Under pressure from members of Congress and scrambling to respond to a lawsuit filed by dog owners, the National Park Service today said it would postpone the finalization of controversial dog management rules in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Park service officials said they would put the rules on hold in response to a request from members of Congress to extend the waiting period for the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which was released on Dec. 8.
The rules, which would sharply reduce the areas within the GGNRA where dog owners can walk their pets on- or off-leash, were previously expected to be finalized as early as today.
Park service officials are also working to release and review records sought by dog owners in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that has revealed that a former employee used personal email during the decision-making process, according to a spokesman.
Since learning of the issue in December, the park service has recovered around 137 pages of emails from the former employee, in addition to the 260,000 pages of documents the agency says it has already released.
“The Park Service will conduct an independent inquiry into whether personal email was used in a manner that is not consistent with applicable laws and policies, and if so, whether its use affected the planning and rulemaking processes,” the agency said in a statement today.
Dog owners and recreation advocates filed the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in April, alleging the park service was “slow walking” its response to the groups’ requests for data until after a public comment period.
The group has since posted records obtained in the lawsuit on a site called “Woofieleaks.com.” The records obtained show a biased, unfair decision-making process and destruction of records as well as the improper use of email, according to attorneys for the dog owners.
“The NPS dog management plan is plagued with legally significant procedural irregularities,” attorney Chris Carr said. “The deliberate destruction of public records, failing ‘recollections’ of computer passwords necessary to access years of documents, and the use of private emails by NPS personnel have revealed a fatally flawed, fundamentally unfair, and unlawful decision making process,” Carr said.
The agency and dog owners have been battling for years over proposed restrictions on dog walking within the 80,000-acre national recreation area, which spans Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties and includes popular dog walking areas such as Ocean Beach, Fort Funston, Crissy Field, Muir Beach and Rancho Corral de Tierra.
Park service officials have described the plan as “dog friendly,” and said it is intended to balance the needs of different park users, protect natural and cultural resources including wildlife, and increase public safety.
Dog owners groups have said that that they expect to sue to block the rules if and when they are finalized.