Official SFDOG Comment on the GGNRA SEIS
02/18/2014 - 4:18pm
February 17, 2014
GGNRA, Building 201
San Francisco, CA 94123
COMMENT: DRAFT DOG MANAGEMENT PLAN/SUPPLEMENTAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT
Dear Superintendent Dean,
I am writing this public comment on the GGNRA’s Draft Dog Management Plan/Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) as Chair and on behalf of of the San Francisco Dog Owners Group. SFDOG is the largest citywide dog owners/guardians group in the City, with a thousand active members, and at least a thousand more that we reach regularly through our emailed newsletters and listserves. SFDOG pushes for responsible dog guardianship, and advocates for off-leash recreation for dogs that are under voice control. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and work to educate dog guardians, non-dog people, and elected and appointed officials about responsible dog guardianship and the benefits of having a dog in our modern, often isolated, society. We have organized workshops on how to deal with the three most common dog behavior problems seen in parks (poor recall, jumping, and resource guarding), and publish a Park Petiquette flyer (how to behave in a park with your dog) that has been posted in city parks for years.
We conducted a Dog-Horse Socialization workshop to desensitize dogs to the presence of horses. This workshop was conducted in conjunction with the SF Police Department’s Mounted Patrol unit, who provided the horses and riders for it. We organized workshops on understanding dog body language and behavior for gardeners and rec center staff of the SF Recreation and Park Department. We helped design and implement a pilot “Kids Read to Dogs” program (called Pawsitive Reading) with the SF Boys and Girls Clubs to foster literacy in at-risk populations of children. We work with members of the SF Board of Supervisors, along with SF Recreation and Park Department staff and other park advocates, on dog issues in parks and elsewhere in the city. SFDOG had two representatives on the GGNRA’s Negotiated Rulemaking Committee, and has been involved in off-leash and other dog-related issues in the GGNRA for over a decade.
The SEIS for a new Dog Management Plan is so extraordinarily poorly done, it, frankly, should be an embarrassment to the GGNRA and the National Park Service (NPS). It is fatally flawed and cannot be used to justify any management decision or policy.
Three years ago, I used those same words to describe the DEIS. I suggested the DEIS be thrown out and redone in an unbiased, science-based way. Unfortunately, nearly all the criticisms I leveled at the DEIS also apply to the SEIS. Faced with significant substantive criticisms of the DEIS, the GGNRA chose to make only minor changes in the SEIS. Clearly, they did not adequately respond to the substantive criticisms of the DEIS made in many public comments, including mine. The GGNRA has proven that it cannot produce an unbiased, science-based EIS. The SEIS and the Dog Management Plan it supports must, once again, be thrown out.
THE SEIS DOES NOT INCLUDE A SUMMARY OF THE DEIS COMMENTS
Both the SEIS and the DEIS Comment Response Report mention the total number of comments about the DEIS that they received (over 4,700 pieces of correspondence). Neither document gives an overall summary of the comments – how many comments opposed the GGNRA’s Dog Management Plan? How many supported it? How many supported off-leash dog walking? How many opposed it? The DEIS Comment Response Report does include a list of sample comments to give a “flavor” of the overall comments, but there is no “tally” of how common those comment were.
The description of public comments on the ANPR on p. 9 of the SEIS indicates that 71% of the respondents favored off-leash dog walking at selected sites in the GGNRA. This allows you to get an overall sense of the public comment and to put it in some kind of context. There is no similar overall summary of the public comment on the DEIS.
An independent analysis of the DEIS comments showed that they were overwhelmingly opposed to the GGNRA’s proposed Dog Management Plan and overwhelmingly supportive of dog walking, including off-leash. You would never know that, however, from reading either the SEIS or the DEIS Comment Response Report. Every time there has been public comment (the ANPR, the DEIS), it favors dog walking, yet the GGNRA continues to push to restrict access for people with dogs against the will of the people.
THE GGNRA DID NOT ADEQUATELY RESPOND TO COMMENTS ON THE DEIS
Comments on the DEIS made by SFDOG and other dog owners and walkers raised many issues that the DEIS did not consider, e.g., human health benefits and community building aspects of dog walking, and negative impacts on nearby city parks. These comments are listed in the DEIS Comment Response Report as substantive. However, nowhere in the SEIS or in the DEIS Comment Response Report is there a clear explanation of how those substantive comments were considered, what role they played in the revised SEIS impact analysis, or even if they were considered at all or merely dismissed without reason.
For example, the DEIS Comment Response Report identifies Concern ID #30445 (p. 335): “If the proposed restrictions were implemented, it would result in the loss of a community of dog walkers. Many visitors felt this community was their main tie to the GGNRA, and for many, it is a main channel of social interaction. Visitors felt the loss of this community would have a negative impact on their quality of life.” The Response to this Comment given on p. 336 is: “Comments were considered during revision of impact analysis. Please see Chapter 4, Visitor Use and Experience for details.”
Yet when you read Chapter 4, Visitor Use and Experience, there is no detailed discussion about how these comments about community were included in the alternative evaluations or even if they were considered at all. There is what amounts to a simple list of comments made by visitors who like walking with dogs that includes “community”. However, there is no way to tell, when reading the discussions of impacts of the various alternatives at each site, whether any consideration was given to the effects of each alternative on the social community of dog walkers. Chapter 4, Visitor Use and Experience does not give the details that the DEIS Comment Response Report said it would.
Similarly, concerns in the DEIS Comment Response Report about the human health benefits of dog walking and negative impacts on human health of restrictions on dog walking (e.g., p. 154) refer to Chapter 4, Human Health and Safety in the SEIS for details as to how they were considered. Yet again, when you go to Chapter 4, Human Health and Safety, you find another list of comments that include the human health benefits of dog walking, while the analyses of the alternatives at each site focus entirely on dog bites and unruly dogs, with no mention of positive human health benefits from dog walking or of negative impacts on human health from restrictions on dog walking.
As I said in my DEIS comment, NEPA law requires the GGNRA to consider impacts on humans, including human health and social community in an EIS:
• Human environment shall be interpreted comprehensively to include the natural and physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment. (see the definition of effects (1508.8).) 40 CFR 1508.14
• Effects and impacts as used in these regulations are synonymous. Effects include ecological (such as the effects on natural resources and on the components, structures, and functioning of affected ecosystems), aesthetic, historic, cultural, social, or health, whether direct, indirect, or cumulative. 40 CFR 1508.8 (emphasis added)
It is not enough to merely provide a list of sample DEIS comments made in the SEIS. There is no way to tell from the DEIS Comment Response Report or the SEIS whether the GGNRA actually considered impacts on human health or social community. The GGNRA’s failure to adequately address my DEIS comments indicates the SEIS is as flawed as the DEIS, and it and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE GGNRA IGNORED DEIS COMMENTS THAT SHOWED MISLEADING CITATIONS THAT BIASED THE ANALYSIS AGAINST DOGS
In a DEIS public comment dated May 17, 2011, Keith McAllister listed over 15 cases of incorrect or misleading citations of articles that the DEIS claimed showed negative impacts from dogs on vegetation and wildlife. He showed, by quoting from the source articles, how the way the DEIS referred to these articles was misleading or inaccurate, or that the articles cited did not include evidence to back claims made in statements. Sadly, these same misleading citations appear in the SEIS, word for word the same as in the DEIS. In particular, citations of Sime 1999 are repeated over and over in the SEIS (in particular from pp. 374 – 378), despite McAllister’s proof in his DEIS comment that her quoted statements are not supported by evidence in the reference cited or refer to impacts on “sensitive alpine habitat” that are not found in the GGNRA. Similarly, McAllister showed in his DEIS comment that citations of Miller et al. 2001 that say the articles shows that dogs disturb wildlife more than people alone and that dogs increase a person’s radius of disturbance are, in fact, incorrect. Miller et al 2001 actually showed the opposite – that dogs disturbed birds less than people with dogs or people alone. Yet the incorrect DEIS claim recurs in the SEIS on p. 376. The fact the SEIS repeated the same, misleading citations that McAllister debunked in his DEIS comment without change is further evidence the GGNRA did not adequately respond to the DEIS comments. All of the misleading citations push the analysis in one direction only – dog walking is bad. Not a single misleading citation would lead you to say dog walking is beneficial. This is not just sloppy work; it is outright bias in the analysis. That kind of bias has no place in an EIS. Therefore the SEIS and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE SEIS OFFERS NO SITE-SPECIFIC EVIDENCE OF IMPACTS FROM DOGS
The SEIS, like the DEIS before it, offers no solid, site-specific evidence that dogs, and especially off-leash dogs, are causing major environmental or safety impacts. Instead, it lists impacts that dogs “could”, “might”, and “can” cause, while offering no evidence any are actually occurring now in the GGNRA or ever have.
