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GGNRA dog plan enhances diversity

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Some say limiting dog access in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area may reduce diversity within the parks, but all sides in the debate must be considered — including parkgoers who wish to enjoy the outdoors without dogs. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/2011 AP)

For more than 20 years, I have been working on efforts across the country to enhance ethnic diversity in our national parks and other public lands, with a more recent focus on connecting students to outdoor experiences and conducting research to help parks design community engagement strategies. Perhaps nowhere have I seen such a commitment by park managers to welcome all visitors than our backyard; one of our country’s premier urban national parks, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

What I see in the GGNRA is among the best of our national parks: a willingness to welcome all visitors while protecting our nationally significant resources and heritage for generations to come. The list of efforts for how they welcome “all” is commendable extending the park from the Peninsula to Marin.

A recent op-ed in the San Francisco Examiner — “Diversity at stake in fight over GGNRA” — suggested promoting off-leash dogs throughout the GGNRA’s beaches, trails and picnic areas as a strategy to increase ethnic diversity in our parks. This suggestion, however, does not align with research I’ve conducted at the GGNRA, nor does it reflect a widely known body of literature that ethnically minority populations care deeply about environmental protection, support healthy, functioning ecosystems and enjoy outdoor recreation in parks.

While there is a level of appreciation for individual experiences across cultures, constraints research across demographic lines, especially among many ethnic minority communities, shows that dogs off-leash within the GGNRA and other public lands have been a barrier to a variety of visitors and potential visitors, alike. Off-leash dogs are especially a problem, given the notion of “being in voice control” is a theory at best and exudes naiveté, in general.  

There is an increasing body of evidence revealing people who spend time with their dogs outdoors experience improved physical, mental and emotional health; yet, fears and discomfort of other visitors should not be overlooked in favor of dog owners having unlimited access in all locations. I love dogs; grew up with them my entire life. But where is the equity in all that? For example, there is no area along the exceptionally scenic Crissy Field beach for visitors to enjoy a picnic or families to recreate with their kids free of dogs and unwanted impacts, socially and environmentally.

Responsible dog owners should be reaching out to other dog owners who are not courteous, do not abide by park policies, who allow their pets to approach other visitors (assuming they “like” dogs or “my dog won’t hurt you”), and who approach park managers with antagonism rather than cooperation.  

Similarly, the unfortunate circumstances of dog owners not picking up feces of their dogs is a huge and growing problem in urban environments, in general, including GGNRA. Apart from being unsightly and smelly, studies show the presence of dog feces in public places can been linked to a number of different diseases that are naturally transmitted between animals and humans.  Unfortunately, the prevalence of “responsible dog ownership practices” across GGNRA are lacking, and this reality continues to exclude visitors who have as much right to enjoy all areas of the park, not just a few.   

Furthermore, a major community concern about dogs being exercised in public places off leash relates to many risks and fears associated with dog attacks and bites.  In some cases dogs off-leash merely generate extreme fear such as the breed or sheer size of unrestrained dogs can bite or attack, so being off-leash creates an unfair advantage to a privileged few. The issue is where and when, and what does it take for all dog owners to be more responsible in understanding why policies exist in the first place? There are a variety of places to exercise dogs’ off-leash, what does it take to abide by park policies or take these four-legged friends to other locations allowable by law?

Dogs are amazing companions and at GGNRA a special rule is being created to continue the use in a responsible manner that considers all users of the park. The new Dog Management Plan has been more than 10 years in the making, includes thousands of comments from the general public, and emanates valid and reliable ecological and social science research.  Let’s move forward together so all people can truly enjoy our national park next door, and not just a select few who would rather be self-absorbed then work in harmony to ensure everyone gets to appreciate, experience and recreate in one of the finest national parks there is.

Nina Roberts is a professor at San Francisco State University and director of the Pacific Leadership Institute.

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  • TedEd

    Typical. The author does not disclose financial arrangements for the “programs” and “research” bought and paid for by the National Park Service.

  • HMM burritos

    Another crappy op-ed about the horrible ggNRA. The new proposed plan is bad for SF.

  • California_Andrea

    The Park Service plan is to severely restrict dog walking of all kinds, including where families can walk with their dogs on leash. Since dog walking is a recreational activity practiced at places like Ft. Funston by people from all walks of life — gay and straight, young and old, all races and ethnicities — these restrictions will harm beautiful, diverse communities that already exist.

