Thursday, March 24, 2011

The GGNRA: Let's Take Back Our Land

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.)

In recent years, we have wondered if the GGNRA really wants us in “their park”. If you look at some of the GGNRA’s management activities, you have cause to wonder. For example, 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.”

This DEIS is premised as a necessity to save the GGNRA from being permanently degraded by overuse of the park. From the GGNRA DEIS Executive Summary (see:

"Since the 1990s, the San Francisco Bay Area population and overall use of GGNRA park sites have increased…”

From ABC News (

"But the GGNRA says the number of visitors to the park has increased dramatically in the past 20 years, threatening the condition of the parks. The GGNRA also points out that it is the only recreation area in the national parks system that has any off-leash areas at all.”

The article further quotes GGNRA spokesperson Howard Levitt,

“We need to consider the spectrum of visitor use of an area, people who want to enjoy the park with their dogs off leash, people who want to experience it as dog-free, and all of our, as you can imagine, 16 million visitors that fit along that spectrum."

Funny thing, when you actually get a look at the NPS official visitor statistics for the GGNRA, you see that the GGNRA management is once again, lying.


Total GGNRA Recreation Visits

1973 - 42,600

1974 - 702,300

1975 - 1,196,900

1976 - 1,457,600

1977 - 6,300,200

1978 - 8,960,938

1979 - 11,321,127

1980 - 18,421,773

1981 - 20,279,789

1982 - 19,897,389

1983 - 17,604,551

1984 - 16,731,706

1985 - 18,355,365

1986 - 21,582,368

1987 - 21,767,176

1988 - 21,759,271

1989 - 16,656,896

1990 - 14,650,213

1991 - 14,695,771

1992 - 15,309,338

1993 - 14,695,777

1994 - 14,695,771

1995 - 14,695,771

1996 - 14,043,984

1997 - 13,803,382

1998 -14,046,590

1999 - 14,048,085

2000 - 14,486,065

2001 - 13,457,900

2002 - 13,961,267

2003 - 13,854,750

2004 - 13,270,547

2005 - 13,602,629

2006 - 13,486,826

2007 - 14,397,313

2008 - 14,554,750

2009 - 15,036,372

2010 - 14,271,503

Total - 522,102,545

The year of 1989, when the Biosphere program began, saw visitors drop by over 5 million in this Recreation Area that otherwise had shown steady growth in recreation visitors since they started tracking visitors in 1973.

The number of park visitors has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. In fact, in 1988 the GGNRA experienced close to its greatest number of visitors, (second only to 1987 which had about 8,000 more) coming in at 21,759,271 recreational visitors. According to NPS statistics, in 2010, the total number of recreational visitors was 14,271,503, down about 34% from 1988.

Consider also that in the past 20 years the GGNRA acreage has almost doubled in size, and expanded into San Mateo County. This puts a far larger population in direct proximity to the Recreation Area, yet the visitor numbers are down dramatically.

The DEIS is just a reflection of the management priorities that Brian O’Neill started with his Biosphere commitment that have systematically denied and discouraged access for the public to this Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The DEIS is not about increased conflicts in the park because of dogs, or degradation of the park; it’s about keeping people out of the GGNRA. With the GGNRA now owning close to sixty percent of the open park space in cities like San Francisco and Pacifica, don’t you think it’s about time that we take back our parks?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An Open Sentence To GGNRA Superintendent Frank Dean

Dear GGNRA Superintendent Fran Dean:

The National Park Service regulation mandating a permit to conduct expressive activities within a national park is "antithetical to the core First Amendment principle that restrictions on free speech in a public forum may be valid only if narrowly tailored." (Boardley v. Department of Interior, No. 09-5176, p. 2 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 6, 2010).) In short, shove it!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why The GGNRA's DEIS Is Illegal

The GGNRA's enabling legislation requires the GGNRA to utilize sound principles of land use planning and management. An accepted practice is 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. The following is taken from the Introduction of the Report for 2009:

