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SFDOG Official Comment on GGNRA General Management Plan DEIS


By sally - Posted on 01 February 2012

 
 
 
 
 
December 8, 2011
 
 
Superintendent Frank Dean
GGNRA
Attn: Draft GMP/EIS
Building 201, Fort Mason
San Francisco, CA 94123
 
 
Dear Superintendent Dean,
 
I am writing this public comment on the GGNRA’s Draft General Management Plan (GMP)/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as Chair and representative 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 the Neighborhood Parks Council, 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.
 
SFDOG has serious concerns with the new proposed General Management Plan and the EIS. We support the No Action Alternative. There is no evidence presented in the GMP/EIS that requires the dramatic changes in management contained in the Action Alternatives, especially at Ocean Beach and Fort Funston. Indeed, the EIS inadequately describes the No Action Alternative, especially when compared with the Action Alternatives. This unfairly biases the EIS analysis against the No Action Alternative.
 
The Draft GMP completely changes the mission of the GGNRA from that identified in the enabling legislation, a change that may not be legal without an act of Congress. Contrary to its enabling legislation, the Draft GMP minimizes recreation in the GGNRA. Indeed, the Preferred Alternative classifies 90% of GGNRA land as “natural zones” to be managed for a “backcountry visitor experience” with low use levels, controls on access, and minimal amenities (emphasizing the “self reliance” of visitors).
 
The Draft GMP presents a vision of the GGNRA that differs from reality. It does not acknowledge that much of the GGNRA, especially in San Francisco and southern Marin, are “man-created landscapes” (as the 1980 GMP states), instead treating the entire GGNRA as similar to a truly natural wilderness like Yosemite. This misrepresentation incorrectly informs the analysis of the Alternatives, especially as it relates to natural resources and recreational access.
 
The Draft GMP is not responsive to what park users want. It acknowledges that most people surveyed want the current variety of recreational uses to be maintained, yet proposes to severely limit what recreational activities are allowed and where. It imposes a vision of the GGNRA on the people of the Bay Area rather than working with them to address their recreational needs and wants.
 
The Draft GMP/EIS does not adequately consider negative impacts on recreation, visitor use, health and safety caused by restrictions on the variety of recreational activities allowed and by controls on access in “natural zones.” The Draft GMP/EIS does not adequately consider impacts on parks in surrounding areas, especially San Francisco city parks, if recreational opportunities and access are greatly reduced, as proposed in all the Action Alternatives.
 
The Draft GMP/EIS assumes recreation, by definition, has a negative impact on natural resources without presenting any evidence that this is true. Because of this unsubstantiated bias, the analyses of the Alternatives and the selection of a preferred one are inadequate and cannot be accepted.
 
Finally, the public comment process for the Draft GMP/EIS has been inadequate. The GGNRA should have posted notices about the Draft GMP/EIS at locations with large numbers of visitors, for example, Fort Funston and Ocean Beach, but they did not. When dog advocates posted notices about the Draft GMP/EIS, the notices were removed. Large numbers of regular visitors to the GGNRA still don’t know there is a Draft GMP/EIS available for public comment because the GGNRA never posted notices about it in places they would see them.
 
The GGNRA conducted no public hearings on the GMP/EIS. Instead three public open houses were held. Open houses are not an adequate substitute for a public hearing. During a public hearing, members of the public hear what other people have to say, and that can, in turn, influence their comment. For example, one person may raise a point that a second person had never considered, but having heard it, the second person may decide it is a really important point and indicate their support for the point in their own comment. This sharing of ideas is not possible during open houses, which isolate people as they talk one-on-one with GGNRA staff.
 
By contrast, when the 1980 GMP was developed, the GGNRA Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) held five public hearings to gauge public response to various proposed alternatives. They then held five additional public hearings after the Draft GMP was released. The CAC then prepared ten committee reports suggesting modifications to the Draft GMP. These reports “resulted from an exhaustive page-by-page review and analysis of the draft plan by the committees prior to the public hearings. Subsequent to the hearings, two staff reports were submitted to the full commission responding to relevant issues and questions raised by the public in both written and verbal testimony” (1980 GMP p. 15). The final GMP adopted by the GGNRA in 1980 incorporated all of the modifications suggested by the CAC, as well as “numerous other specific changes requested by the public during the public hearings and review period” (1980 GMP, p. 15). The level of public process was extensive in 1980 and resulted in a GMP that the public accepted and backed.
 
The level of public participation in the process of developing the current Draft GMP is wholly inadequate, especially when compared with the level of participation in 1980. Because the current public process has been so inadequate, the Draft GMP will not garner the level of widespread public support needed for the Plan to succeed. Because the current public process has been so inadequate, the Preferred Alternative cannot be accepted. Instead, the GGNRA should either restart the process, with extensive postings at various locations in the GGNRA and multiple public hearings about the Draft GMP, or continue to manage its lands according to the 1980 GMP.
 
Considered individually, each of the problems outlined above is concerning. When taken together, however, it is clear the Draft GMP/EIS is fatally flawed. The GGNRA has not presented any compelling reason to change its management strategies from those outlined in the 1980 GMP. SFDOG, therefore, supports the No Action Alternative.
 