For example, the SEIS says, on p. 373: “Site-specific, peer-reviewed studies have not been conducted at the GGNRA sites for the sole purpose of documenting impacts to vegetation or soils from dogs.” And on p. 376: “Very few site-specific, peer-reviewed studies have been conducted at GGNRA for the purpose of documenting impacts to wildlife as a result of dogs.” Yet the SEIS claims, without supporting evidence, that the GGNRA must restrict access to people with dogs to protect vegetation and wildlife from dogs. An EIS is supposed to be a site-specific technical planning document, based on hard evidence of actual impacts and effects. This SEIS does not come close to that description.
The SEIS, on p. 373, goes on to say: “… during the past six years, park staff has amassed scientific and technical information that is available on dog management-related topics.” In other words, GGNRA staff spent the last six years doing literature searches for articles about impacts from dogs on vegetation and wildlife at sites that may or may not be relevant to conditions in the GGNRA. In those same six years, however, GGNRA staff could have done actual studies at the GGNRA sites that would show whether or not the impacts are actually occurring. Yet GGNRA staff chose not to do any site-specific studies.
The SEIS uses the results of the literature searches to describe impacts that “could”, “might”, or “may” occur in the GGNRA. But, of course, because they’ve not done any site-specific studies, they cannot say that any of these impacts are actually occurring in the GGNRA now or that they ever have.
As mentioned above, the literature citations in the SEIS, like those in the DEIS, are often misleading, inaccurate, or misrepresent what was said in the cited reference. Many misleading citations were mentioned in DEIS comments, but were still repeated in the SEIS.
The SEIS does contain additional references not cited in the DEIS. However, many of these are also misleading. For example, the SEIS on p. 1231 cites a 1998 Northern Virginia Planning District Commission report: “For example, in the 20-square-mile Four Mile Run watershed in Northern Virginia, a dog population of 11,400 has been identified as a major contributor of [fecal coliform] bacteria in the watershed.” However, a later study that used DNA analysis of the bacteria detected found that dogs actually contributed less fecal bacteria to the watershed than waterfowl and humans. Don Waye, in Bacteria Source Investigation in an Urban Watershed: DNA Sleuthing in Four Mile Run (Northern Virginia Regional Commission, December 14, 2000), found that waterfowl accounted for 37 percent of the coliform, humans 17 percent, raccoons 15 percent, deer 10 percent, and dogs 9 percent. Dogs were not a major contributor. The reference in the SEIS should be removed as it was proven by the later study (not referenced in the SEIS) to be wrong.
Frankly, given the problems with the literature citations in the SEIS, I do not think they can be used to justify any restrictions on access for people with dogs.
Without evidence of actual, site-specific impacts, the GGNRA’s insistence on changing recreational access for people with dogs can only be described as arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion. Government agencies cannot act without good cause and solid evidence backing up the decision. Because that is sorely lacking in this case, the SEIS and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE SEIS USES ANECDOTES TO “PROVE” IMPACTS FROM DOGS
Given the lack of site-specific, peer-reviewed evidence that dogs cause impacts, the SEIS cites anecdotal reports from GGNRA staff of “observed” impacts. For example, on p. 375, the SEIS says: “In conclusion, very little peer-reviewed literature exists documenting disturbance to vegetation and soils specifically as a result of domestic dogs in recreational/park settings. However, NPS rangers have observed dogs affecting soils and vegetation at GGNRA sites.” No other information is given. How many dogs? Was it 10 dogs or 10,000? What were they doing? We don’t know because the SEIS doesn’t say. Because it doesn’t say, there’s no way to know whether these “observations” represent a significant impact or not. Frankly, I expected a rigorous scientific analysis of impacts in the SEIS, not anecdotal stories.
Similarly, the SEIS includes anecdotal stories of impacts from the DEIS comments to support its claims of impacts from dogs. For example, on p. 1231, the SEIS says: “Currently, adverse impacts on visitor human health and safety from dog-related pathogens exist at all park sites considered in this draft plan/SEIS.” The only evidence to support this statement are anecdotes from DEIS commenters, e.g., “At San Francisco General Hospital, we have seen over the years innumerable dog bites and many of these parasitic and bacterial infections transmitted by dogs.” Sounds bad. But, because it is an anecdote, rather than a peer-reviewed study or official statistic, there is no way to judge the comment’s veracity. Yet it is presented in the SEIS as “proof” of an impact. There’s a reason public policy is based on science not anecdotes. Because the SEIS relies so heavily on anecdotal accounts of impacts, it and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE SEIS RELIES ON BIASED GGNRA STAFF JUDGMENTS TO DETERMINE IMPACTS FROM DOGS
The DEIS Comment Response Report says on p. 134: “In lieu of site-specific data, research methods generally accepted in the scientific community and best professional judgment have been used to draw conclusions regarding expected impacts to resources…” Indeed, throughout the SEIS, the phrase “best professional judgment of park staff” occurs frequently when discussing impacts. For example, the Assessment Methodology section for Vegetation and Soils (p. 386) says: “”The information in this analysis was obtained through best professional judgment of park staff and experts in the field, as well as supporting literature…” A similar statement is made in the Assessments Methodology section for Wildlife impacts (p. 554). This assumes that the “best professional judgment of park staff” is science-based and unbiased.
However, we know that GGNRA staff have shown repeated, long-standing, deep-rooted bias against dogs and people with dogs. Their “best professional judgment” is highly biased and should not be relied upon to determine whether impacts from dogs are or can occur in the GGNRA.
For example, at the November 8, 2006 meeting of the Technical Subcommittee during Negotiated Rulemaking, a GGNRA law enforcement officer, specifically asked to speak to the Subcommittee as an expert witness by the GGNRA, stated as fact that most dogs walked off-leash in the GGNRA do not even wear collars, and romp at least a quarter mile ahead of their owners, bothering wildlife all the time. The clear implication of this statement is that dog walkers are irresponsible (they don’t even put collars on their dogs) and have no voice control of their dogs. When challenged by dog walkers on the Subcommittee, she acknowledged that she had no data to support her claims and was just giving her personal opinion. Yet she had been specifically asked to attend the meeting and give her “best professional judgment” to the Subcommittee.
In another example during Negotiated Rulemaking (NR), Daphne Hatch, GGNRA Chief Biologist, led a site visit for NR Committee Members to Ocean Beach. During the visit, Committee members observed a single dog walk past a plover without causing any disturbance of the bird. Then a horse and rider galloped through the plover protection area (and then circled around again), flushing snowy plovers. Yet at the end of the visit, Hatch reminded the Committee members that they had seen a dog flush plovers during their visit so they could see for themselves the need to restrict off-leash dog walking there. Committee members corrected her that it had been a horse, not a dog that had flushed the birds. Hatch remembered what she had wanted or expected to see, not what had actually happened.
In her 1996 report on dogs and snowy plovers at Ocean Beach, Hatch says (p. 13): “Disturbance [of plovers by dogs] results in lost energy intake due to reduced foraging and feeding efficiency, and increased energy expenditure as a result of fleeing from disturbance.” The very next sentence is: “Little research has been conducted on the energetic expenditure as a result of fleeing from disturbance.” The first sentence is stated as fact, as a reason to restrict off-leash dogs at Ocean Beach (the conclusion of the report), but the second sentence is proof that the first sentence is an untested assumption. Policy should not be based on untested assumptions.
Indeed, Hatch reports that the highest number of plovers observed at Ocean Beach was in 1994 (a maximum of 85 and a median of 40 plovers reported, p. 16) when dogs ran off-leash on Ocean Beach. She reports that (p. 10): “Factors other than the number of people or dogs, possibly beach slope and width, appear to exert greater influence over Snowy Plover numbers on Ocean Beach.” Yet, Hatch’s best professional judgment, given in the conclusion of her report, is that unleashed dogs should be restricted to protect the snowy plovers.
In her 2006 report on dogs and snowy plovers at Ocean Beach and Crissy Field after the court ruling reinstating the 1979 Pet Policy, Hatch recommends that dogs be leashed in those areas because of an increased number of dogs observed on the beach since the court ruling, and an increased number of dogs harassing snowy plovers (a total of 4 incidents were reported (p. 16), out of the tens of thousands of dogs on the beach during the study periods; not exactly a major problem). The report says (p. 8) that the maximum numbers of plovers observed from 2000 to 2005 ranged from a low of 23 in 2000 (when dogs were off-leash) to a high of 62 in 2003 (when the GGNRA had banned off-leash dogs), apparently making her case that off-leash dogs affect numbers of the bird. Of course, the purpose of the report is to study impacts on plovers after the 2005 court ruling that reinstated off-leash dog walking, but those numbers are not given in the report text. However, raw data from the 2006 Hatch report posted on the GGNRA website during Negotiated Rulemaking actually shows an increase in the median number of plovers at Ocean Beach after the court ruling reinstating off-leash dog walking, from a median of 28 in 2004 to a median of 33 for 2005. Yet this is not included in the report. The GGNRA’s own data indicate there was no negative impact on plover populations after the court ruling allowed off-leash dogs back on Ocean Beach. Yet, Hatch’s best professional judgment, as stated in the conclusion to the report, is that dogs should be leashed to protect the plovers.