  • Free Voice

    “other visitors should not be overlooked in favor of dog owners having unlimited access in all locations.”

    wow, what planet is she living on? first of all, none of the access is “unlimited”. and second, it’s NOT in “all locations”.

    just what do people like the author think is IN the plan???? the current rules of the 1979 pet policy allow for dog walking (mix of on and off leash) on a slim slice of the GGNRA. that policy is a set of regulations that the NPS has not enforced. those regulations were formulated by a citizens advisory committee that was authorized by congress with the expressed goal of managing the GGNRA for a diverse and decidedly URBAN population–a very unique situation for the NPS. one could easily surmise that the NPS has really failed in their management of an urban recreation area. there is a reason that the 1979 pet policy was adopted in conjunction with the 1980 general management plan. anyone asserting that we are in a sort of “lawless” state right now is just speaking factually.

    as far as diversity goes, i do see that dog walking is probably the single most diverse activity in the GGNRA. just sunday, while hiking the coastal trail between muir beach and pirates cove, i passed three different groups. they all had dogs on leash–which they won’t be able to do if this plan goes through. the first was a group of hawaiian young people. the second was a group of italians. and the third was two mixed race lesbian women, and their two mixed race children with three well behaved rescue dogs. i stopped this last group and asked them if they knew about the plans that would ban the coastal trail from use for people with even a leashed dog. they were aghast. they had no idea, and said they came from the city and that this was their favorite walk as a family. and their approx. 6 year old son said, “what does ‘ban’ mean?” and looked very unhappy as he tried to imagine not being allowed to do something so fun that wasn’t harming anyone! most park visitors are too sedentary to even make this strenuous walk!

    there is nothing fair or balanced about this plan. nothing. i’m on the beaches and trails almost daily, cleaning up mountains of garbage left on the beaches and trails of the GGNRA that the park service never picks up. the human garbage left behind (way to go NPS! go ahead and pull garbage cans off of ocean beach!) is worse by a mile. i pick up dirty diapers buried in sand, syringes, discarded underwear, human toilet paper left in bushes along trails (sorry, i won’t touch the human feces that i see with alarming regularity!), cases of beer bottles….on and on. the GGNRA, with its focus on philanthropy to pay for new visitor centers, interpretive exhibits and “keep out” signs has a cash-flow problem that is the DIRECT result of reliance on philanthropy. i think it’s called “shrinking government” and “service level adjustments” as gw bush called it. has no one noticed that aside from all the shiny “enhancements” provided by a bloated Golden gate National Parks Conservancy, that the GGNRA reduced its maintenance staff from 11 down to 3? has anyone noticed that the GGNRA is shifting their management to be more “hands off” so that it’s less expensive? your tax dollars are now going to polish conservancy capital improvements, and not for maintenance and operations that truly maintain the GGNRA for access.

    this is an urban area. we better start getting along and being more tolerant of things we don’t prefer. public spaces are for all to enjoy. luckily for those who are truly afraid of dogs, there are PLENTY of places to go in the GGNRA that don’t allow dogs. if the park service really perceives a problem, they could institute time of use restrictions or some other creative way to balance need and reduce conflict in our increasingly crowded urban recreation area.

  • TedEd

    Not sure how the author reconciles kicking out minorities who walk dogs in the GGNRA to make room for minorities who apparently don’t. And why would minorities who care for environmental protection exclude minorities who walk dogs? The author also fails to disclose a financial relationship with the National Park Service.

  • 2of3jays

    I would like to share a different opinion on your statement. Under present conditions, I, a non-pet owner, would avoid going to Fort Funston because first of it stinks like a dog run that is seldom hosed down. Secondly, there are dogs running everywhere and distracted and often territorial owners who give strangers sans dogs the evil eye. I would like to hike the trails and enjoy the nature, views, the bank swallows and the endless see from Ft. Funston but as long as it is so degraded, smells so bad and has so many dogs running every6where, I won’t be going. Me and thousands like me. And this is MY national park too but I am not made comfortable there by certain behaviors of a certain user. So your diversity argument is really only about a single interest user – a dog owner.

  • 2of3jays

    Frankly, I think GGNRA’s plan is good for the 14, 999,999 other types of users who do not have a dog and do not want a dog interfering with their enjoyment of a very special place, part of an internationally important Biosphere Reserve; one of only 35 in the world. Walk your dog in your neighborhood. He or she will still love to go out –

  • BirdsAndBees

    I totally agree, 2of3jays. Fort Funston has the potential to be an amazing place but it is completely overrun by dogs and is even often referred to as a “dog park”, which I think is sad. I know many people who do not go there because of the dog insanity.

  • Stupendous Bob

    Roberts is a paid shill for the Park Service. From her own web bio: “Nina came to SFSU from the National Park Service (NPS) where she began her work. [S]he continues to enjoy supporting the NPS, and park partners, as a social
    scientist … [and] She is an Advisory Council member of the NPCA
    Center for Park Management.”