 
CHANGING THE MISSION OF THE GGNRA
 
Recreation was at the heart of the creation of the GGNRA. The GGNRA began as part of the Nixon Administration’s 1970 campaign “to bring parks to the people”, and to increase outdoor recreation in urban areas (U.S. Dept of Interior news release, September 14, 1970). 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)  (emphasis added)
 
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 (emphasis added):

  • “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 1980 GMP reflects the enabling legislation’s emphasis on recreation. Although it does not contain a concise Park Purpose statement, references to the importance of recreational access and activities are found frequently in the document. A few examples:

  • “The planned uses of the resources are primarily for recreational activity, consistent with the reasons for establishment of the areas.” (p. 189)
  • “Because most visitors will continue to be local people, there will be a basic orientation to residents of the Bay Area and their needs for cultural expression, socializing, physical exercise, and the whole variety of daily leisure experiences.” (p. 23)
  • “Restoration of historic natural conditions (such as reestablishment of Tule elk) will continue to be implemented when such actions will not seriously diminish scenic and recreational values.” (p. 96)
  • “The plan will provide a wide range of high quality recreational, educational, and cultural opportunities for local and national visitors.” (p. 128)
  • “The park will provide recreational experiences for a wide variety of users.” (p, 128)
  • “The plan was shaped by careful attention to both existing uses and public demand for new activities.” (p. 128)

 
In the years since its creation, Congress has not changed the mission or purpose of the GGNRA. In 2008, Representative Nancy Pelosi submitted a bill to Congress that would have changed the name of the GGNRA from “Golden Gate National Recreation Area” to “Golden Gate National Park.” It would have amended the enabling legislation to remove the word “recreation area” wherever it occurred and replace it with “national park.” Finally, it officially designated the GGNRA as a national park to be administered as such. After widespread opposition to it surfaced, Pelosi withdrew the bill. It was never passed.
 
The Draft GMP/EIS, however, acts as if Pelosi’s bill did pass. On Vol 1 page 15, it defines the mission of the GGNRA as:
“The purpose of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is to offer national park experiences to a large and diverse urban population while preserving and interpreting the park’s outstanding natural, historic, scenic, and recreational values.”
By focusing on “national park experience,” this statement completely changes the mission of the GGNRA, something Congress itself has refused to do.
 
This mission statement even conflicts with the Draft GMP/EIS’s own definition of what the Park Purpose should be:
“The Park Purpose is a statement that summarizes why Congress and/or the president established the area as a unit of the national park system. It is based on the enabling legislation and the legislative history of the unit. The purpose statement provides the most fundamental criteria against which the appropriateness of all plan recommendations, operational decisions, and actions are tested.” (Vol I, p. 14)
 
How does this change in park purpose effect management decisions in the GGNRA? Look at the way the 1980 GMP says the GGNRA should manage Ocean Beach and Fort Funston:
“The primary management goal in these areas will be to continue to accommodate relatively high use levels with a commitment to intensive maintenance in order to retain the appearance of a natural landscape.” (1980 GMP, p. 17)
This is in keeping with the enabling legislation.
 
Similarly, he description of how Ocean Beach and Fort Funston would be managed in the No Action Alternative is also in keeping with the enabling legislation:
“Ocean Beach would continue to be managed to provide a recreational beach that accommodates high levels of diverse use, while preserving its natural values…” (Vol I, p. 192)
“Fort Funston – This park unit would continue to provide trail and beach access for a variety of recreational uses, including dog walking and hang gliding. It would also preserve important natural and cultural resources…” (Vol I, p. 192)
 
By contrast, according to the Preferred Alternative (as well as the other two Action Alternatives), two-thirds of Ocean Beach and most of Fort Funston would be managed as “natural zones.” The Draft GMP/EIS describes “natural zones” as (Vol I, pp. 83-87):
·       “The natural resources would be managed to preserve and restore resource integrity while providing for backcountry types of visitor experiences.”
·       “Visitors would have the opportunity to be immersed in a natural environment and could seek areas where they could experience … a sense of remoteness and self-reliance.”
·       “Visitor use would be controlled.”
·       “Visitor use … could involve controlled access.”
·       “Challenge, risk, and testing of outdoor skills would be important to most visitors accessing this zone.”
·       “Low to moderate use levels would be expected…”
·       “… opportunities for solitude might be found in certain areas…”
·       “External threats to resources would be aggressively addressed.”
 
Clearly, all the Action Alternatives, including the Preferred one, define “national park experience” as what a visitor would expect in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park. But Ocean Beach and Fort Funston are located within the city limits of San Francisco, a city of 800,000 people. The 1980 GMP correctly defines them as “high use” areas. Expecting and managing for low use levels on the only beach in San Francisco is absurd and unrealistic. Managing two-thirds of that beach as a bird sanctuary (Vol I, p. 214), with severe restrictions on access and allowed recreational activities, is an insult to the people of San Francisco who believed the GGNRA when it promised to respect traditional recreational activities on land given by San Francisco to the GGNRA. A backcountry visitor experience is impossible on land located immediately adjacent to (or contained within) a major urban area. But this is the type of management policy that results from a Park Purpose built around a “national park experience.”
 
The enabling legislation listed recreation is as one of four values to be protected and maintained, along with natural, historic, and scenic values. Any GGNRA management plan must balance these four values. The No Action Alternative does a better job of balancing them than any of the Action Alternatives. The Guiding Principles listed in the Draft GMP/EIS (Vol I, P. 7) do not even use the word “recreation.” They quote the 1916 Organic Act with its emphasis on conservation, but never mention the enabling legislation and its emphasis on recreation and balance. This inherent bias against recreation colors the analysis of all the Alternatives, and therefore, the analyses cannot be accepted.
 