Hatch was also quoted in the September 7, 2005 San Francisco Chronicle: “Ocean Beach without the people is an incredible habitat. But people think of it as a sandbox or their backyard.” This shows a high level of bias against recreation at Ocean Beach, and a misunderstanding of the purposes of the GGNRA in its enabling legislation.
This is all reminiscent of the controversy over an oyster farm in Drakes Bay at Point Reyes National Seashore. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) conducted an independent evaluation of the work of National Park Service scientists that had claimed in reports that the oyster farm caused significant negative environmental impacts. The NAS found that NPS scientists “selectively presented, overinterpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific information” and “exaggerate[d] the negative and overlook[ed] potentially beneficial effects.” The exact same criticism can be leveled at the work of GGNRA staff, including Hatch, and the way scientific information is presented in the SEIS.
That is why I suggested, in my DEIS public comment, that GGNRA staff had demonstrated such a bias against dog walking that they could not impartially and fairly analyze the public comments on the DEIS and therefore, I called for a independent analysis of the DEIS public comments. It is not clear in the SEIS, if that happened or not. However, if GGNRA staff are too biased to impartially and fairly evaluate public comments, they are also too biased for the SEIS to use their “best professional judgment” as part of an impartial and fair analysis of impacts, especially where no site-specific studies have shown an impact. Because the SEIS, in fact, does rely heavily on analysis from park staff who have demonstrated bias against dogs, it and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE SEIS DOES NOT ADEQUATELY CONSIDER HOW THE PRESENCE OF DOGS MAY BENEFIT SNOWY PLOVERS AND BANK SWALLOWS
The SEIS assumes dogs have only negative impacts on snowy plovers, primarily by chasing them or flushing the birds if a dog runs nearby. However, there may be benefits to having dogs around that the SEIS does not consider. In a January 31, 2014 letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle, Tom Lurtz, from McKinleyville, writes: “Controlling crows and ravens that prey on the nests could be as important as monitoring people and dogs. The state has been working for years to help snowy plovers breed on Clam Beach in Humboldt County. Unfortunately, the intelligent ravens and crows have learned to recognize areas that have been fenced to protect the nest sites from dogs and humans.”
In the April 2011 edition of the West Portal Monthly, Dan Murphy, a local plover counter and expert from the Golden Gate Chapter of the Audubon Society, is quoted as saying: “Ocean Beach isn’t really suitable for nesting [of plovers]. Not only is it overrun with people and dogs, it’s loaded with predators.” He continues, “There are typically between 15 and maybe 40 ravens in the plover protection area at any given time. There are additional birds that come and go during the day. Then there are the other predators that use the beach, mostly at night. In other words, there are way too many predators and disturbances to suggest Ocean Beach is a likely spot for successful plover nesting.”
Finally in the December 2013 edition of the West Portal Monthly, Dan Murphy is quoted as saying: “Birds and birding are endlessly interesting. Watching ravens teach their young to hunt the rare Bank Swallows at Fort Funston was mind-blowing.”
There is no evidence that dogs have ever injured or killed a snowy plover or bank swallow. Clearly natural predators, and in particular ravens and crows, present the real dangers to snowy plovers and bank swallows in the GGNRA. The presence of dogs may keep ravens and crows away from the plovers and bank swallows, protecting them from their “real” enemies. This interaction should be studied and included in the SEIS. Because it was not, the SEIS and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE SEIS RELIES ON FLAWED SURVEYS TO DETERMINE VISITOR COUNTS AND EXPERIENCES WITH DOGS
To understand visitor use in the GGNRA, the SEIS refers to two on-site visitor count studies, both of which are significantly flawed. The first, a two-phase study was conducted in 2008 at Crissy Field, Ocean Beach, and the Presidio is described on p. 310 of the SEIS: “The first phase of the survey involved an intercept survey (personal contact with visitor) to provide a visitor population profile, including a more thorough understanding of who visits the parks, use patterns, their likes and dislikes, and a preliminary understanding of their visitor experience… The second phase of the survey included a follow-up telephone survey with the same visitors interviewed in the first phase to gather more detailed information on visitor experiences, satisfaction, and opinions of park management.”
Whether this survey is valid or not depends primarily on how the interceptors chose the people to interview. If it was randomly chosen, there might be some validity in the results. However, at both Ocean Beach and Crissy Field, interceptors were observed actively avoiding talking to people walking with dogs and talking primarily with people walking without dogs. At Crissy Field, after watching an interceptor talk to many people without dogs and not talk to anyone with a dog, a dog walker asked the interceptor what he was doing. When he responded he was doing a survey of visitors, she asked if he wanted to interview her and he responded, “No.” GGNRA staff were alerted to problems with this survey at the time it was done, yet it is cited here. The inherent bias shown by the interceptors means any results of this survey – e.g., that 9.6% of the respondents listed dog walking as their primary reason for visiting the site – are essentially meaningless.
A 2011 on-site visitor count study conducted at Fort Funston and Muir Beach is described on p. 307 of the SEIS: “Visitor counts were maintained on a tally sheet where field personnel recorded all visitors leaving the site.” Visitors were placed in one, and only one, category, including dog walker, surfer, angler, etc. “When visitors left the park in groups, each person in the group was categorized individually… if two visitors were walking a single dog, only one would be classified as a dog walker.”
I was at Fort Funston when the visitor count was done in 2011. I saw two men sitting, back to back, near the parking lot, one facing the Sunset Trail and the other facing the Chip Trail, tallying people. I was there to walk with my friend and her dog (my own dog died several years ago and I am currently dogless). By the study protocol, I was likely tallied as either someone walking without a dog or as “other.” But I was there specifically to walk with my friend’s dog. Had I wanted to walk with my friend without her dog, we would have gone somewhere else. What about people walking the family dog? Would mom be listed as a dog walker, while her children were listed as not there to walk with their dog? Clearly, the survey miscategorized me and others like me walking with more than one person to a dog. The survey clearly underestimated the number of people using the sites to walk dogs. The SEIS says (p. 307) that people in a group carrying a picnic basket were all classified as picnickers even though only one had the basket. Similarly, all people walking with a dog should have been listed as being dog walkers, even if there was only one dog walking with them. Because of the problems with this survey, its results are essentially meaningless.
Finally, the SEIS describes a GGNRA Dog Walking Satisfaction Visitor Study done in 2011 on p. 304 as: “designed to evaluate the perception of and satisfaction with the current on and off-leash dog walking policies by both dog walkers and non-dog walkers, and the potential for redistribution of use based on access changes.” The survey was done online and was by invitation only. It was not a random sampling of dog walkers or park users. Invitations were sent to people who had given the GGNRA their email addresses at some point over the years and who expressed interest in dog walking in the GGNRA (both supporting and opposing it). The SEIS admits that only 897 people out of 7000 people contacted for the study actually completed the survey. Given such poor response rate, it’s not clear that the survey has anything meaningful to say.
One stated purpose of the survey was to determine where people who now walk dogs in the GGNRA would go if dog walking was restricted as proposed in the DEIS Preferred Alternative, an attempt to quantify impacts on nearby city parks if DEIS restrictions were adopted. Then why were people who don’t walk dogs or who oppose dogs in the GGNRA included in the survey?
The SEIS reports one result of the survey on p. 305: “Of the dog walkers who responded to the survey… 206 individuals were “not satisfied” or “slightly satisfied” with off-leash dog walking opportunities [at] their most frequently visited sites at the park.” The SEIS says that 662 dog walkers responded, plus 20 professional dog walkers. This sentence seems to imply that roughly one-third of dog walkers are not satisfied with existing off-leash dog access.
I took the survey, as did many people that I know. The wording of the survey was confusing. Some people who took it thought the questions about how satisfied you are with off-leash access referred to existing access, while others thought it referred to the off-leash access contained in the DEIS Preferred Alternative. Personally, I was in the latter group, because the survey was described as trying to determine where people would go if the restrictions proposed in the DEIS Preferred Alternative were in effect. I responded that I was not satisfied with the restrictions proposed for Fort Funston, my most frequently visited site, in the DEIS. Yet the SEIS describes my response as being not satisfied with the existing off-leash conditions at Fort Funston. Many people I spoke with in 2011 who had taken the survey were confused as to what it was asking. Because of this confusion, in addition to the small numbers of non-randomly-determined responders, this survey’s results are essentially meaningless.
An EIS requires baseline information on current usage, something all three studies were intended to answer but do not. All are so significantly flawed as to render them unable to contribute any meaningful information about current usage or the current visitor experience. Until such information is finally provided, the SEIS and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE SEIS DOES NOT ADEQUATELY ANALYZE IMPACTS ON NEARBY CITY PARKS
The GGNRA does not exist in a vacuum. It is located within and immediately adjacent to San Francisco, a city of some 800,000 people. Actions that it takes will impact neighboring cities. In 2011, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution opposing the DEIS Preferred Alternative, and urging the GGNRA to delay taking action on its proposal until a thorough study was conducted of the effect the proposal would have on San Francisco city parks. Unfortunately, the SEIS does not provide the thorough study requested by the City.
