Thursday, February 17, 2011

The GGNRA's DEIS Reflects A Conflict Between A "National Park" And "A National Recreation Area"

(Courtesy of Dr. Suzanne Valente)

First and foremost, the GGNRA is, both in name and legislatively, a recreational area. Unfortunately, its management wishes otherwise. It is not governed by traditional notions of conservation but rather by its recreation first mandate.

"This conflict has become one of legislative intent: the GGNRA/NPS desire to manage this Golden Gate National Recreation Area as a National Park, while the enabling legislation and the will of the people assert the management should reflect the unique requirement we have for recreational access in the GGNRA.

This is a long-standing battle we have waged; the GGNRA takes away recreational access, and the citizens turn to the courts to have access reinstated. It has been a colossal waste of time and money, and a hardship for the citizens because not only are we battling for our right to access; we are also paying for both sides of the debate.

Although the current dispute is in regards to off-leash recreation, there have been many disputes with GGNRA/NPS management reflecting this conflict between access for recreation versus the GGNRA’s desire to create an urban, behind-the-ropes national park; a "look but don't touch" area. Current GGNRA Superintendent Frank Dean was quoted in the NPS Traveler as saying about the DEIS; “This is truly a defining moment for Golden Gate National Recreation Area”. Dog guardians have proven to be the greatest obstacle to the GGNRA's desire to remove recreation from their name and the effective management of this Recreation Area. Should the GGNRA succeed in removing the right of access for dog guardians, the other recreational interests will not have a chance.

What follows is a partial list of the groups/interests who have had substantive disputes with GGNRA management: Sea Scouts, Stinson Homeowners Association, equestrians, Surfrider Foundation, hang gliding enthusiasts, SF SPCA, Peninsula Humane Society, SF and Marin Firefighters, Presidio Historical Association, In Defense of Animals, California Farm Bureau, Mycological Society of SF, Presidio Fire Department, Marin Humane, Animal Care and Control of SF, The Community of West Marin, Men’s Circle and Burners without Borders. Disability Rights Advocates is again in litigation (after a failed mediation) against the GGNRA for their failure to provide access to the disabled in most areas of the GGNRA. The City of Sausalito litigated against the GGNRA, as did bicyclists. The debacle at Drakes Bay Oyster Farm in which Dianne Feinstein intervened to resolve by legislation should also be mentioned as it exemplifies the shoddy (or most aptly "devious") “science” the NPS relies upon when it suits them. The goes on and on.

The GGNRA was established in part through a campaign in 1970 by Secretary of Interior Walter Hickel "to bring parks to the people", putting the National Park Service in a movement to increase outdoor recreation in urban areas. (U.S. Department of Interior News Release, September 14, 1970.) Congress established the GGNRA on October 27, 1972 "to preserve for public use and enjoyment certain areas of Marin and San Francisco Counties, California possessing outstanding natural, historic, scenic, and recreational values.” (16 U.S.C. Sec. 460bb.)

In addition to this generic statement of purpose appearing in most national park statutes, Congress included two "specific provisions" unique to the GGNRA. First, the park was established "to provide for the maintenance of needed recreational open space necessary to urban environment and planning." Second, the GGNRA enabling statute imposes a unique limitation on NPS's discretionary power for "management of the recreation area" by providing that the "Secretary of Interior ... 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."

When voting for Charter Section 7.403-1(a) authorizing the transfer of nearly 60% of the City parklands, the citizens of San Francisco were told that "the transfer of these lands is a technical resolution allowing the City and County of San Francisco to transfer city lands to the Golden Gate National Recreation area, a national urban park established in 1972 by Congress to preserve 34,000 acres of land and water in San Francisco and Marin for recreational use by all citizens." Aware that certain unique restrictions were included in the enabling statute requiring the NPS to maintain "recreational open space necessary for urban environment and planning", San Francisco adopted the "technical resolution" authorizing the transfer of City parks for "recreational use by all citizens." Allaying concern over the transfer of the property, the NPS promised the City that "historical recreational use" would be continued. The GGNRA has now expanded to include almost 80,500 acres, including lands in San Mateo County.

