Click photo to enlarge
Michele Coxon, of Pacifica, walks her dog Tashi at Mori Point in Pacifica, Calif., on Friday, Jan 31, 2014. Many dog lovers remain up in arms about a plan by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area to greatly reduce the areas in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties that are available for walking dogs on or off leash, including Fort Funston, a mecca of off-leash dog activity. (John Green/Bay Area News Group)

MONTARA -- Dog owners in coastal San Mateo County claim they are getting yanked around by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which has proposed banning off-leash dog-walking and curtailing on-leash activities on its four properties in the county's northwestern corner.

The Montara Dog Group and other canine lovers are making a furious push to amend a voluminous dog management plan that would restrict off-leash activity in San Francisco and Marin County but bar it altogether at the 3,858-acre Rancho Corral de Tierra and three smaller properties: Mori Point, Milagra Ridge and Sweeney Ridge. The proposal would also shrink the areas available for on-leash dogs .

The GGNRA says it needs to balance the needs of all park users as well as protect wildlife, sensitive habitat and historical resources.

Hundreds of dog owners on the coast have picked up a powerful ally in Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, who held a forum this week in San Francisco to allow her constituents to air their concerns to GGNRA superintendent Frank Dean. Speier said afterward she found Dean's stance on San Mateo County "disturbing" and will request a sit-down with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

"I made it very clear that it's unacceptable not to have off-leash areas in San Mateo County in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area," said Speier, "and somehow suggest that that is providing services to the taxpayers of this region who are funding the GGNRA."

The GGNRA's dog management plan has been subject to one of the most exhaustive outreach processes in the history of the National Park Service, said Howard Levitt, the agency's director of communications. The organization must not only balance the needs and wants of roughly 16 million annual visitors, he said Friday, but also preserve it for future generations to enjoy.

"The variety of uses here is enormous and some of them conflict with one another," said Levitt, adding that the number of dogs on GGNRA land has increased substantially since the agency was established in 1972. "The passions on this issue run very, very deep."

Levitt noted that the proposal for San Mateo County is consistent with the county's strict policies on dogs. None of the county's 19 parks allow off-leash dog-walking. Only four allow dogs on a leash.

Critics of the GGNRA's proposal say there is insufficient evidence that allowing dogs to run off leash harms wildlife or habitat. Areas where dogs can roam free are community hubs, they argue, and on-leash walking provides less enjoyment and exercise than off-leash meandering for both human and canine.

"I don't see dogs as causing any damage whatsoever, on or off leash," said Michele Coxon, 68, a Pacifica dog owner who visited Mori Point on Friday. "There's no reason I have ever seen -- and I've lived her 32 years and covered these hills with four different dogs -- that they can't allow some off-leash area."

San Mateo County residents have until Feb. 18 to submit comments on the GGNRA's latest dog management plan, now in its second round of public vetting. The agency will incorporate the feedback into a proposed rule, which will also be subject to public comment. The new regulations are not expected to go into effect until late 2015.

Speier and her coastal constituents say they will continue prodding the GGNRA to rethink its vision.

"I've got to believe that in a region where innovation is our middle name," said Speier, "that we can come up with a situation that works for all the different users."

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-34-4357 or akinney@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.

Get involved
To learn more about the GGNRA's dog management plan, visit http://parkplanning.nps.gov/dogplan or call 415-561-4728.
To submit a comment, go to the above link, click on "Open for Comment," then follow the link to the dog management plan and click on "Comment on Document."


online extra
Scan this code to view a photo gallery or go to http://photos.mercurynews.com.