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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
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Dog Walkers Snarl at National Park Service

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Dog owners sued the National Park Service for records on a new rule that will restrict dog walking in the 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area in three Bay Area counties.

Save Our Recreation and three dog-owner groups sued the National Park Service and Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell on Wednesday in Federal Court, demanding information and an injunction.

The Park Service's proposed dog management rule restricts on- and off-leash dog walking to 22 sites in the 80,000-acre park that includes areas of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties.

The groups say the Park Service had been "maneuvering to radically reduce" dog walkers' access to the park for more than a decade before it issued its proposed rule on Feb. 24.

After proposing dog restrictions in 2014, the park submitted to a public process engineered to "legitimize" its "pre-determined radical reduction" in access for dog walkers, the plaintiffs say.

The comment period for the new rule ends May 25. The dog walkers say the Park Service has not responded to a Freedom of Information Act request filed last year, in a deliberate attempt to stop them from "meaningfully participating" in the rulemaking process.

"It is apparent that as part of its long-term 'strategy,' NPS has decided to delay production of and keep from public view certain records because it does not want those records to be used in connection with the public comment process for the Proposed Dog Rule, or in connection with potential future lawsuits challenging the various decisions of NPS to unlawfully restrict and reduce dog walking."

San Francisco Dog Owners Group and Save Our Recreation submitted an FOIA request in July 2015 seeking records on proposed dog walking restrictions from 1999 to present.

The Park Service said it would cost $6,000 to produce the records, then agreed to waive the fee for a second FOIA request, filed in November 2015. But is has not yet produced the records.

"NPS first tried to claim that it would cost many thousands of dollars to process the FOIA request as a strategy to block plaintiffs from gaining access to the requested documents. When that did not work, NPS decided simply to act as if the FOIA request did not exist, hoping plaintiffs would just go away," the lawsuit states.

In the Feb. 24 announcement on the proposed rule, defendant Golden Gate National Recreation Area Superintendent Chris Lehnertz said the park will continue to allow off-leash dogs in seven areas, including its most popular dog walking area, Fort Funston.

Under the new rule, dog walking will also be allowed on nearly one-third of the park's coastline and a third of the park's trail miles, Lehnertz said.

"GGNRA recognizes well-managed dog walking as a healthy and popular way to enjoy park lands," Lehnertz said. "Under the proposed rule, the GGNRA would remain the most dog-friendly national park and the only national park in the United States to allow off-leash voice and sight control dog walking."

But the dog walking groups say the park failed to properly analyze the environmental impacts of the restrictions, including displacement of dog walking from the national park to other lands in the three counties, and other effects on the urban environment and traffic.

The plaintiffs - Save Our Recreation, San Francisco Dog Owners Group, Marin County Dog Owners Group and Coastside Dog Owners Group - seek declaratory judgment and an injunction directing the Park Service to produce the records by a date that will allow them to participate in the rulemaking process.

They are represented by Christopher Carr with Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area park officials did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.

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