Leash the dogs at Bay Area parks
Sunday, May 1, 2011
The Bay Area's biggest federal park has taken on an unwinnable topic: curbing dogs along the cliffs, paths and beaches overlooking the bay and ocean. Some of the region's most beautiful outdoors comes with the roughest politics and toughest decision making.
On balance, federal authorities have it right in imposing more controls. Dogs - said to outnumber children in San Francisco - can trample undergrowth, harm wildlife and bother park visitors. Leashing dogs, instead of letting them run free, is a reasonable option in this well-used landscape.
In the abstract, that suggestion might be easy to take. But the National Park Service is getting serious after years of study and stop-and-go legal efforts. Three prime dog-running spots at Ocean Beach, Fort Funston and Crissy Field are all tagged for tighter restrictions, partial bans and leash laws. In Marin County, dogs will be barred from Muir Beach, and, in San Mateo County, animals must be leashed on a number of popular trails.
Part of the problem is abrupt change. There hasn't been serious study of dog effects on the environment since 1979, when the last policy was written. More people and more dogs now use the system, and a plan that reflects this use pattern is overdue.
This growth has brought conflicts with park visitors who complain about unruly dogs. There's also the park's mandate to safeguard nature, backed by concerns about a loss in bird-rearing areas. Free-running dogs can exact a toll, and the rangers are right to measure the effects and propose answers.
Adapting to the proposed changes - which may come about next year - will take time and patience from all sides. The fond experience of tossing a stick isn't easily dismissed.
But a busy park system needs to control a group of rambunctious visitors for the public's overall benefit. It's time to leash the dogs.