The SEIS says, on p. 354, that: “It is very likely than an increase in the level of recreational use by private and commercial dog walking will occur at nearby dog walking areas outside of GGNRA as a result of this draft plan/SEIS. However it is speculative to precisely identify all potential impacts from redistribution related to the implementation of this draft plan/SEIS…” This claim of speculative impacts is ironic since the SEIS discussion of impacts on vegetation and wildlife contain repeated references to speculative impacts for dogs that “might”, “could”, or “may” occur.
In discussing impacts on nearby parks, the SEIS primarily identifies (or tries to identify) which parks people will visit if forced out of the GGNRA. The SEIS does contain a list of parks in San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo Counties where people who want to walk their dogs off-leash might go if they could no longer walk in the GGNRA (pp. 343–349). The list describes basic physical conditions at these parks, e.g., vegetation present, parking, etc. But there is no mention of current usage at any of the parks. How many people currently walk in each park with their dog? The SEIS does not say. Without this information it is impossible to know whether the movement of tens or hundreds or thousands of people and their dogs from the GGNRA into each park would have a serious impact or not. A thorough analysis would have provided this information.
We know from Tsunami Friday, as reported in my DEIS comment, that when the GGNRA closed all of Fort Funston and Ocean Beach on March 11, 2011 after an earthquake in Japan, usage at Pine Lake/Stern Grove, the closest off-leash area in a nearby park to both GGNRA sites, increased tenfold. Parking was described as “chaotic.” While the GGNRA’s Preferred Alternative will not close all of Fort Funston and Ocean Beach to people with dogs, it will close approximately 75% of each area to all dogs, even those on-leash. The SEIS should have explored current usage at nearby parks, but it did not.
As shown in the section above, the GGNRA’s attempts to establish visitor use at GGNRA sites were significantly flawed. The SEIS does not adequately address how many people who normally walk dogs in the GGNRA will be affected by the Preferred Alternative’s proposed closures of off-leash space, a crucial point in any thorough study of impacts on nearby parks. For example, Table 10, p. 309 of the SEIS, lists the results of the two on-site visitor surveys about usage at six GGNRA sites. However the results are listed as percentages, e.g., what percent of visitors surveyed were there to walk dogs. There is no account of the total number of visitors, so there’s no way to know how many people are actually walking dogs at each site. For example, Table 10 says 62.1% of visitors to Fort Funston were there to walk dogs. Setting aside the severe undercounting of this number as outlined in the section above, to understand impacts on nearby parks caused by the closure of large parts of Fort Funston, you need to know the actual number of people affected, not just a percentage. 62.1% of 1,000 people means closures will impact significantly fewer people than 62.1% of 10,000 people. Thus it is impossible to tell from the SEIS if the proposed closures of off-leash space at Fort Funston will move 62 people into nearby parks or 6,200.
Similarly, the question of whether or not the off-leash space that will remain at GGNRA sites like Fort Funston will be adequate to accommodate the number of people who walk there now cannot be answered from information provided in the SEIS. If it’s 62 people, the severely reduced area likely would be okay, but if it’s 6,200 people, then the remaining off-leash will not adequately serve the recreational needs of that many dog walkers. The issue of how many people will be affected at each site must be quantified before any analysis can be accepted, and the SEIS did not do that.
The SEIS also does not adequately address the fact that off-leash areas in nearby parks are significantly smaller than similar areas in the GGNRA now. The SEIS says that under the Preferred Alternative, off-leash areas at GGNRA sites would be reduced by approximately 107 acres (p. 373). This does not include the acreage included in the loss of 30.9 miles of off-leash access on trails, roads, and beaches. So the total acreage of off-leash areas closed by the Preferred Alternative will be much higher. Ironically, the acreage of off-leash areas closed by the Preferred Alternative is actually greater than the total legal off-leash acreage in San Francisco city parks. Table 5.1 of the Final Draft of the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (RPD) (p. 5-24) lists the total DPA (Dog Play Area, or legal off-leash area) acreage on RPD property as 117.5 acres. However, the Natural Areas Program, for which the SNRAMP is its management plan, proposes to close over 14 acres of DPA space to off-leash recreation. Therefore, the total acreage of off-leash space in San Francisco city parks, after SNRAMP, is 103.24 acres, less than the non-beach-road-and-trails acreage lost because of restrictions in the GGNRA Preferred Alternative. This shows the scale of the loss of off-leash space in the GGNRA when compared to available off-leash space in San Francisco city parks. The SEIS should have included this information, but it did not.
The SEIS says, on p. 372, that: “Visitors who currently visit Fort Funston would likely continue to take their dogs to Fort Funston for off-leash dog walking, despite the decrease in the area available for off-leash dog walking, compared to Alternative A.” Similar comments are made at every site under consideration – if there is any off-leash space still available at a site, no matter how small, people with dogs will continue to walk in the GGNRA, and not move to nearby parks. Similarly, the SEIS says (p. 373): “However, the movement of visitors under the preferred alternative is anticipated to be low, since five GGNRA sites would still provide off-leash dog walking in ROLAs, all the sites considered for dog walking would allow areas for on-leash dog walking, and none of the sites would prohibit dogs.” Yet the SEIS offers no rationale for these statements.
Clearly, the GGNRA did not listen to comments from dog walkers in response to the DEIS. Dog walkers made it clear in their DEIS comments that there is a qualitative difference between walking with a dog on-leash and off-leash. To assume, as the SEIS does, that someone accustomed to walking off-leash at a site will continue to walk there because there is still on-leash access available is ridiculous. Dog walkers made it clear that they enjoy walking long distances with their dogs on trails in the GGNRA. To assume, as the SEIS does, that someone used to walking long distances with their dog will be content to walk much shorter distances in the significantly smaller off-leash areas at sites like Fort Funston is ridiculous. To assume, as the SEIS does, that people used to walking in one long loop, where they do not pass the same site twice, will be content to make repeated loops in much smaller off-leash areas, passing the same scenery over and over again, is ridiculous. Yet the SEIS makes those assumptions. Had they listened to the DEIS comments, the SEIS would not make statements that few visitors would move to nearby parks because there will still be small off-leash and/or on-leash areas available.
As flawed as the 2012 GGNRA Dog Walking Satisfaction Visitor Study was, it does say that nearly all dog walkers who responded (98%) would be only moderately or less than moderately satisfied if they were not able to walk their dogs off-leash at the sites they frequent now (p. 339 in the SEIS). It is reasonable to assume that people who are used to walking many miles throughout Fort Funston with their dog off-leash will not be satisfied to be restricted to the significantly smaller off-leash areas proposed in the Preferred Alternative. And people who are unsatisfied will go somewhere else. In other words they will move to nearby city parks.
Because the SEIS does not include an adequate analysis of impacts on nearby parks, as requested by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and in many DEIS public comments, including mine, the SEIS and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE SEIS CREATES A NEW CLASS OF PARK VISITORS WITH GUARANTEED ACCESS TO ALL GGNRA SITES
The SEIS and the proposed Dog Management Plan essentially sets up a new special class of park visitor – those who do not want to interact with a dog – and affords them the special privilege of guaranteed access at every single site in the GGNRA. In describing why the GGNRA cannot allow any off-leash at Muir Beach, for example, the SEIS says (p. 113): “Muir Beach is a small site and there is not sufficient space to allow multiple visitor use areas on the beach (i.e., a ROLA and a no-dog area).” There is no corresponding requirement that sites that do not now allow dogs, e.g., Stinson Beach, have an off-leash area in the future (or even an on-leash one). This double standard is blatantly unfair.
Similarly, at most sites, the SEIS analysis of Alternative A says that it will have “No impact for visitors who would prefer to walk dogs at the park” but “Long-term moderate to major adverse impacts for visitors who would prefer not to have dog walking at the park” (e.g., Ocean Beach Alternative A Conclusion Table for Visitor Use and Experience, p. 1160). However, if you look at the SEIS analysis of Alternative F, the Preferred Alternative, at most sites, it says that it will have “Long-term minor to moderate adverse impacts for visitors who would prefer to walk dogs at the park” but “Beneficial impacts for visitors who would prefer not to have dog walking at the park, assuming compliance” (e.g., Ocean Beach Alternative F Conclusion Table for Visitor Use and Experience, p. 1166).
Why was the Preferred Alternative F, considered to have a “beneficial” impact for people who do not want to walk with dogs, while the No Action Alternative A, was only rated as having “No impact” for people who want to walk with dogs. Why was Alternative A not rated as having a “Beneficial impact” for people who want to walk with dogs? Clearly, the DEIS public comments made clear that people enjoy being able to walk with their dogs in the GGNRA now, and would not enjoy it if the Preferred Alternative’s proposed restrictions were put into place. Clearly it would be a benefit to be able to continue to walk in the GGNRA. The SEIS seems to be making a value judgment that negative impacts of Alternative A on people who don’t want to walk with dogs are worse than the negative impacts of Alternative F on people who want to walk with dogs. The SEIS seems to be saying people who do not want to walk with dogs are somehow “preferred.” That is not fair or balanced.
