here.


Photo by Cameron Woo

Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.

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