By ignoring recreation as a primary emphasis and focusing on a “national park experience,” the Park Purpose in the Draft GMP conflicts with the GGNRA’s enabling legislation. The GGNRA cannot change its mission or Park Purpose in the guise of updating a General Management Plan; such change requires an act of Congress. Therefore, the Park Purpose in the Draft GMP/EIS must be changed to more accurately reflect the enabling legislation before any GMP can be considered for adoption.
 
 
PROBLEMS WITH MANAGEMENT ZONES, ESPECIALLY “NATURAL ZONES”
 
The Draft GMP/EIS designates a variety of management zones that determine what activities can take place there as well as define the kind of visitor use experience desired in that zone. Many of these zones make sense, e.g., Evolved Cultural Landscape Zone or Historic Immersion Zone, and seem to be properly considered. Interestingly, the word “Recreation” doesn’t occur in the name of any zone. Rather the areas that will allow the widest variety of recreational activities are called “Diverse Opportunity Zones.”
 
However, all of the Action Alternatives designate roughly 90% of the GGNRA as “natural zones.” According to the Draft GMP/EIS (Vol I, pp. 83-87), these zones will be managed for the “backcountry type of visitor experience” that “could involve controlled access.” “External threats to resources would be aggressively administered.” “Exotic invasive animals would be managed with the goal of eradication in the park.” [That last sentence is “code” for the killing of feral cats on GGNRA land, something Bay Area residents have long made clear they oppose.]
 
The Draft GMP/EIS goes on to say that in “natural zones”, visitors could experience “a sense of remoteness and self-reliance.” “Challenge, risk, and testing of outdoor skills would be important to most visitors accessing this zone.” “There would be limited universal access opportunities.” “Low to moderate use levels would be expected in this zone.” “… opportunities for solitude might be found…”
 
All of this sounds like a terrific way to manage a true backcountry wilderness such as Yellowstone or the backcountry of Yosemite. Those are remote parks in rural areas that people generally come from far away to visit. However, that is NOT a good fit for the highly urban GGNRA, and especially not for 90% of its lands. The Draft GMP/EIS will manage two-thirds of Ocean Beach and most of Fort Funston as “natural zones” despite both having thousands and thousands of visitors each day. Much of the GGNRA is either within or immediately adjacent to not only San Francisco, but the entire high-density, intensely urban Bay Area. Neighborhood trails and beaches should not be managed to artificially exclude people so that a select few can have a “solitary” visitor experiences. To manage most of the GGNRA like Yellowstone is absurd. This must be changed before any GMP can be considered for adoption.
 
 
UNFAIR, PREJUDICIAL ANALYSIS OF THE NO ACTION ALTERNATIVE
 
The Draft GMP/EIS lists several reasons that the 1980 GMP has to be updated: the park has expanded in size; increased public demand for access to and use of open space; changing demographics of the Bay Area; park staff have gathered new information and knowledge about resources and visitor use; climate change is better understood; and changes in the local transportation infrastructure. However, the Draft GMP/EIS offers no proof that the 1980 GMP cannot address these issues. There is no evidence presented to indicate major problems are arising that require a major, dramatic change in management strategy as the Draft GMP/EIS claims is necessary.
 
The Draft GMP/EIS claims conflicts between users has increased as overall park use has increased (Vol I, p. 29), but it offers no evidence to back that claim. We saw in the DEIS for the Dog Management Plan released earlier this year that GGNRA claims of increases in conflict were not substantiated by the data. In the Dog DEIS, for example, on page 5, the GGNRA claimed that: “Since the 1990s… the number of conflicts between park users with and without dogs began to rise…” However, if you look at the number of Pet Related Incidents reported by the GGNRA from the years 2001 to 2008, it is clear that that the number of incidents and citations remained roughly the same every year. For example, the number of dog bites each year were, respectively, 26, 26, 23, 29, 23, 24, 37, 16. There was no increase in dog bites. The numbers were especially remarkable considering there are millions of dog visits each year in the GGNRA, and only a few tens of bites. Clearly, there was no substantiated increase in conflict. Yet the Dog DEIS claimed there was to justify increased restrictions on dog access in the GGNRA.
 
The Draft GMP/EIS uses similar claims of increased conflict to “prove” the No Action Alternative does not work. But with no data to prove the claims are real, and given the GGNRA”s history of misrepresenting data to prove a desired point, there’s no way to independently confirm this claim. Therefore, it cannot be used in the analysis of the No Action Alternative.
 
Similarly, the Draft GMP/EIS claims impacts on resources from existing recreation activities (Vol I, p. 29) without providing any evidence these impacts actually occur. Without such proof, this claim cannot be used in the analysis of the No Action Alternative. The Draft GMP/EIS states that: “The continuation of current recreational use also would reduce habitat integrity.” (Vol I, p. 288) while providing no evidence to prove this claim. It goes on to say that the long-term impacts of recreation would be minor to moderate adverse (Vol I, p. 228). Without being able to see actual data and evidence of reduced habitat integrity, increase in visitor conflict, the public cannot judge the validity of those claims, and, therefore, any analysis of the Alternatives and selection of a Preferred Alternative that includes unsubstantiated claims cannot be accepted. These claims all impact the analysis of Alternatives in one way – making the No Action Alternative seem less attractive, and other Alternatives more attractive. The analysis of all the Alternatives must be redone, with unsubstantiated claims removed from consideration.
 
