Do the Presidio’s new dog walking rules go far enough?

by on April 02, 2013

The Presidio Trust is limiting commercial dog walking starting this summer. Photo: The Moonstone Archive/Flickr.
The Presidio Trust is limiting commercial dog walking starting this summer. Photo: The Moonstone Archive/Flickr.

It’s well-known that San Francisco is a city of dog owners. And since few urbanites have yards or the time to adequately exercise their pets, someone has to (so to speak) let the dogs out.

Professional dog walkers make their moolah off of pent up pooches. San Francisco’s decision to curb the enterprise starting this summer went through without a hitch, but the same cannot be said for the federally-owned Presidio, which is adopting the city’s commercial dog walking rules. A group of environmentalists say the rules don’t go far enough to protect the park’s sensitive habitat and are instead calling for severely restricting commercial dog walking in the Presidio.

“What’s happening right now is rampant chaos and anarchy as far as pet usage of the park,” says Peter Brastow, founding director of Nature in the City. “Addressing this is at the top of our agenda right now.”

Brastow is part of the Presidio Environmental Council, an ad-hoc conservation group that collaborates on issues as they arise. Members come from a variety of environmental groups, including Nature in the City, the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society. The groups say that the Presidio, with its ample open space and rich biodiversity of native plants and animals, is no place for dogs to be romping through.

“This basically legitimizes the commercial practice as opposed to asking whether it is a good thing or not,” says Brastow.

Not so fast, say folks at the Presidio Trust, the managers of the Presidio. Trust spokesperson Joshua Steinberger said the decision to implement city rules was meant to prevent an influx of dog walkers looking to skirt the city’s rules at other parks.

“It’s a misunderstanding that our proposal invites more commercial dog walking into the Presidio,” says Steinberger. “Our concern is that when the city puts their regulation into effect, if we remain unregulated, there will be an incentive to come here.”

The Trust plans to begin enforcing the new regulations as soon as the city does. Once implemented, commercial dog walkers – anyone walking four or more dogs at a time –will be required to carry registration and limit the number of dogs to a maximum of eight per walker. Violators are subject to a citation.

The Presidio Tust has been restoring native plants and improving habitat. Photo: Shockingly Tasty/Flickr.

The Presidio Tust has been restoring native plants and improving habitat. Photo: Shockingly Tasty/Flickr.

For the Presidio Trust, protecting the 1,500-acre park from excess dog walking is a complicated matter. The Trust doesn’t actually control all the parkland in the Presidio. A good chunk of it is under the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a federal agency that controls most of the beaches along the San Francisco shoreline (and western Marin). The GGNRA has for years been trying to further restrict commercial and recreational dog walking, but its latest attempt has been delayed due to an outpouring of public comment and the acquisition of new park land in San Mateo. That’s left the Presidio Trust in limbo waiting for GGNRA rules to go through.

“This is something we took upon ourselves as a sort of stop-gap solution,” said Steinberger of the decision to adopt the city’s rules. “We want to make sure we have a level playing field, so we aren’t overburdened.”

While there is new signage denoting particularly sensitive areas – like Snowy Plover resting spaces or newly planted native dune scrub – as well as some trails that outright ban dogs, GGNRA and Trust spokespersons admitted the signs served more as suggestions than strident rules.

“As it stands, dog policies are the same as they have been since 1979,” says Alexandra Picavet, a GGNRA spokesperson. “It’s hard to say right now how many people are ‘breaking the laws’ in regard to having dogs in the Presidio. So, for the Trust to uphold city policy is a step towards controlling misuse.”

Even for well-intentioned dog-walkers, two sets of rules at the Presidio could be tricky to follow. How do you know whether you’re on Presidio Trust land versus GGNRA land? There is no demarcation.

“It’s hard for people to understand where the rules intersect within the Presidio,” says Picavet. “We don’t want to confuse people about what we are trying to do.”

Apparently dogs in the Presidio date back as far as 1950, as evidenced by this pet cemetery in the shadow of the elevated Doyle Drive. Photo: Wayne Hsieh.

Apparently dogs in the Presidio date back as far as 1950, as evidenced by this pet cemetery in the shadow of the elevated Doyle Drive. Photo: Wayne Hsieh.

But some people are confused, and remain unconvinced that any proposed “dog management plan” in the park sufficiently protects its natural areas.

“It’s a national park, and the activity is not for the benefit of park users,” says Brastow. “It’s exploitation of public land –as opposed to other controversial things in the park like a café, where people are actually going and enjoying themselves –this is ecological impact on a natural area.”

Steven Krefting, another member of the Presidio Environmental Council, is concerned that the conversation will never happen in the right way, especially due to the complicated land division and jurisdiction in the Presidio.

“I think a lot of us personally would not want to see commercial dog walking in the park at all,” says Krefting. “It’s hard for us to imagine it not having an impact on park resources.”

Heather Mack is an editorial intern and contributor at Bay Nature.

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Stephen Sayad on April 3rd, 2013 at 3:52 pm

There are several misnomers in your article. First and foremost, the 1979 Pet Policy is the land of the land when it comes to off leash recreation in the GGNRA, including the Presidio. The Presidio is part of the GGNRA; portions thereof are simply managed by different agencies. For the law on point, see the decision in United States v. Barley at The only off leash area in the Presidio proper in West Pacific Avenue. As to changing the historic use of the Presidio, the Trust cannot simply adopt City rules. As the Barley decision makes clear, when a federal agency wishes to change historic or highly controversial land use, it must go through the rulemaking process. Any ad hoc rules adopted by the PT would be illegal. Just one last note: the use of the term “sensitive” habitat has no legal or scientific meaning. Under the EPA, habitat is either critical or not. There is nothing in between. Because the tidelands at Crissy Field are not critical habitat for the Snowy Plover, the restrictions implemented as “emergency” regulations for ten months out of the year will eventually be stricken down.