Because the SEIS insists that one class of people – those who do not want to interact with a dog – has the right to guaranteed access to every site in the GGNRA, and because the benefits on Visitor Use and Experience for people who want to walk with dogs are analyzed in an unfair manner, the SEIS and the Dog Management Plan that it supports cannot be accepted.
THE SEIS DOES NOT ADEQUATELY ANALYZE THE NO ACTION ALTERNATIVE
The SEIS, like the DEIS before it, does not adequately analyze the No Action Alternative. There is little discussion of management strategies that could mitigate existing problems or tensions. There is no discussion of improved signage, or working with dog groups to resolve problems through training or other programs. SFDOG has conducted successful dog-horse socialization workshops modeled after workshops in the East Bay hills that reduced conflicts on trails between dogs and horses by over 90% (these workshops were mentioned in my DEIS comment). Crissy Field DOG has organized dog training workshops with the SF/SPCA at Crissy Field. Yet the SEIS includes no mention of these and other kinds of programs that can help mitigate on-going problems. When hang gliders at Fort Funston complained about stepping in dog poop in their takeoff area, Fort Funston Dog Walkers and SFDOG produced signs, with our organizations’ logos prominently displayed, asking dog walkers to keep their dogs out of the takeoff area. The signs showed dog walkers’ peers asking them to stay out of the area, not the GGNRA demanding that they do so, and, as a result, the problem significantly improved. Yet there is no mention of this kind of cooperative approach to resolving issues.
There is no acknowledgement in the SEIS that it is already illegal to let dogs chase birds or jump on people. If the GGNRA enforced those rules, rather than focusing on the mere presence or absence of a leash, conflicts could be lessened. The SEIS mentions that a dog bit a police horse at Crissy Field in 2012 (p. 1228), but does not mention that a mechanism already exists to deal with aggressive dogs, and it was used in this case. The dog was referred to the San Francisco Police Department’s Vicious and Dangerous Dog Unit for a hearing. The hearing officer ordered the dog to be euthanized, and, after a period of negotiation with the City, the owner finally surrendered ownership of the dog, who was then moved out of San Francisco in the care of a trainer for intense training. That dog will not cause any more problems at Crissy Field or anywhere else in the GGNRA. There is already a way to deal with aggressive dogs, as this case showed. Yet the only solution offered in the SEIS to any of these problems is to either ban dogs entirely or require leashes. Note that I made the same criticism in my DEIS comment, but the SEIS did not respond to it.
The SEIS says, on p. 97: “This project is unique in that adverse impacts to park resources and values are currently occurring as a result of alternative A and are therefore described as “continued” because they are occurring and will continue to occur without action.” Yet, as has been described earlier, the SEIS says the GGNRA does not have any site-specific, peer-reviewed studies providing evidence of impacts from dogs on vegetation and soils or on wildlife. Dogs have been walked off-leash at GGNRA sites for over 40 years (at least as long as the GGNRA has been in existence). Negative impacts should be clear by now. But the GGNRA has not done the site-specific studies that would prove they are actually there. They produced six years of literature searches, but did not produce any site-specific, peer-reviewed studies. Yet they say adverse impacts to park resources are now “continued.” An EIS must base statements like that on solid evidence, but that is lacking in this case. Therefore, the analysis of the No Action Alternative that assumes these continued impacts is flawed.
In a similar vein, the SEIS says, on p. 1339: “Under Alternative A, an undefined policy never promulgated as an enforceable regulation governing dog activities within certain areas of the park...” The 1979 Pet Policy was not “undefined.” It was the result of extensive public hearings and comments. It was quite clear where dogs could walk off-leash and where they could not. Again, the SEIS paints a negative and biased picture of the No Action Alternative.
The SEIS says of Alternative A on p. 1340: “Additionally, the dog management policy that would continue as a result of the no-action alternative would be inconsistent with NPS regulations…” The ostensible point of this whole exercise was to create a Dog Management Plan for the GGNRA that would allow some off-leash dog walking, even though dogs are not allowed off-leash (except when hunting and killing wildlife!) in other units of the National Park Service. How can this be held against the No Action Alternative? It is circular reasoning at best.
Because the SEIS so inadequately and incorrectly analyzes the No Action Alternative, the SEIS and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE SEIS DOES NOT ADEQUATELY ANALYZE HUMAN HEALTH AND SAFETY ISSUES
The SEIS, like the DEIS, does not provide an honest evaluation of impacts of dogs on human health and safety. This is particularly true in the SEIS discussion of dog bites. On p. 35, the SEIS says: “Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that approximately 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, and one in five dog bites results in injuries that require medical attention.” This statement is repeated on p. 336, followed by additional information that: “Small children are typically the most common victims of dog-related injuries because of their natural behaviors, such as running, yelling, grabbing, and hitting, which may threaten a dog. … Elderly people are also considered at a higher risk of complications from dog-related injuries due to their increased susceptibility to bruising, lacerations, or broken/dislocated bones.” On p. 1228, the SEIS adds to this expanded description of dog injuries that: “In general, children are the most common victims of serious dog bites in the United States, with 70 percent of fatal dog attacks and more than half of serious bite wounds involving children…” This is followed by an anecdotal quote from a DEIS comment from a parent whose small children were frightened by off-leash dogs.
The perception created by these statistics, and in particular the way they are presented, is that dogs in the GGNRA present a significant health risk for people, especially children and seniors. Children are likely to be seriously bitten and even killed by off-leash dogs in the GGNRA. The problem is that the SEIS presents only part of the story.
The reality is that few dog bites happen in park settings like the GGNRA. In one of the most comprehensive analyses of injuries due to dog bites, Canadian researchers searched a national database of all reports of injuries throughout Canada in 1996 (Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program, or CHIRPP; the study can be found at: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/injury-bles/chirpp/injrep-rapbles/dogbit-eng.php). Dog bites represented 1% of all injuries in the CHIRPP database.
The CHIRPP study found that children between 2 and 14 years old sustained over 70% of all bites. Most of the dogs involved in the bite incidents (65.2%) were either the victim’s dog or the dog of a friend, acquaintance, neighbor, or relative. Only 12.2% were stray or unfamiliar dogs. The majority of the dog bites (64.5%) happened in someone’s home (either the victim’s or another person’s home). Only 3.1% of dog bites in the CHIRPP study (a total of 38 incidents) occurred in a public park, in conditions like those in the GGNRA. A majority (50.3%) of the victims had been interacting with the dog before the bite – petting, handling, feeding, walking or playing with, hurting or provoking the dog, or disciplining the dog.
The CHIRPP results are similar to those reported in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control’s MMWR weekly from July 4, 2003 reported that 42% of all dog bites occurred among children under 14 years of age, and cites research that indicted that in children under 18 years old, 80% of bites were inflicted by the family’s own dog (30%) or a neighbor’s dog (50%). This report can be found at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5226a1.htm.
In other words, the chance of being bitten in a park like the GGNRA by a strange dog that you have not interacted with is pretty slim. Yet, that information is not included in the SEIS. Instead, the reports about dog bites are presented in a fairly alarming manner that gives the impression that dog bites are a significant safety issue in the GGNRA, when the reality is they are not.
I presented all of this information to the GGNRA as part of my comment at the final meeting of the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee. Clearly, they did not read it.
In testimony before the San Francisco Animal Control and Welfare Commission on February 8, 2007, Jean Donaldson, the founder and then-director of the SF/SPCA Dog Training Academy said:
"Off-leash play has not proven to be a factor in dog bites. According to both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Veterinarian Medical Association, the majority of bites take place on the guardians’ property. The remaining incidents involve dogs that are either restrained, i.e., leashed, or dogs that are “at large”, [that is,] unsupervised dogs that have escaped confinement.
"Consider for example, the three highest profile serious dog attacks in the history of San Francisco. Those are Diane Whipple in 2001, Sean Jones in 2001, and Nicholas Faibish in 2005. In the first, the dogs were on-leash. In the second, the dogs had escaped confinement in the backyard and were at large. And in the third, the dog was confined in the guardian’s home. I would add that in all these instances, the dogs were un-neutered.
"Interestingly, it could very well be that the safest dogs are those that attend off-leash dog parks. Shyan and cohorts published a research paper in 2003 in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science which looked at the prevalence of interdog aggression in dog parks. Dog-dog problems turned out to be minimal and of a non-serious nature. While the paper did not consider the question of dog-to-human aggression, the obvious interpretation of this low incidence of aggression was interesting and I think very relevant. They suggested that self-selection operates strongly, i.e., people who take the time to get into their car or walk to a designated off-leash area to exercise their dog tend to not be the type who are derelict in other areas of dog guardianship, such as training, socialization or appropriate containment."
Note: The study she referred to is: “Bark Parks” – A Study on Interdog Aggression in a Limited-Control Environment, by Melissa R. Shyan, Kristina A. Fortune, and Christine King, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, vol. 6, no. 1, 2003
Again, I gave the GGNRA this information as part of a DEIS comment (submitted as Chair of the Animal Control and Welfare Commission), yet it was ignored. Instead the SEIS chose to present information on dog bites in a sensational manner designed to convince readers of the need for restricting off-leash access to prevent dog bites.