Perhaps the most blatant example of bias against the No Action Alternative in the Draft GMP/EIS is the way impacts on the snowy plover are portrayed. In Part 8: Potential Environmental Consequences, the EIS lists potential impacts on the snowy plover from continued current visitor use. The summary in Table 16 (on Vol II, p. 251) lists, for the No Action Alternative, the ESA Determination as “may affect, likely to adversely affect.” Of course, there’s no evidence cited to prove this claim. On the other hand, the Part 8 analysis of Alternative 1 says: “Impacts to western snowy plover and their habitat from alternative 1  would be the same as the no-action alternative. The determination of effect under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act would be “may affect, not likely to adversely affect.” (emphasis added) (Vol II, p. 253). Alternative 2 and 3 say the same thing as Alternative 1. How can impacts from the No-Action Alternative be “likely to adversely affect” the plovers while the same impacts in the other alternatives are deemed “likely to not adversely affect”? This bias must be corrected, and the analysis redone.
 
The maps showing the management zones under each Alternative are easy to read and understand. However the map that shows the management zoning under the No Action Alternative (Vol I, p. 201) is very difficult to read. Indeed, because of the scale at which it was printed, it is very difficult to figure out the management zoning at Ocean Beach. This map should be redone in the same style as the other maps so that it can more easily be compared to them, and so that the No Action Alternative can be better compared to the Action Alternatives.
 
 
INACCURATE DEPICTION OF THE GGNRA
 
The 1980 GMP describes many parts of the GGNRA, and especially the parts within San Francisco County, as clearly not pristine wilderness. For example, the 1980 GMP’s describes the Natural Appearance Subzone at Ocean Beach and Fort Funston as: “To many park users lands in this subzone may appear to be as natural as wilderness areas at Point Reyes, but they are in fact man-created landscapes which in many cases will require the same degree of maintenance as an urban park setting.” (p. 17).
 
Later in the 1980 GMP, it says: “ In fact, the park characteristics we enjoy today and perhaps assume to be natural are, in most cases, the result of some degree of human intervention with natural processes. Most of the trees at Baker Beach and Lands End, for example, were planted by the army, and the steep open grasslands so characteristic of coastal Marin may have been in some measure perpetuated by livestock grazing.” (p. 95)
 
The Draft GMP/EIS treats these same GGNRA lands as pristine wilderness, requiring a level of protection and restrictions on use more appropriate to that of a sensitive resources zone. The Draft GMP/EIS applies management policies appropriate for pristine wilderness (e.g., backcountry, solitary, self-reliant visitor experience; natural resource integrity) to the naturalistic, maintained landscapes in much of the GGNRA. The analyses of the Alternatives based on these assumptions and perceptions are not accurate, and cannot be accepted. The Draft GMP/EIS has to take a more realistic approach to these maintained landscapes.
 
The 1980 GMP acknowledges what should be an obvious truth – areas such as Ocean Beach and Fort Funston are high use areas, and should be managed as such. “The maintained environment and structures of the San Francisco units have a greater ability to absorb impacts than the more northern areas, and consequently more development and use is proposed for these units.” (1980 GMP, p. 189). These areas currently receive more thousands and thousands of visitors every day. Yet the Draft GMP/EIS proposes to manage two-thirds of Ocean Beach and most of Fort Funston as low-use natural zones. The GMP needs to better reflect reality and acknowledge that Ocean Beach and Fort Funston are high-use areas and should be managed that way.
 
 
IMPACTS THAT WERE NOT CONSIDERED
 
Impact of Controlling Access on the Visitor Experience and on Parks in Surrounding Communities
The Draft GMP/EIS considers economic impacts on surrounding communities from the Action Alternatives, especially loss of jobs if numbers of visitors are restricted. However, it does not consider impacts on parks in the surrounding communities if access to GGNRA lands is “controlled” in the 90% of the GGNRA that will be managed as “natural zones.” In backcountry areas, controlled access generally means permits to keep visitor numbers down. This concept will not work in the GGNRA, since the majority of its visitors are local and come regularly, even daily. Locals are not going to wait for a permit to walk in what is essentially a neighborhood park. Nor will locals wait at a park entrance until a GGNRA gatekeeper tells them they can enter the area. This will result in a significant degradation of the visitor experience for these frequent local users. This impact was not considered in the EIS, and it should be.
 
As a result of controlled access, local visitors are likely to respond by going to non-GGNRA parks in the surrounding communities for their recreation needs. Controlling access to “natural zones” may well result in forcing many regular GGNRA visitors OUT of the park, rather than “connecting” them to the park. This is, first and foremost, a direct attack on the reason the GGNRA was created – “to expand to the maximum extent possible the outdoor recreation opportunities available to the region.” It also will increase usage at city parks that are frequently significantly underfunded and unable to handle a large increase in users.
 
We saw an example of this on “Tusnami Friday.” As reported on the front page of the March 2011 West Portal Monthly, the GGNRA closed both Fort Funston and Ocean Beach the morning of Friday, March 11, 2011 because of concerns that a tsunami from the Japanese earthquake might hit the coast. On a busy weekend day, the maximum number of dogs at Stern Grove, the closest off-leash area to the beaches, would be about 60. Weekday mornings, like that Friday, would normally find far fewer dogs in Stern Grove. On Tsunami Friday, a Recreation and Park Dept staffer counted over 200 dogs in Stern Grove at 10 am. Parking was described as “chaotic.” While this occurred as a result of a complete closure of GGNRA land, it is likely that “controlled access” to 90% of GGNRA lands will result in a significant increase of city park users. The EIS did not consider the impacts on the visitor experience of people in city parks, nor did it consider impacts on the natural environment in city parks caused by an increase in usage from people who could no longer access GGNRA lands. This must be included in the analyses.
 