The 1979 Pet Policy was established as the official off-leash recreation policy for the GGNRA as required by the enabling statute and the promise made to the City. NPS issued press releases of the official off-leash policy (Lynn Thompson memo to Coalition For San Francisco Neighborhoods, 10/17/78). Again, NPS told San Francisco this policy was developed because the "[e]xisting federal regulations' were not "a viable situation in an urban area". At the time this policy was created, off-leash access was limited to less than 1% of the acreage in the GGNRA. In contrast, today’s GGNRA has more than doubled in size, while the acreage available to off-leash recreation has been systematically reduced.

In 1989 the GGNRA, under the supervision of Brian O’Neill, signed on to a biosphere habitat program entitled “Man and Biosphere Habitat Programme” (“MAB” or “MAP”). One would be hard pressed to find a philosophy in greater conflict with the recreational priority of the GGNRA than that of Peter Bridgewater, Secretary of the MAB/MAP Programme, who has said, “Earth would be a better place if we had no people.” The GGNRA’s Chief of Natural Resources Management and Science, Daphne Hatch, has embraced this philosophy. She was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 7, 2005 as saying "Ocean Beach without the people is an incredible habitat. But people think of it as a sandbox or their backyard." Ms. Hatch has conducted the studies the GGNRA relied upon to close the majority of Ocean Beach to off-leash recreation. Ocean Beach (if you include the beach south of Sloat to Fort Funston) is 3.6 miles long. In this DEIS, the GGNRA proposes to ban dogs from 2.9 miles of this beach to include a .25 mile purported habitat for the Western snowy plover and a 2.65 mile “buffer zone”. The purported habitat is not critical habitat; no plovers nest or breed here. Two studies done here in the GGNRA have shown that 99.67% of the dogs observed do not chase plovers and that plovers are not disturbed in their feeding by off-leash dogs or people. These studies are not mentioned or relied upon in this DEIS, and the ban of dogs is a draconian measure imposed without consideration of potential mitigations. Further, the tides are so high and the erosion so great in this area of the beach that the GGNRA is forced to bulldoze the “habitat” each year when the plovers leave to breed elsewhere, and a portion of the adjacent highway has been subject to seasonal closures due to collapse. This is just one example of how it has become the pattern and practice of the GGNRA, in a broad scope, to create or declare areas as habitat adjacent to historic off-leash recreational areas, then utilize the proximal existence of “habitat” to justify the elimination of off-leash recreation and sometimes human access as well. It is not relevant to the GGNRA whether the “habitat” under consideration supports threatened or endangered species - all face maximum recreational restrictions. When a listed species is present, the GGNRA perverts ESA regulations so as to treat each area as if it is “critical habitat” (even if not classified as such by USFWS). Restrictions are imposed without consideration of mitigations or the analysis of the negative impact of the loss of access as opposed to the potential success of protection which is required by the ESA.

In 2001, the GGNRA reneged upon their 1979 Pet Policy and unilaterally eliminated off-leash recreation in the GGNRA entirely; citing that off-leash recreation was in violation of NPS Regulations. This action resulted in public outcry and the S.F. Board of Supervisors threatened reversion of certain properties. In 2005, United States District Court judge WIlliam Alsup noted in his decision affirming the legality of the 1979 Pet Policy in the GGNRA, his findings regarding the history of pet management in the GGNRA:

“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.” (United States v. Barley, Order Of Affirmance, supra, p. 5; published decision at http:/

Despite the fact that GGNRA management had been given permission to create a Section Seven Special Regulation for off-leash recreation in the GGNRA; when the Court reinstated the 1979 Pet Policy, the Superintendent refused to make the 1979 Pet Policy a Section Seven Special Regulation. He instead instituted a Negotiated Rulemaking process that was unlawful and did not reach consensus. Subsequently, the initiation of the DEIS was announced. The explanation for this might be found in a quote from then Western Regional Director (now NPS Director) Jon Jarvis. At the NPS Centennial Initiative Listening Session (Presidio Officer's Club, San Francisco, March 22, 2007) Director Jarvis said to me and my husband, and I quote, "I would rather give up those [the GGNRA] properties than have dogs running loose on them." [This is not unlike the statement from Brian O'Neill that "I will not have dogs running loose in my park."]

