Dog-Walking in a National Parkland? | Active Light Photography | Photo Tours to Hidden Destinations, Anasazi Ruins
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Golden Gate National Recreation Area is well-known for the beautiful landscapes it protects. Whether you’re walking along Ocean Beach or enjoying the peacefulness of Muir Woods, it’s gorgeous.

President Nixon signed GGNRA into being in 1972, collecting several parks in San Francisco and Marin counties into one entity. Additional properties there and in San Mateo County were added over the years.

Before creation of GGNRA, dog-walking on and off-leash was allowed on some of those properties. After 1972, dog walking continued largely uninterrupted, even though it was against National Park Service regulations in National Park properties. NPS recognized the issues but chose to allow the prior practices to continue.

GGNRA 1979 Pet Policy and 2011 Draft Dog Management Plan
In response to requests from dog walkers in 1978, the GGNRA Advisory Commission developed a pet policy for the park. It was adopted by NPS in 1979. The 1979 Pet Policy allowed a balance of on-leash and voice-control dog walking on specific GGNRA properties contained in the park at that time.

With additional population pressure in the San Francisco Bay Area over the last 20 years, there have been additional conflicts and lawsuits over off-leash dog use of GGNRA. This prompted the draft dog management plan of 2011, a two volume, 2,000+ page document that attempts to bring order and enforceability to dog-walking regulations at GGNRA. NPS has begun the public review and comment process for the plan with public meetings in Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

The San Francisco SPCA and other dog advocates charge that the draft dog management plan is overly-restrictive, a major departure from current use. Their complaint is that the plan would reduce off-leash dog walking below the less than 1% of park land on which it is currently allowed. They also complain that any type of dog walking would be prohibited on newly-acquired land in GGNRA unless the park service makes an exception, which they think unlikely. They see the 1979 Pet Policy as perfectly adequate, even though it has been difficult for NPS to enforce in recent years.

Explanations and Comments at a Public Meeting
I attended the public meeting at San Francisco State on March 5 to get direct experience with the conflict. I heard some grumbles that the NPS wasn’t allowing opposing groups the use of a microphone to address a public forum. And I found 12 helpful NPS staff members and rangers from GGNRA explaining the plan and the reasons behind the adoption of alternatives to attendees. Attendees wrote comments on large flip-charts or on forms provided. NPS announced an extension of the comment period from April 14 to May 29 the day before this meeting, giving the public a longer opportunity to have their say.

NPS appears to be fully considering public comments in the process of creating the management plan. They also have additional requirements imposed by the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and National Park Service Organic Act of 1916. GGNRA is home to 30 endangered species. Some, like the Western Snowy Plover, are disturbed by the simple presence of dogs, while others flee the barking or predatory scent. Pathogens in dog feces can infect wild mammals like foxes, coyotes, raccoons and skunks.

On the other side, I heard from groups who rightly point to the lack of off-leash areas for dogs in the Bay Area. GGNRA has some of the only unfenced spots where you can walk your dog off-leash. If you live in the South Bay like I do, you’re pretty much out of luck – there are no large, unfenced off-leash areas in Santa Clara County. You’ll end up in relatively small, fenced-in areas of county or city parks or municipal dog parks if you want to run your dog off-leash.

People, Dogs, and Wildlife on the Beach
After the meeting, my wife and I went to GGNRA’s Ocean Beach with our dog. We saw several other dogs on- and off-leash, all of them well-behaved. Of course, most marine species aren’t nesting for another three weeks at least, so impact was minimal.

Ocean Beach and the other parts of GGNRA are gorgeous. Should they be available to people and their dogs? Yes, with enforceable regulations appropriate to wildlife and human health protection. Will there be more arguments over what regulations are appropriate? Of course. People want to walk their dogs in a natural environment, especially near an urban area, and they always think restrictions are for someone else.

I used a Leica M8, mostly with Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH and Zeiss 25mm f/2.8 Biogon T* lenses. Maintaining sky detail while rendering texture in beach sand were my major exposure challenges, even on an overcast day. I underexposed shots with a lot of sky by 1/2 stop, and exposed for the sand in others with less sky. I shot mostly at ISO 320 to keep digital noise down, since I knew I’d be manipulating skies later in Lightroom.

The other challenge is always finding interesting features in a long, horizontal landscape like a beach. Fortunately, there were large groups of foraging willets doing their sewing-machine probing into the sand, along with people enjoying the beach with and without dogs.

I also liked black-and-white interpretations best for some images. If there’s not much color to begin with and lots of interesting textures, B&W works very well.