Heather Mack on April 5th, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Stephen, thank you for your comment! This is a very confusing and complicated issue-as there are multiple jurisdictions operating within the GGNRA- and the purpose of this article was to explain what measures the City, Presidio Trust and GGNRA are taking to address the presence of dogs in the Presidio (in relation to how the City is dealing with it). As far as sensitive habitat, there was no intention to assign any legal connotations to it, but thank you for clarifying that for readers. Thanks for weighing in!

L. K. on April 7th, 2013 at 8:01 pm

It’s a shame that new laws are targeting the professional dog walkers. As a resident of the Presidio the professionals tend to keep their dogs on trails and on leash. It’s people walking through with one dog that let them go off leash and off the trails. The Presidio has leash laws in some areas but does nothing to enforce that.

Jeff Miller on April 11th, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Stephen – you have no idea what you are talking about and are spreading misinformation. First off, the EPA does not administer “critical habitat” for federally protected species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does. The idea that protections for listed species such as the snowy plover are not valid if they are not in critical habitat is a complete fabrication. Federal protections for the plover under the Endangered Species Act are not going to be stricken down just because plovers are not in a “critical habitat” area. You lack a basic knowledge about endangered species and their protections. You clearly have no idea of the meaning or definition of critical habitat. “Sensitive” habitat does have a scientific meaning. “Critical habital” has a legal meaning under federal law. The law of the land is the federal Endangered Species Act, then the GGNRA rules and policies. Any local ordinances have to be in compliance with the federal laws. Dogs should not be allowed anywhere near any habitat for endangered species, at any time, under any conditions. Off-leash and uncotrolled dogs are one of the reasons snowy plovers are doing so poorly in California and the Bay Area in particular, especially at Crissy Field!

Trystan Addison on April 15th, 2013 at 1:20 am

Thank you for clarifying this, I’m on the same page as you (minus the insulting Stephen part). After reading Stephen’s remark I thought something was amiss…

Jeff Miller on April 15th, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Not trying to insult anyone, I’m just tired of people with an anti-conservation agenda spreading deliberate misinformation or bad information because they are too lazy to do some basic research. On every conservation issue I work on in the Bay Area I deal with a constant stream of allegations and misinformation from people like Stephen (whether well intentioned or not).

Stephen Sayad on July 30th, 2013 at 11:00 am

Jeff Miller, you miss the point completely. If the Presidio Trust wishes to take away the only off leash (voice control) area in the Presidio (West Pacific Avenue), it must go through the rulemaking process set forth in the Code of Federal Regulation (notice, public comment, and non-arbitrary action based on public comment). It cannot simply adopt a City regulation and impose it. Second, the so-called “environmental” movement continues to use the term “sensitive habitat” in order to mislead people into thinking that it has a legal or scientific meaning, and it does not. The GGNRA has signs at various locations stating “Sensitive habitat” when there is no such thing. As for any critical habitat for the Western Snowy Plover, there is none in the SF Bay Area. Despite the attempts of the GGNRA to get such designation at Crissy Field, US Fish & Wildlife refuses, year after year, to designate Crissy Field as critical habitat. At the hearing on the appeal in United States v. Barley in June 2005, Judge Alsup pointedly asked counsel for the government whether it was contending that formal rulemaking was not required to change the 1979 Pet Policy because of an “emergency” under the CFRs. The answer was “no.” Yet no more than six months later, the GGNRA designated, under emergency authority, the most westerly portion of Crissy Field and 2.2 miles of Ocean Beach, as an “emergency” involving the Plover. Under Ninth Circuit law, an “emergency” is akin to someone breaking into your home. No such condition exists at Crissy or Ocean Beach with respect to the Plover. The GGNRA lied to the Court and illegally implemented an emergency provision. It will be dealt with in subsequent litigation. You also consistently call people trying to retain the 1979 Pet Policy as anti-environmentalists. I happen to specialize in representing citizen enforcers of Proposition 65, so you should reevaluate your remarks. The 1979 Pet Policy provides adequate protection for endangered species, if you would stop to read it and the compendium amendments to it. Again there is no critical habitat for the Plover in the SF Bay Area. Please get your facts straight.

Stephen Sayad on July 30th, 2013 at 11:07 am

Let me add one more important point to the question of the science on interaction between the Plover and off leash dogs. The Warren report, commissioned by the GGNRA, is one of the only objective pieces on point. It was conducted by UC Berkeley. Despite the preconceptions of the authors, the study found no correlation between the feeding habits of the Plover and off leash dogs. Yet in the current rulemaking process, the GGNRA has made no reference to its own commissioned report. Not much different than what it did at Drake’s Bay. When the science and facts do not fit its agenda, the federal government simply buries them. Have a read of that report and then explain why it is not cited (while others are) in the 2,400 page DEIS devoted solely to the effects of dogs on the Plover. That is your tax money hard at work. And despite going through the rulemaking process and getting public comment in favor of keeping the 2979 Pet Policy in place, the GGNRA is now redoing the entire process in order to again try to get the result it would like but cannot obtain. Again, your tax dollars hard at work.

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