Feds tighten leash laws on dogs in San Francisco and the Peninsula

The federal government proposes to drastically reduce where dogs can roam off leash in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and limit the number of animals that professionals can walk at one time to as few as three.

See full maps of the proposal.

In The City, for instance, people who want to let their dogs roam freely at Fort Funston would be limited to a stretch of shoreline and a section by the parking lot. And off-leash enjoyment would be prohibited entirely at Lands End and Baker Beach, which currently allow animals to be managed by voice control.

The suggestions are part of a 2,388-page, 14-pound draft environmental impact report outlining the proposed rules at 21 federal open spaces in San Francisco, San Mateo and  Marin counties.

Also, the recreation area is proposing that dog owners at Ocean Beach, Fort Mason and four other open spaces in The City abide by more-constricting rules.

The new system is meant to strike a balance between park landscape, native wildlife and the 16 million visitors — which includes dog owners and hang-glider users — who visit the park’s open spaces each year.

“We have to balance the varying views and needs of all these millions of users,” said GGNRA spokesman Howard Levitt. “But the important thing to remember is that this is absolutely a draft.”

Members of the public will have 90 days to comment on the proposal starting Friday. Once the proposal is reissued with more specifics and more time for public comment later this year, the rule changes could be adopted by fall 2012.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Levitt said.

Perhaps the greatest proposed changes affect professional dog walkers, who make a living by walking as many as 10 dogs at a time. The report proposes that all professionals be limited to three dogs unless they apply for a permit, which would bump the limit to a maximum of six.

In 1979, a recreation-area advisory committee approved rules that allowed dogs to be off leash in specific sites if under voice control. In 2001, the park attempted to strengthen its leash guidelines, but a federal court later ruled that it must draft an environmental impact report first.

Park officials said they will enforce the new system by spending about $900,000 a year on signs and patrols. And they hope that everyone will be considerate enough to play by the rules.

Dog-walking groups have been on edge for years in anticipation of the plan.

“Dogs have been in the GGNRA for literally decades if not centuries,” said Sally Stephens of SF Dog Owners. “We can all get along.”


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