“This is the seventeenth annual monitoring report for the Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) based Management Direction for the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area (NRA) and Wilderness (RNRAW), which was approved in December 1992. Monitoring is the final step in the LAC planning system. It is an ongoing, continuous process and is instrumental for evaluating management effectiveness and sustainability of resource values and conditions. The LAC process recognizes that wilderness conditions change. Wilderness areas are dynamic systems with many forces continually affecting the landscape. These forces of change include people and their impacts, fire, insects and disease, invasive species and many others. It defines what conditions are desirable and how to achieve or maintain those conditions. Based on citizen involvement, laws and regulation, it identifies what changes are acceptable rather than attempting to prevent change. Monitoring is based upon the indicators and standards outlined in the LAC direction. The indicators and their specific standards provide methods of measurement to effectively monitor factors and area wide issues. Refer to the December, 1992 Limits of Acceptable Change Based Management Direction for the RNRAW for a more complete discussion of the LAC process. The factors monitored during the 2009 field season include: education, use and users, trails and roads, Wilderness characteristics, vegetation, vandalism, wildlife, fire, goals and policies. Refer to Table 1 for a complete description of the factors, indicators and standards for each opportunity class (OC).”

In contrast, in 2006 when this DEIS was announced in the Federal Register, OBDOG made a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request to provide the data, documents, and/or Staff Report which substantiated the GGNRA’s claim that there was controversy over the dog policy, compromised visitor and employee safety and resource degradation which warranted this 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.

The lack of data or any documentation providing justification to proceed with this Environmental Review calls into question the intentions of the GGNRA. This DEIS is promulgated as the foundation for a policy change which does not address any identifiable problem. As such, the decision to proceed with the DEIS violates federal law because this agency action is arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion. Accordingly, this agency action, findings and conclusions should be set aside as prescribed by the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 706 (2)A.

This DEIS is also unlawful because its findings violate the enabling legislation for this National Recreation Area. As stated before, the enabling legislation requires adherence to sound principles of land use planning and management. The example of appropriate land use and planning and management here is the RNRAW. RNRAW management accepts that use can change the environment of the recreation area and wilderness. When the LoLo trail in RNRAW was being degraded by excessive use, they implemented a mitigating rule which limited groups using the trail to no more than 10 people at a time. The management at RNRAW did not use the degradation as an excuse to close the trail to humans.

On the other hand, increased usage over time was anticipated when this National Recreation Area was created. The House Report No 92-1391 made clear that the GGNRA would be confronted with problems in San Francisco that would require careful planning because of the high volume year-round visitation:

"As a national urban recreation area, this new component of the national park system will be confronted with problems which do not frequently occur at other national park and recreation areas. Great numbers of people can be expected to use the area-particularly those portions located in San Francisco County." (Pg. 11)

Yet here in the GGNRA, despite the huge numbers of visitors-human and canine, the GGNRA chooses now to limit access even when they cannot document degradation. Where is the careful planning? Where are the annual reports monitoring the state of the Recreation Area? What impacts have been documented? What are the acceptable levels of change in the environment? What mitigation has been proposed to address change that exceeds the acceptable levels?

RNRAW management also acknowledges external factors will create change and they choose to work to limit changes to an acceptable level. In the GGNRA, the adverse changes due to external factors are generally attributed to visitors and used to limit access. A perfect example of this would be Ocean Beach. The GGNRA’s own study concluded that the plover at Ocean Beach is affected more by a narrowing of the beach due to erosion than any activities of dogs or humans. The GGNRA’s response to this is to ban dogs from most of Ocean Beach in this preferred alternative. Also ignored is the data that establishes plover numbers have been higher when dogs are allowed here off-leash, or the data that concludes plovers are not disturbed in their foraging or feeding by off-leash dogs in the vicinity.

In fact, some of the greatest changes in the environment have been fomented upon the protesting public by GGNRA management themselves. So much for the citizen involvement as discussed in the RNRAW. At Fort Funston the creation of habitat by the GGNRA themselves killed off the majority of the Bank swallow population—not the activities of people or dogs. Yet the preferred alternative in this DEIS bans dogs from the majority of Fort Funston with the premise being the protection of the Bank Swallow.

The fact is that the National Park Service has had a shift in ideology, and this new ideology is in direct conflict with the enabling legislation and the promises the NPS made to citizens to persuade them and their governing bodies to turn over the properties that make up the GGNRA. The GGNRA is not above the law. This DEIS should be thrown out and the 1979 Pet Policy, in its original form, should be instituted as a Section Seven Special Regulation.

(Coming soon: proof from the NPS itself that it is knowingly violating the GGNRA's unique enabling legislation)

Sunday, March 13, 2011