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.
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.”
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.