Will Golden Gate National Recreation Area plan unleash dog apocalypse?

If you fear romping dogs and poop on your shoe, then beware of a U.S. National Park Service plan that will overrun your neighborhood parks with thousands more dogs.

The Park Service manages much of San Francisco’s coast, which dog lovers have used as a recreation outlet for decades. But tiny shorebirds that scamper at the surf don’t mix with dogs chasing balls. Nor do fledgling crops of native plants that are being reintroduced on the land.

So the Park Service wants to severely curtail where dogs can go along the coast, both on and off leash. Canines are currently separated from the threatened snowy plover during the bird’s nesting months. But the new plan will ban all dogs from three-quarters of Ocean Beach year-round.

This will force more dogs into already cramped city parks, where inadequate off-leash space will encourage illegal dog runs and elevate tensions in a town famous for having more canines than kids.

Letting San Francisco’s 150,000 dogs spread out at the coast provides an important safety valve. The Park Service reported 17 million visits on its Bay Area land last year and just nine dog bites. That’s a statistical success we shouldn’t mess with.

Whether you like dogs or not, there’s another reason to oppose the Park Service’s dog plan: It’s not really about dogs. It’s about keeping people from enjoying the coast. After all, dogs don’t go to Fort Funston by themselves.

Our coastal land is officially called the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, but the name has become inconvenient. Many forms of recreation aren’t in line with new priorities like native plant restoration. That’s why the GGNRA has been trying to drop “Recreation” from its name. A coalition of dog owners, equestrians, surfers and kayakers are trying to stop a name change because they know the restrictions on coastal recreation won’t end with dogs.

Everyone can agree we must be good stewards of the environment. It’s reasonable to preserve areas where native plants still exist. But trying to resurrect plants where they’ve been absent for more than a century is a bad idea because nature evolves. Plants that thrived here long ago might not anymore. Playing Mother Nature is a costly game with no guarantees.

A “Natural Areas Program” that makes sense in Yosemite isn’t suited for a city of 825,000 people. Space is limited and we can’t afford to sacrifice open space that could be used for more playgrounds or picnic areas.

Besides, not much in San Francisco is natural. Not our homes, roads or even our trees. Golden Gate Park was entirely sand dunes. Should we return to that?

The GGNRA, which oversees areas in San Francisco and up into Marin County, wants to create a “back-country” experience in San Francisco where you hike in and pack out everything. Unnatural trash bins or benches won’t clutter the trails. It’s a nice concept in Yosemite. But in a city, not all families picnic with backpacks and seniors need a place to sit.

That’s why Congress set up the GGNRA in 1972 as an “urban recreational area” after the military gave up control of the coast.

Congress was clear that the GGNRA must “concentrate on the outdoor recreational needs of the people.” The legislation mentioned playing catch with dogs, not growing native plants.

The Board of Supervisors recently voted to oppose the GGNRA plan. City lawmakers no longer have authority over the federal land — but they could again.

When San Francisco transferred the land to the GGNRA, a condition was added to the deed: “So long as said real property is reserved and used for recreation or park purposes.” If the GGNRA continues to ignore its recreation mandate, San Francisco could claim a violation of the deed and take the land back.

If maintaining the coast won’t fit City Hall’s budget, there’s another option. We can ask our representatives U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier to hold the GGNRA to its original promise. Or Congress can give the management of our coast to a federal agency that’s more recreation-friendly than the GGNRA.

Dog owners are united to save all kinds of recreation at the coast. Will people who don’t like dogs join them in common cause?

Joel Engardio lives west of Twin Peaks. Follow his blog at www.engardio.com. Email him at jengardio@sfexaminer.com.

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