 
Impact on Health and Social Communities from Controlled Access and Reductions in Variety of Recreation Allowed
The Draft GMP/EIS does not adequately consider negative impacts on people’s health caused by controlled access to the 90% of GGNRA land managed as “natural zones.” For example, many people go to the GGNRA to take long hikes with their dogs in naturalistic settings. This same visitor experience is not possible in most (much smaller) city parks or on city streets. If people are denied the ability to walk with their dogs daily at Ocean Beach or Fort Funston, for example, because access is being controlled and they are not able to get similar exercise in city parks, their health will suffer.
 
For example, a study of 5,902 adults in Michigan (Reeves, Rafferty, et al, March 2010, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, vol 8, issue 3) found that dog walkers were 69% more likely to engage in long-term physical activity than non-dog walkers. Among those who took their dogs for regular walks, 60% met the federal criteria for regular moderate or vigorous exercise. Only one-third of those without dogs had the same levels of exercise.
 
A study by Cutt, Giles-Corti, et al (American Journal of Public Health, January 2008) found that “the adjusted odds of achieving sufficient physical activity and walking were 57% and 77% higher among dog owners compared with those not owning dogs.” Several other studies were cited in an article in the March 14, 2011 edition of The New York Times. One study of 41,500 Californians found that people with dogs were 60% more likely to walk for leisure than those who owned cats or had no pet at all. In another study quoted in the article, seniors in an assisted-living facility improved walking speed by 28% if they walked with a dog, but by only 4% if they walked with a human companion. Restricting people’s ability to walk with their dogs in “natural zones” will have a health impact on them. The same argument applies to other recreational uses that will be restricted in “natural zones.”
 
Similarly, many people currently visit the GGNRA for a recreational activity that is currently allowed but will not be allowed in the future because of restrictions imposed because of the designation of 90% of the GGNRA as “natural zones.” Dog walking is one example. Bodysurfing is another. During a November 2011 professional surfing contest at Ocean Beach, people inspired by the professional surfers decided to have an impromptu bodysurfing contest next to where the pro competition was being held. GGNRA Park Rangers stopped the bodysurfing contest because it was taking place in the plover protection area of the beach. The GGNRA did not acknowledge that the bodysurfing was taking place in the water, not up in the dunes where the plovers were. There was no acknowledgment that people like to bodysurf at beaches. There was only the idea that this is a “natural zone” and recreation wasn’t allowed in that area.
 
The No Action Alternative, which neither controls access nor restricts recreational variety, would clearly have no adverse impact on human health, while all the Action Alternatives that do have these controls and restrictions will. Yet the EIS incorrectly dismissed from further analysis any impacts on human health (Vol II, p. 16). Human health impacts must be included in the EIS, and any analyses of Alternatives that does not include it cannot be accepted.
 
NEPA rules also require a governmental agency to consider impacts on social communities 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 includes ecological (such as the effects on natural resources and on the components, structures, and functioning of affected ecosystems), aesthetic, historic, cultural, economic, social, or health, whether direct, indirect, or cumulative. 40 CFR 1508.8 (emphasis added)

 
The Draft GMP/EIS does not consider impacts on social communities at the various areas in the GGNRA. For example, people who walk their dogs at Fort Funston and see each other every day form a true sense of community with their fellow dog walkers. Dog walkers are perhaps the most diverse group of users in the GGNRA. Go to Fort Funston and you will see kids and seniors, people with disabilities, gay and straight, every ethnic and religious group, and every socioeconomic class walking, talking, and laughing together, all united by their common love of dogs. There are few places in San Francisco where you will see so many different types of people interacting without rancor.
 
During Public Comment at the SF Board of Supervisors’ Land Use Committee hearing on the GGNRA Dog Management Plan DEIS (4/11/11), Lisa Kieikdogerh said:
 
            Good afternoon, Supervisors. My name is Lisa Kuekdogerh. I am disabled and I do not have a dog. Last year I had to undergo grueling medical treatments. I am weak and even coming here to comment is an effort. I am grateful for getting the chance to speak. 
            For both my mental and physical health, I made a point to visit Fort Funston when I could. I knew getting out of my social isolation was essential. I knew watching dogs play would bring me joy. I knew encountering the occasional extraverted dog would give me the chance to pet a dog and get a few face licks. 
            My medical team told me I had to start walking as often as I was able. Given my physical state and being a woman, I wanted to be safe. Fort Funston with its open air format and the natural comings and goings of people and off-leash dogs was the perfect match. 
            After not showing up at the Fort for a few days, a voice called out to me: “How ya doing? Haven’t seen you lately.” I was surprised and had no idea who was talking to me. She was a professional dog walker. I quickly learned there was a vibrant social community at the Fort and that I was welcomed into it. She continued to keep tabs on me, and does to this day. She has driven me to doctors’ appointments and surgeries. She has become a vital part of my social support network.
            I have never encountered a more cohesive, caring, and self-policing community. I have met other disabled and senior folks who visit Fort Funston, and for many of the same reasons I do. One woman told me she knows if she collapses on the trail due to her health condition, as happened to her once before, she and her dog will be taken care of by the people there. 
            Finding this community has been essential to my well being, and I don’t want to see it disappear. This is the Fort Funston I have come to know and I wanted you to know about it, too.
 
Lisa’s experiences are mirrored wherever regular recreational activity takes place. Surfers, wind surfers, hang gliders, and equestrians all get to know one another and bond over their love of their common recreational activity in the GGNRA. However, as the variety of recreational activities is cut or access is controlled in the 90% of the GGNRA that will be managed as “natural zones” (and especially at Ocean Beach and Fort Funston), these communities will suffer or be destroyed. The No Action Alternative would clearly have no adverse impact on social community, while all the Action Alternatives will. Any analysis of alternatives that does not include impacts on social communities cannot be accepted. It must be included in the EIS.
 