The GGNRA’s own data in the SEIS show that dog bites or attacks are not a significant safety issue in the GGNRA. On p. 336, the SEIS says: “There were a total of 95 dog bites/attacks at GGNRA sites from 2008 through 2011.” That works out to an average of about 24 bites/attacks per year. When compared to the millions of dog visits in the GGNRA each year, it is clear that only a tiny fraction of dogs cause problems. Of course, even one bite is one too many. The question is what is the best way to deal with them? There is already a mechanism in place to deal with aggressive or problem dogs – the San Francisco Police Department’s Vicious and Dangerous Dog Unit. As we saw with the dog that attacked a police horse at Crissy Field in 2012, the unit deals with aggressive dogs and can order corrective measures be taken by dog owners to ensure a bite does not happen again. These measures range from requiring a dog be muzzled in public, or requiring owners to take training classes with the dog, all the way up to euthanasia of the dog in the most extreme cases. It is not necessary to require that dogs be leashed or banned entirely from large parts of the GGNRA to deal with the very few aggressive dogs. This mitigation for dog bites in the No Action Alternative was not considered in the SEIS and it should have been.
On p. 6, the SEIS gives the following reason for why the GGNRA needs to develop a new Dog Management Plan: “Since the 1990s, the San Francisco Bay Area population and overall use of the GGNRA park sites have increased, as have the number of private and commercial dog walkers. At the same time, the number of conflicts between park users with and without dogs began to rise, as did the fear of dogs and dog bites or attacks.” The first sentence is disproved by the graph on p. 301 of the SEIS, “Figure 5. Recorded Annual Visitation to GGNRA, 1973 to 2011.” The graph shows that since 1990, the annual visitation has remained fairly constant, hovering around 14 million visitors per year. There is no significant increase in yearly park visitors since 1990, unlike the claim made on p. 6.
So what about the second claim that conflicts between users have begun to rise? The SEIS offers no specific evidence to support this claim. However, it does discuss the total number of dog-related incidents, which is all we have available to consider. Table 5: Number and Types of Incident Reports Within GGNRA, 2001 – 2011, on p. 253 of the SEIS shows a total of 4,932 dog-related incidents, out of total number of incidents reported of 45,700; that is, dog-related incidents make up 11 of the total number of incidents. The non-dog-related incidents range from Drug Offences, to Trespassing, with nearly one-third listed as “Other.” “Other” clearly includes most violent crime in the GGNRA, from murder, to rape, to robbery, but the SEIS does not provide any information on how common such violent crime – the true safety risk for park visitors – is in the GGNRA. The first thing to notice is that the percentage of total incidents that are dog related hovers around 11% throughout the ten year period (ranging from a low of 6% in 2006 to a high of 14% in 2004). This table does not show any significant increase in incidents, and by extension, in conflicts over the last ten years. There’s no indication in this data that there have been increasing problems with dogs over at least the last ten years. This contradicts the SEIS’ stated reason on p. 6 for a new Dog Management Plan.
A closer look at the data presented in Tables 11 through 28 (pp. 313 – 328) listing the number and type of dog-related incidents at various GGNRA sites shows that the vast majority of incidents at each site were for leash violations or merely being in an closed area, without any wildlife disturbance or resource degradation. Clearly, there is no safety crisis or wildlife disturbance crisis or resource degradation crisis caused by dogs in the GGNRA.
On pp. 253 and 254, the SEIS says: “In addition to obtaining the annual law enforcement incident databases from 2001 through 2011, paper copies of the dog-related law enforcement incident reports for the years 2008 through 2011 were obtained from GGNRA to conduct a more detailed analysis for each GGNRA site. … The number of dog-related incidents in the 2008 through 2011 analysis does not match the number of incidents in the analysis of the overall law enforcement data in table 5 (which includes incidents not related to dogs) because incident reports may contain more than one violation. … there were often multiple incident violations per incident report. This was not done for the overall law enforcement data analysis because incident reports not related to dogs did not generally include multiple violations and there was insufficient staff time available to review the approximately 40,000 incident reports not related to dogs.”
Essentially, the SEIS assumes that non-dog-related incident reports will not contain multiple violations as the dog-related ones do. They don’t know for sure, because the paragraph makes clear that they did not actually study the paper reports for non-dog-related incidents. If the total number of non-dog violations is higher because of multiple violations per incident, then the percentage of dog-related incidents, compared to the total number of incidents might be even smaller than the 11% figure reported above. That the SEIS did not perform this analysis of paper copies of reports for both the dog-related and non-dog-related incidents, and instead did it for just one of them, is just sloppy science. The point to keep in mind is that 89% of the incident reports in the GGNRA had nothing to do with dogs, including violent people-on-people crime. It is people who are the safety threat, not dogs.
The SEIS analysis of impacts on Human Health and Safety at each site focuses on negative impacts (bites, diseases, aggression) while seeming to ignore positive benefits to human health and social community from dog walking. Thus Alternative A for Fort Funston is determined to have long-term moderate to major adverse impacts on Human Health and Safety (p. 1312) while Alternative F is determined to have long-term minor to moderate adverse impacts (p. 1318). Similar analyses are given for Ocean Beach and Crissy Field. This is a biased analysis of impacts.
On p. 338, the SEIS reports that a survey of guide dog handlers found that: “… a total of 83 percent of respondents had experienced interface by an aggressive dog. The majority of the attacks or interface occurred on a public-right-of-way including sidewalk and roadways. Results showed that 76 percent of dog attacks were from an off-leash dog…” An off-leash dog on a sidewalk or roadway is likely to be a dog guarding its home and property or a dog that has gotten out with no owner around to control it. These circumstances are not found in the GGNRA. The more appropriate statistic would be to report the number of incidents that happened in parks like the GGNRA. The SEIS contains no information on this. Therefore, this study is not particularly useful for determining risks to guide dogs in the GGNRA.
Because the SEIS presents information on dog bites in a more inflammatory manner than is warranted by the facts, and its own data show that dog-related incidents are a small fraction of the incidents reported in the GGNRA, and most of those are leash law violations with no disturbance of wildlife or resource degradation, the SEIS does not prove that dogs are a major problem in the GGNRA. Because it does not prove that, the SEIS and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE SEIS DOES NOT CORRECTLY ADDRESS THE VALUE OF RECREATION IN THE GGNRA
The SEIS contains a distinct bias against recreation in the GGNRA. The first two sentences in the legislation that created the GGNRA are:
"In order to preserve for public use and enjoyment certain areas of Marin and San Francisco Counties, California, possessing outstanding natural historic, scenic, and recreational values, and in order to provide for the maintenance of needed recreational open space necessary to urban environment and planning, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (hereinafter referred to as the “recreation area”) is hereby established. In the management of the recreation area, the Secretary of the Interior (hereinafter referred to as the “Secretary”) shall utilize the resources in a manner which will provide for recreation and educational opportunities consistent with sound principles of land use planning and management." (PL-92-589)
The legislative history of the creation of the GGNRA (H.R. Rep. No. 1391, 92nd Congress, 2nd Session, 1972) provided the following additional guidelines for the GGNRA:
• “This legislation will … [establish] a new national urban recreation area which will concentrate on serving the outdoor recreation needs of the people of the metropolitan area.”
• “Action is required if … the relatively natural areas within the city are to be available to satisfy the growing need for outdoor recreational opportunities.”
• “The objective of H.R. 16444 is to assure the preservation of open spaces presently prevailing within the proposed recreation area, to provide public access along the waterfront, and to expand to the maximum extent possible the outdoor recreation opportunities available to the region.”
The enabling legislation lists recreation as one of the four values to be protected and maintained in the GGNRA, along with natural, historic, and scenic values. Yet, “recreation” does not appear at all in the SEIS/Draft Plan’s Objectives on p. 2. The SEIS’ frequent references to “park resources and values” do not include recreation as one of them, even though the GGNRA’s enabling legislation indicates it should be.
NEPA Attorney Ken Weiner, in his comment on the SEIS says: “Conservation of recreation is an essential GGNRA value that should not be impaired. Certainly conservation of GGNRA’s ecological integrity is a paramount mandate under the NPS organic act, but omitting urban recreation as an object and as a park value that should be maintained improperly biases the planning and alternatives evaluation process.”
Weiner also notes that the SEIS does not mention the central role of recreation in the GGNRA until 43 pages into the document, where it is presented as a historical footnote rather than a founding principle.
Even if recreation was not so critical to the GGNRA’s founding, NEPA rules require that agencies consider impacts of alternatives on recreation. This is especially crucial in the GGNRA because its location in the middle of an urban setting means that GGNRA lands serve as residents’ backyards. Most of us who live in San Francisco do not have yards, and we rely on park open space for our recreational needs. The GGNRA is where people in San Francisco, and indeed in the entire Bay Area, come to play. For example, the only beaches available to the people in San Francisco are controlled by the GGNRA. Removing recreation from the GGNRA will have a significant negative impact on the quality of life of the people of the Bay Area, and that impact should have been included in the SEIS.