In 2008, the GGNRA supported an attempt by Nancy Pelosi to surreptitiously slip a Park name change (and therefore a change in the governing mandates) from National Recreation Area to National Park through bill H.R. 6305. This action can be construed as an admission that the NPS/GGNRA is aware their actions do not conform to the enabling legislation. Public outcry upon the discovery of this section in HR 6305 forced Nancy Pelosi to withdraw her blatant attempt to circumvent the will of the people and the Federal Court.

Now in 2011, we are presented with this 2,400 page DEIS. The Federal Register states: “This plan will promote the following objectives: preserve and protect natural and cultural resources and natural processes, provide a variety of visitor experiences, improve visitor and employee safety, reduce user conflicts, and maintain GGNRA resources and values for future generations.” There is no mention of recreation or its value in this Recreation Area. With the addition of a “Compliance-based Management Strategy” the GGNRA has cleared the way to incrementally eliminate the few areas they recommend for off-leash recreation in the preferred alternative.

The enabling legislation requires the GGNRA to utilize sound principles of land use planning and management. Accepted practice would be illustrated by the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness (RNRAW) which produces an annual monitoring report. The report assesses current recreation trends, needs, and impacts, and thereby serves as a tool for long-term management of the RNRAW. When the GGNRA announced the DEIS in the Federal register, I filed a Freedom of Information Act Request (dated April 11, 2006) to provide the data, documents, and/or Staff Report which substantiated their claim of controversy over the dog policy, compromised visitor and employee safety and resource degradation which warranted this current DEIS. The GGNRA’s response merely stated: “The Staff Report and other documents you seek do not exist at this time”. An appeal to the Department of the Interior regarding this FOIA request elicited the following response after several letters: “Since the Department has not made a determination on your appeal within the time limits set in the FOIA, you may seek judicial review under 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(B). However, we hope that you will delay filing the lawsuit so that the Department can thoroughly review the issues in your appeal and make a determination. We appreciate your patience to this point and the Department will make every effort to reach a decision on your appeal as soon as possible.” This letter is dated August 8, 2006. There has been no written response as of yet.

I am advised by legal counsel the lack of data to support the assertions used as justification to proceed with this Environmental Review would violate the enabling legislation; and also make this agency action arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion. It is presumed this agency action, findings and conclusions should be set aside as prescribed by the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 706 (2)A. Further, when data regarding the actual citations/incidents was finally released to other parties through the Negotiated Rulemaking, we find that there are 37,709,444 dog visits per year (in the time frame of 2001-2006), and there was an "incident" reported for every 1,362,992 dog visits. (please note that an "incident" is any dog related event that is reported and is not neccessarily a dog bite).

It would seem there was no data available because the actual data did not support their decision to conduct the DEIS in the first place. There is also the matter of the Memorandum of Understanding between the City of SF and the GGNRA. It would not seem that the GGNRA has allowed the City the ability to oversee management decisions as was originally intended when the properties were turned over for inclusion into the GGNRA."

It is incumbent upon the City to continue to insist that the Park be used for its primary purpose - recreation. Otherwise, the City has a trust obligation to take back its former lands from the despotic rule of the GGNRA.


Anonymous said...

This is an amazing piece of writing. Thank you so much for your research, intelligence, and effort to show the GGNRA's dog management report for what it is. You give me hope that maybe our side has a chance.

seabass said... we are fighting the same battles with NPS over on the east coast at Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area. They dropped the "RA" off the name in all but the most formal papers a long time ago and try to convince us that it really doesn't make any difference.

Bet of luck to you in your fight! If you want to read up on our plight, go to

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for your efforts to report on this problem and help save off leash areas for our dogs--and US! those of us with less means sincerely appreciate your thinking and support of the cause.

Anonymous said...

I hope you forward this to Nancy Pelosi, Ken Salazar, Jackie Speier, the Sf Board of Supervisors, the Crissy Field dog group lawyer, and I hope you have a nice hefty comment for GGNRA on their DEIS report itself.

Thomas said...

Thank you! What can we do to stop this most recent attack?