Impact on Safety from Controlled Access and Reductions in Variety of Recreation Allowed
The EIS also dismisses concerns about public safety from further analysis (Vole II, p. 16). Yet it gives no reason for the dismissal. Visitor safety is mentioned under Visitor Use and Experience, but the discussion is inadequate. The GGNRA is an urban recreation area. Ocean Beach and Fort Funston are located within the city limits of a city of 800,000 people. All the social ills we see in big cities are also seen in the GGNRA. Over the past decade there have been two murders at Fort Funston – two women lured a man to Fort Funston late at night and robbed and killed him; a man shot a hang glider pilot in the parking lot. Robberies, auto burglaries and assaults occur on GGNRA land. Criminals can hop on a streetcar, go to Ocean Beach or Fort Funston, commit a crime, then hop back on the street car to go home. Treating much of the GGNRA – and Ocean Beach and Fort Funston in particular – as backcountry wilderness is unrealistic and foolhardy, given the proximity to a large city.
 
In the 1970s, Fort Funston was the kind of place parents didn’t let their kids go. The brave few who ventured there encountered drug dealers, men who exposed themselves, and homeless encampments. There’s an old adage that a well-used park is a safe park. As more and more dog walkers came to the Fort, sure enough, the drug dealers and flashers went elsewhere. According to all the Action Alternatives, most of Fort Funston will be managed as a “natural zone”, with controlled access and restrictions on the variety of recreation permitted (dog walking will not be allowed at most of Fort Funston). The Fort will be managed for an isolated, solitary backcountry wilderness experience, despite being located smack dab in a big city. All of the Action Alternatives will result in significantly fewer visitors at Fort Funston, and, therefore, fewer people to force the drug dealers, flashers, and homeless to go elsewhere. They will likely return to Fort Funston, resulting in a moderate to high adverse impact on public safety there. This issue was not adequately examined in the EIS, and it must be. Public safety concerns cannot be dismissed. They must be explicitly addressed. This is another case where the No Action Alternative will have a significantly more beneficial impact than any of the Action Alternatives. By not considering it, the EIS shows bias against the No Action Alternative and in favor of the Action Alterrnatives. Any analysis of alternatives that does not consider this aspect of public safety cannot be accepted.
 
The Draft GMP/EIS acknowledges that “In general, park sites in San Francisco enjoy the sort of frequent and extensive transit service that is rare in the national park system.” (Vol II, p. 1590. So why is the GGNRA trying to manage its San Francisco lands, in particular, as if they’re in remote rural areas that are hard to reach? This must be corrected in the EIS.
 
When visitor safety is mentioned in the analysis of the Action Alternatives, (e.g., Vol II, p. 301 for Alternative 1, but also in analyses of Alternatives 2 and 3), the Draft GMP/EIS claims Alternative 1 will have long-term beneficial impacts on visitor safety because of improvements to infrastructure, roads, and amenities. The Draft GMP/EIS also considers conflicts between users, such as between equestrians and bike riders, under the guise of Visitor Safety. While it mentions criminal activity as a component of visitor safety (Vol II, p. 123), the analysis of the Alternatives does not adequately address it. The Draft GMP/EIS ignores impacts on visitor safety from increases in crime because fewer people are allowed in to keep the areas safe. This must be included for any analysis of Alternatives or selection of a Preferred Alternative to be accepted.
 
 
Impacts on Recreation
Throughout the Draft GMP/EIS, “recreation” is used to mean hiking (without a dog) on trails. All Action Alternatives allow trail hiking, which allows the Draft GMP/EIS to claim “recreation” will continue to be allowed in the GGNRA and especially in “natural zones.” While trail hiking is one form of recreation, it is by no means the only one. The legislative history for the creation of the GGNRA makes it clear that Congress intended for a wide variety of recreational activities, specifically mentioning sunbathing, picnicking, horse riding, dog walking, hiking, and fishing (H.R. Rep. No 1391, 92nd Congress, 2nd Session, 1972).
 
The GGNRA currently allows a wide variety of recreational activities – dog walking, surfing, kite flying, windsurfing, kayaking, kite surfing, and many others. The EIS does not consider the impact on visitor use experience if the types of recreational activities allowed are reduced. This is especially true in the 90% of GGNRA land that will be managed as “natural zones” in all the Action Alternatives. If you go to the GGNRA to fly a kite or windsurf, for example, being told you cannot do that activity, but you can still hike on a trail is meaningless. The restrictions in recreational variety will have a major adverse impact on your visitor use experience.
 
The Draft GMP/EIS offers no evidence to prove the underlying assumption that recreation and restoration are mutually exclusive, that you cannot have restoration and continue to allow a variety of recreational activities. This assumption must be demonstrated and proved if it is to be used as a basis for kicking people off of land set aside specifically for the “maintenance of needed recreational open space.”
 
 
THE SPECIAL CASE OF THE SNOWY PLOVER
 
The Draft GMP/EIS says (on Vol II, p. 249) that leash restrictions on dogs “would continue to assist in the protection of plovers.” This is not true. The following is taken from the SFDOG comment to the Dog Management Plan DEIS earlier this year. While it refers to pages in the Dog DEIS, the points made apply here – there is little credible evidence that off-leash dogs have any impact on plovers.
 