Because the SEIS shows so much bias against in its description and analysis of recreation, it and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE SEIS MISREPRESENTS THE HISTORY OF DOG WALKING IN THE GGNRA
On p. iii of the Executive Summary, the SEIS says: “Underscoring the increasing conflict over off-leash dog use, dog walking groups filed a lawsuit against the NPS in March 2000.” The lawsuit was filed because the GGNRA did not take public comment before closing a section of Fort Funston to all users, not just dog walkers. The lawsuit had nothing to do with increasing conflicts over off-leash dog use.
GGNRA staffer Chris Powell gave a brief history of dog walking in the GGNRA at the first meeting of the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee in 2006. She said that after dog walkers sued the GGNRA, they realized they had to do something about the “dog problem.” That is the point at which the GGNRA decided to begin the process of rescinding the 1979 Pet Policy that had worked so well for decades. In essence all this time, energy, and money that has been spent over the past 15 years in an attempt to change the 1979 Pet Policy and create a new Dog Management Plan amount to little more than spite and revenge by the GGNRA against a group that dared to sue them and win.
On p. 5, the SEIS says: “… for more than 20 years the park erroneously implemented the 1979 Pet Policy in contravention of Service-wide regulation.” As I said in my DEIS comments, Judge William Alsup, in his June 2, 2005 ruling in an appeal of a challenge to tickets received by three dog walkers for having dogs off-leash at Crissy Field, said:
"In sum, for more than twenty years, the GGNRA officially designated at least seven sites for off-leash use. This was not accidental. It was a carefully articulated, often studied, promulgation. The responsible GGNRA officials in 1978 and thereafter presumably believed they were acting lawfully. Even now, the government concedes that the GGNRA had full authority at all times to relax the general leash rule at the GGNRA but argues it could have done so, at least after 1983, only via a “special regulation.” In other words, the agency allegedly used the “wrong” procedure back in 1978 (and thereafter) even though a “right” procedure to reach the desired result was available and could have been used. The government has not revealed its internal justification for following the “wrong” process. Whatever it was, the justification was abandoned in 2002 with the two-word explanation that it had been “in error.” With this ipse dixit, the NPS wiped away two decades of policy, practice, promulgations, and promises to the public. (Case Number: CR04-00408 WHA, p. 5)
"True enough, the procedural requirements for a special regulation were not followed in 1978. Trouble is, when the off-leash areas were designated in 1978, a different and earlier set of NPS regulations applied, not the later revamped rules. See 26 C.F.R. Parts 1-7 (1978) Although the earlier regime still prohibited off-leash dogs as a general matter, there was nothing then that restricted the local authority of each superintendent to make activity designations on a park-by-park basis contradicting the national regulations. That restriction came later in 1983 – when Section 1.5 (Closures and Public Use Limits) itself was introduced, among other changes. The 1983 change cautioned that, going forward, the use-designation provision of the new Section 1.5 should not be invoked to circumvent a general regulation. 48 Fed. Reg. at 30262 (col 1). In the period leading up to the 1983 amendment, therefore, we must presume that the GGNRA designations were lawful. (The government has not shown otherwise.) Nothing in the 1983 regulations set aside then-extant use designations. (Case Number: CR04-00408 WHA, p.7)"
Based on Judge Alsup’s decision, the statement that the GGNRA erroneously implemented the 1979 Pet Policy is wrong and should be changed.
Similarly, the SEIS says on p. 6, that: “In a public meeting on January 2001, the GGNRA Citizens’ Advisory Commission acknowledged that the voice control policy was contrary to 36 CFR 2.15(a)(2), prohibiting off-leash dogs in national parks, and therefore illegal and unenforceable.” As I said in my DEIS comment, the official transcript of the GGNRA Citizens’ Advisory Commission January 23, 2001 meeting makes it clear that while CAC Chairman Richard Bartke did say this, the Commission itself took no position on the matter, and indeed took no action on the issue. The description of the meeting in the SEIS on page 6 should be changed to reflect the truth.
Because of these misrepresentations of the history of dog walking in the GGNRA, the SEIS and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE SEIS CONTINUES TO MISREPRESENT A SF STATE STUDY ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
In my DEIS comment, I criticized the way a SF State report (Roberts 2007) of results from focus groups of non-randomly-selected ethnic minority groups was presented in the DEIS. The description has been changed in the DEIS, but it is still misleading. On p. 330, the SEIS says about the Roberts 2007 study: “While not all participants were familiar with the GGNR, a common theme was identified, as related to dog management in the park: dogs were a problem mentioned by Hispanic/Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander groups. Hispanic/Latino people expressed the most concern with dog owners’ lack of concern or control over their dogs. For example, participants in the survey noted that dog owners assume that other people will like the owners’ dogs as much as they do; dog owners let their dogs approach other people without first asking their permission; and owners do not react to their dogs begging for other people’s food. One participant stated, “Every time we go to picnic the dogs come and eat our food, they wander around, and the owners don’t do anything. The same with their bowel movements! The owners don’t clean after them.” Research found that Hispanic/Latino people and Asian/Pacific Islanders mentioned dogs, especially dog waste, as a barrier to park visitation and a constraint to enjoyment of the park.”
My criticism of the Roberts study still applies. The Roberts study was a series of focus groups of a small group of non-randomly selected members of various minority groups intended to “realize the park goals of understanding how to improve ‘connecting people to the parks’ and how best to engage under-represented communities in plans and programs.” The focus groups totaled less than 100 people, who were largely unfamiliar with the GGNRA (only 1/3 had visited at least one GGNRA site in the past year). There is nothing in the report to indicate how common a comment was – did only one person say it, or was it mentioned repeatedly. Thus the focus groups’ opinions reflect only the opinions of the people who participated and cannot be extended to indicate opinions shared by all members of the minority groups represented. Yet that is what the DEIS does with the Roberts study.
While dogs were mentioned, it is a misrepresentation of the study to claim dogs were a major factor keeping minorities out of the GGNRA. A major concern expressed was that there are not enough minorities represented in NPS staff. Common barriers to coming to the GGNRA included the lack of mass transit to get to the GGNRA, and fear of unknown plants and wildlife behavior. When asked to describe why they think San Francisco parks have become less safe, African Americans in the focus groups expressed concerns about finding used drug paraphernalia on the beaches, the danger of pedophiles/sexual predators at the park, and aggressive panhandling. Asians and Hispanics expressed concerns about cleanliness, defined as unclean bathrooms and dog feces. While Hispanics in the focus group did mention dogs as a constraint to park enjoyment, they also mentioned concern for personal safety, lack of mass transit, and fear of crime (fear of being raped, witnessing drug use, the presence of homeless people, and observing fights – “it is only safe if enough people are around”). Asians similarly mentioned dirty bathrooms and dog feces in the same context as a barrier for access to parks. Two focus groups of Asians reported dislike for “dog owners [who] do not clean up after their pets,” but also for trails not being well kept.
Out of the more than 30 recommendations at the end of the study, there is no mention of dogs. While dogs were mentioned in the focus groups, it is by no means the indictment of dogs – if only there were no dogs, Asians and Latinos would visit the GGNRA – that is implied in the SEIS. It is at best anecdotal accounts of a few people’s opinions of parks in general, not necessarily the GGNRA, since most had never been to the GGNRA. Because the SEIS contains this misrepresentation of the study on environmental justice, it and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
OTHER BIAS IN THE SEIS
On p. 262, the SEIS says: “Stranded marine mammals and marine mammals that have hauled-out on GGNRA lands often attract the attention of dogs and people. The Marine Mammal Center data indicate that marine mammals are often harassed by dogs.” This statement implies the Marine Mammal Center supports restrictions on off-leash dog walking on beaches in the GGNRA and is clearly intended to put dog walking in a poor light. However, during Negotiated Rulemaking, the representative from the Marine Mammal Center on the NR Committee read a statement opposing restrictions on off-leash dog walking on beaches because people walking dogs in the early morning were frequently the first ones to find the mammals and call the Center to come help the animals. They worried that restricting off-leash would cut down on the calls and mean it would take longer for the animals to get the help they might need. The statement in the SEIS should be either removed or qualified with the Negotiated Rulemaking letter.
On p. 1233, while discussing conflicts between visitors/dog owners and law enforcement personnel, the SEIS says: “Conflicts typically involve verbal abuse, though physical assaults on staff have occurred.” Note that “assaults” is plural. However, on p. 337, the SEIS says: “There has been one reported physical assault of a federal law enforcement officer by a dog owner (no injuries reported).” One, singular “assault,” not plural “assaults.” This inconsistency should be corrected as the notion that there have been multiple assaults on law enforcement personnel by dog walkers can only serve to bias the SEIS against dog walkers.