The presence of the Western Snowy Plover at Ocean Beach and Crissy Field has been used to justify banning dogs from large sections of the beach at both areas. However, the DEIS does not provide evidence to support this restriction. There is no evidence provided in the DEIS to support the claim that dogs chasing the plovers has an impact on the survival of the species. There is no correlation between numbers of plovers and whether dogs were on- or off-leash on the beaches. Indeed, some of the highest numbers of plovers recorded have been when dogs were off-leash (1994 had the highest recorded numbers of plovers (54), at a time when there were no restrictions on dogs on Ocean Beach). Even Hatch (1996) says: “Factors other than the number of people or dogs, possibly beach slop and width, appear to exert greater influence over Snowy Plover numbers on Ocean Beach.”
 
According to the DEIS, the presence of dogs on the beach has not prevented the snowy plovers from using their preferred resting places at Crissy Field. The snowy plover section of Chapter 3 (page 253) states that, since monitoring began in 1996, the birds have continued to use the same two resting areas, whether dogs were on- or off-leash on the beach or not. There is no evidence dogs have any impact on plover population numbers. There is no evidence that plover populations will experience any significant benefits from the Preferred Alternative compared to the No Action Alternative.
 
Monitoring surveys from 1994 to 2006 observed a total of 48 off-leash dogs chasing plovers. Given the fact that there are millions of visits by dogs to Ocean Beach every year, this is a miniscule amount. Similarly, Hatch (1996) studied 5,692 dogs at Ocean Beach, and observed 19 that chased plovers; 1/3 of 1% of the dogs observed chased plovers. There is no evidence in the DEIS that a dog has ever caught or harmed a plover. There is also no evidence that these chasing incidents had any impacts on the plover populations.
 
There is no evidence cited in the DEIS that dogs adversely affect the roosting or foraging behavior of the plovers. Hatch (1996) makes the claim that: “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.” This is another case of assumptions of impacts without any hard evidence that the impact actually occurs.
 
One study that did test this assumption was done by Megan Warren, as part of a Senior Research Seminar at UC Berkeley (“Recreation Disturbance Does Not Change Feeding Behavior of the Western Snowy Plover”, UC Berkeley Environmental Sciences 196, Senior Research Seminar, May 7, 2007). In her report, Warren studied whether recreational disturbances changed the feeding behavior of the snowy plover at Crissy Field and two sites at Point Reyes. She admits that she had expected the data to show that as the frequency of disturbance increased, the birds would spend less time actively foraging and more time alert. Instead, she found no significant relationship between feeding behavior and direct disturbance by people recreating on the beach. “The Crissy Field study did not provide any relevant results, however, the data from the two Point Reyes study sites do not support the hypothesis that western snowy plovers in more heavily disturbed areas devote less time to actively foraging and more time to being alert.” (emphasis added) Interestingly, the Warren study is not mentioned in the DEIS.
 
Again, the DEIS has to consider “disturbances” of plovers by dogs in the context of other causes of disturbances, from people walking in the dunes, joggers, natural predators, equestrians, special events like Fleet Week and the Fourth of July that draw hundreds of thousands of people to the GGNRA, and surfers. The April 2011 edition of the West Portal Monthly quotes Dan Murphy, a plover counter and local plover expert from the Golden Gate Chapter of the Audubon Society 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.”
 
Disturbances from dogs cannot be considered in isolation, as if dogs are the only source of disturbances for the plovers (as the DEIS analysis assumes). The analysis based on this assumption cannot be accepted.
 
Mitigations already exist to address the small numbers of dogs who chase plovers – citations to their owners. There is no need for additional actions, and especially no need to ban dogs from 2/3 of Ocean Beach or from the western end of Crissy Field. Actions as drastic as bans must be supported by solid scientific evidence, not assumptions about possible impacts.
 
Indeed, this lack of evidence of impacts means that there is also no justification for the seasonal restrictions on dog access on Ocean Beach and Crissy Field. These restrictions should be removed.
 
Note that on page 252, the DEIS says: “In September of 2005, the USFWS published a Final Rule to re-designate critical habitat for the western snowy plover along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington (20 CFR Part 17).” The clear implication of this sentence is that the GGNRA contains federally designated critical habitat for the plover. The reality is that USFWS has refused to designate any land in the GGNRA as critical habitat for the snowy plover. USFWS continued to refuse to designate any critical plover habitat in the GGNRA in a 2011 proposal that doubled the acres of critical habitat on the west coast. The fact that there is no critical habitat for plovers in the GGNRA should be explicitly stated in this paragraph.
 
 
THE SPECIAL CASE OF THE BANK SWALLOW
 
The Draft GMP/EIS says (on Vol II, p. 250) that “visitor use .. will continue to disurb individual bank swallows and affect nesting activity and success.” This is not true. The following is taken from the SFDOG comment on the Dog Management Plan DEIS earlier this year. White it refers to pages of the Dog DEIS, the point made then applies to this Draft GMP/EIS as well – bank swallows are not affected by dogs or other visitors.
 
The DEIS claims (table on page 1265) that under the No Action Alternative (allowing off-leash throughout Fort Funston, except for the closed area) “continuing impacts from dogs and/or humans would include digging at or collapsing the burrows, flushing birds from nests, and causing active sloughing and landslides that may block or crush burrows with the young inside.” The DEIS cites two studies for its claims of these impacts. However, neither study documents any impact from dogs on bank swallows. One study cited, USGS 2004, does not actually report any dogs in the bank swallow protected area (in this report, dogs are reported to be in a different area closed for native plant restoration).
 
In the other study, NPS 2007e, monitors reported that a few dogs (a total of three from 2001 to 2006) were observed in the closed area around the bank swallows. These few dogs were not observed to cause any problems for the bank swallows. A list of “potential impacts” is given at the end of NPS 2007e, including digging and collapsing burrows, flushing of birds, and landslides. But this is not a list of observed events. These “potential impacts” in NPS 2007e somehow were reported in the DEIS (page 1263) as: “Dogs could likely dig at or collapse burrows…” and in the table on page 1265 as “continuing impacts”. There is no explanation of how things that could “potentially” happen became “likely” to happen, and then two pages later, became a “continuing impact.” Note that no one has ever seen a dog collapse a bank swallow burrow, flush a swallow, or cause a landslide in the bank swallow colony at Fort Funston.
 
Nola Chow, a GGNRA researcher who monitored the bank swallow colony in 1994 and 1995, wrote an official report of her work (1994-95 Bank Swallow Annual Report, 1996). In it, she observed that dogs were present in areas around the bank swallow, but noted that they did not disturb the swallows. Her observations of no impact are not reported in either the DEIS or in NPS 2007e.
 
Given the lack of evidence of impacts, the presence of bank swallows at Fort Funston cannot be used to justify any restrictions on access for people with dogs, whether on the bluffs or on the beach. There is no evidence in the DEIS that the action alternatives would have any beneficial impact on the bank swallows compared to the No Action Alternative. The analysis of alternatives that does not acknowledge this cannot be accepted.
 
 
OTHER CONCERNS
 
Recreation facilities and transportation issues should be identified as having the highest priority for discretionary funding. High use areas, such as Ocean Beach and Fort Funston have almost no facilities (such as water fountains and bathrooms), and Stinson Beach facilities are in need of repair. The stated goal of the Preferred Alternative in the Draft GMP/EIS is to connect people to the parks, yet once they get there, they find inadequate facilities for their basic needs. Paved walking paths at Fort Funston – crucial for access to the parks for people with disabilities – have been allowed to crumble, erode, and fall into disrepair. These kinds of visitor amenities must be given priority for funding.
 
Management decisions must be based on science and on proven, demonstrated evidence of impacts, not preferences and anecdotal claims. The Draft GMP/EIS provides very little evidence of any actual impacts from recreation. The Draft GMP/EIS has a fundamental underlying assumption that recreation is bad for the environment. Yet there is little evidence presented to back up that assumption. Rather the Draft GMP/EIS takes a “trust us, we did the analysis and we say the impact is moderate adverse” kind of approach. This is an inadequate analysis and it is not acceptable. Decisions to control access to GGNRA land or cut the kinds of recreational activities allowed in an area must be based on hard, scientific evidence. The Draft GMP/EIS provides NO such evidence, and therefore its conclusions, analyses, and selection of a Preferred Alternative cannot be accepted. They must be redone, with actual evidence of impacts presented.
 
The Draft GMP/EIS is not internally consistent. It talks about an “increased public demand for access to and use of open space” (Vol I, p. 5) as one reason the 1980 GMP must be updated. But then the GGNRA recommends a Preferred Alternative that will emphasize “controlled access” on 90% of its land. The management strategies recommended do not adequately address the identified problem. The No Action Alternative, on the other hand, is more likely to allow greater “access to and use of open space land” because it does not carry as many restrictions on access or recreation variety as the Action Alternatives. This is another reason that the Draft GMP/EIS is flawed and inadequate.
 
I attended the Draft GMP/EIS open house in San Francisco on September 24, 2011. I asked several GGNRA staff present how the proposed Dog Management Plan, currently in the EIS process itself, would fit into the Draft GMP. I asked if the GMP would trump the Dog Plan. Could off-leash dogs be allowed by the Dog Plan in areas at, for example, Fort Funston, that were zoned as a “natural zone” I never received a straight answer to my questions. The Draft GMP/EIS says (on Vol I, p. 34) that the “National Park Service could make minor changes to the preferred alternative in the general management plan consistent with the final dog management plan” (emphasis added). This is no promise. Throughout the Draft GMP/EIS when recreational activities are mentioned and listed, dog walking is not included. Will that absence be used in the future to say that we cannot allow dog walking at various locations in the GGNRA because it’s listed in the GMP? The Draft GMP/EIS should include promises to honor any place where the Dog Management Plan allows off-leash and on-leash dog walking, regardless of how it is described in the GMP.
 
 
 
 
 
Because of all these concerns, SFDOG considers the Draft GMP/EIS to be inadequate. We feel that the Preferred Alternative does not adequately represent or address the needs and concerns of the Bay Area community, nor does it adequately maintain “needed recreational open space”, as required by the GGNRA’s enabling legislation. The Draft GMP/EIS presents NO compelling reason to change the 1980 GMP other than to change the mission of the GGNRA, and that cannot be accomplished in a General Management Plan; it requires an act of Congress. Because the Draft GMP/EIS unfairly analyzes the No Action Alternative, the document is fatally flawed. The GGNRA should redo the entire EIS, addressing the inadequacies identified in this letter. Or, better yet, the GGNRA should adopt the No Action Alternative and continue to manage its lands in ways that have been working for decades and that will continue to work for decades to come.
 
Sincerely,
 
 
 
 
 
Sally Stephens
Chair
 
 
 
 
cc: Mayor Ed Lee
     Congresswoman Jackie Speier
     Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi
     Senator Dianne Feinstein
     Senator Barbara Boxer
     Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar
 
 

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