On p. 16, the SEIS says: “Soils and vegetation can be affected by dogs through defecation and urination, but although mentioned in reviewed studies, this has not been specifically documented in peer-reviewed studies.” The rest of the paragraph goes on to list ways that dog urine and feces “could” affect soils and vegetation, despite the previous statement of no proof. Once again, claims of impacts without solid evidence that they are occurring should not be used in an EIS.
On p. 1345, the SEIS says: “Portions of Fort Funston have been heavily impacted by intense dog use, particularly where there is accelerated erosion from natural forces of the geologic resources, At this site, the impacts of dog walking are exacerbating the ongoing erosion that is caused by the weather and natural coastal processes.” However, the SEIS includes no site-specific evidence to back up this claim.
On p. 352, the SEIS says: “While GGNRA cannot provide an exact number of incidents that go unreported, even if law enforcement data undercounts incidents, the data substantiates a need to regulate dog walking to protect resources, diverse visitor experiences, and health and safety.” No, actually, the incident reports data show few dog-related incidents that involve wildlife disturbances, resource degradation, visitor safety, or anything other than the fact the dog is off-leash.
Errors of Fact:
1) On p. 361, discussing dogs at the McLaren Park DPA, the SEIS says:”… (although dogs are not allowed in the waterbody) …” referring to the reservoir in the DPA. Actually dogs are allowed in the reservoir. The parenthetical phrase should be removed.
2) On p. 390, the SEIS says: “The SNRAMP, authored by the SF Planning Department, will guide natural resource protection and habitat restoration…” Actually, SNRAMP was written by SF Recreation and Park Department staff, not people from Planning. This should be corrected.
Throughout the SEIS, extensive quotes from people who view dogs as problems or who do not want dogs in the GGNRA are included. Comparatively fewer quotes from dog walkers are included, giving the impression of serious problems with dogs in the GGNRA. Comments where people report a single disturbance or problem with dogs are considered illustrative of those larger problems, while comments from dog walkers that they have not seen those same problems in their decades-long experiences in the GGNRA are dismissed and not included. There continues to be an underlying assumption throughout the SEIS that dogs are bad, that they have negative impacts on nearly everything – plants, wildlife, safety, other visitors, etc. – even though the SEIS has no site-specific studies showing any of those negative impacts are actually occurring in the GGNRA.
Because of these cases of bias, along with the other instances recounted throughout this comment, the SEIS and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE GGNRA IS NOT FOLLOWING INTERIOR SECRETARY SALLY JEWELL’S LEAD ON WORKING WITH NEIGHBORING COMMUNITIES
As San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener noted at a Town Hall Forum on the GGNRA’s Dog Management Plan sponsored by U.S. Representative Jackie Speier on January 30, 2014, “The entire political leadership of San Francisco is expressing concerns” with the GGNRA’s Preferred Alternative for a Dog Management Plan. Since the SEIS was released, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, U.S. Representatives Jackie Speier and Nancy Pelosi, the Marin County Board of Supervisors, and then-President of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors Don Horsley have all passed resolutions or written letters to the GGNRA expressing concerns about the proposed Dog Management Plan.
At a November 7, 2013 appearance before the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said that the National Park Service should work closely with neighboring cities like San Francisco. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the previous paragraph, the GGNRA is not working with the surrounding communities on a Dog Management Plan, and, instead is pushing ahead with a highly unpopular plan no matter what the neighbors say.
Secretary Jewell also talked about the need for the National Park Service to “welcome young people on our public lands.” Ironically, many young people who currently walk with their dogs in the GGNRA will no longer be welcome to enjoy this recreation on GGNRA land if the Preferred Alternative is adopted. Because it goes against what the Secretary of the Interior has said should be goals of the National Park Service, the SEIS and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE SEIS INCLUDES FENCES AS A MANAGEMENT STRATEGY WITHOUT ADEQUATELY CONSIDERING THEIR IMPACTS
The SEIS suggests fences be erected around off-leash areas to clearly delineate where dogs can be let off leash and so that people who don’t want to interact with a dog can know where not to go. During Negotiated Rulemaking, GGNRA staff, including then-Superintendent Brian O’Neill, consistently and adamantly refused to consider fences, despite pressure to do so by those who do not want dog walking in the GGNRA. At the time, GGNRA staff argued that fences were ugly and no one wants to see fences in a park. Fences were not included in the DEIS, and there is no adequate explanation for why they were added to the SEIS. Fences are ugly, and serve to make those penned inside feel unwanted. Fences secure enough to keep small dogs inside will hinder movement of wildlife. Fences are a bad idea. There is no analysis of impacts of fences on the visitor experience in the SEIS, especially the visitor experience of people who walk with dogs. This analysis should have been included in the SEIS. Because of this inadequate analysis of fences, the SEIS and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE MONITORING-BASED MANAGEMENT STRATEGY IS STILL COMPLIANCE BASED
The Monitoring-Based Management Strategy (MBMS) in the SEIS is marginally better than the Compliance-Based Management Strategy in the DEIS. It will no longer include an automatic change in status from off-leash to on-leash or no-dog if the GGNRA claims there is not enough compliance with new restrictions on access, and that is an improvement. However, the plan remains primarily based on compliance alone, rather than on impacts that result from non-compliance, and, as such, is not acceptable as an adaptive management strategy. There is no requirement that non-compliance cause measurable impacts on resources before changes in status happen. In addition, because the MBMS only goes one way – toward more restrictions – with no provision for increasing off-leash areas if no impacts are found, it is not acceptable. Because the SEIS includes the MBMS, it and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
THE PREFERRED ALTERNATIVE IS JUST TOO EXPENSIVE
The SEIS quotes the cost of the No Action Alternative as $470,317 (p. 1209). It quotes the cost of the Preferred Alternative as $2,587,194 (p. 1219). On p. 1053, the SEIS says: “If funding is available, the park would explore options that would allow improved access for disabled and elderly visitors to ROLAs, such as beach mats or improved trail surfaces.” The GGNRA has budgeted $2.5 million to deny people with dogs access to 90% of the places where they can go now with their dog, but it cannot promise that there will be any money to allow elderly and disabled dog walkers to access what little off-leash space is left.
A January 2014 report by Environment California, titled “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” describes how budget cuts in the GGNRA has led to significant downgrades in services, including closures of visitor centers, delays in repairs to buildings, roads, and trails. The GGNRA has cut back on garbage collection in recent months. Yet they plan to budget an additional $2.5 million to hire little more than glorified dogcatchers. The GGNRA’s priorities are skewed. Because the SEIS endorses this costly and misguided spending plan, it and the Dog Management Plan it supports cannot be accepted.
Taken individually, each of these problems with the SEIS is damning. But when taken together, it is clear that the SEIS is so deeply flawed that it cannot be fixed. The analysis essentially needs to be thrown out and done over in an unbiased, science-based way. I made the same statement about the DEIS, yet no significant changes were made in the SEIS. Given the lack of evidence of impacts from dogs in the GGNRA in the SEIS, along with the apparent inability of the GGNRA to produce an unbiased, science-based EIS, it is clear that the SEIS and the Dog Management Plan it supports should be thrown out.
The GGNRA should choose the 1979 Pet Policy (including returning off-leash access in the plover protection areas at Ocean Beach and Crissy Field since the SEIS does not present any solid evidence that the presence of dogs in these areas has any impact on snowy plover populations or survival rates, and indications the presence of dogs may actually protect the plovers from their “real” predators, especially ravens and crows) as its Preferred Alternative. Both on- and off-leash recreation should be allowed at sites in San Mateo County that have been added to the GGNRA since the 1979 Pet Policy was adopted and in any future land added to the GGNRA, especially those sites where off-leash dog walking has traditionally occurred. You can think of this as the A+ Alternative.
To quote from Ken Weiner, a NEPA attorney, in his comment on the SEIS:
"GGNRA is unique. There is no other urban national parkland like it. No unit of the National Park System – from Santa Monica to New York harbor – has the identical mandate. The Superintendent has the administrative discretion to adopt rules that will further conservation of all of the values for which this national recreation area was established.
"GGNRA is San Francisco’s and the Bay Area’s backyard. GGNRA serves an extraordinary population with a similarly unique culture. Its residents love nature and the outdoors, love their dogs, and love their communities, urban neighborhoods and shorelines perhaps as no other region in the US. These are complementary – not conflicting – values to the vast majority of GGNRA users. San Francisco and the Bay Area residents have a distinct culture that places high value on both community and individual choice, on both freedom and responsibility. Out-of-town visitors, like many of us, expect and appreciate this culture as well. The Dog Management Plan can and should support, not diminish these values."
The A+ Alternative, along with a renewed commitment of GGNRA staff to work with dog groups, rather than against them, can create and nurture this unique park experience.
Chair, San Francisco Dog Owners Group
cc: Secretary Sally Jewell, Department of the Interior
Jon Jarvis, Director, National Park Service
Christine Lehnertz, Pacific West Regional Director, National Park Service
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Senator Barbara Boxer
Congresswoman Jackie Speier
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi
Mayor Ed Lee
Supervisor Scott Wiener