Park Service muzzled on GGNRA dog plan
by Cynthia Laird
The National Park Service is putting on hold the publication of the final rule for dog management at the sprawling Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The move was met with praise from dog owners and other supporters of more off-leash areas within GGNRA.
According to a news release issued Tuesday, January 10, the Park Service decision comes in response to requests from members of Congress to extend the waiting period for the final environmental impact statement.
"This pause will also allow the National Park Service to conduct a review of certain records being released in response to an ongoing Freedom of Information Act request related to the dog management plan and rule," the news release states.
As reported last month, park officials and dog owners have been fighting over the proposed rules for the last 14 years, as they will curtail off-leash access to many GGNRA sites dog owners frequent, particularly Ocean Beach, Crissy Field, and Fort Funston in San Francisco. Last month the Park Service released its final environmental impact statement and had hoped to adopt the changes early this year.
While the Park Service amended its last proposal based on more than 4,100 comments it received last year, dog advocates contend the plan released last month will still result in a 90 percent reduction in off-leash dog areas in the GGNRA. And the San Francisco Dog Owners Group is prepared to sue to block its implementation. Dog groups had already sued under FOIA to obtain Park Service documents.
Last week Bay Area dog and recreation groups launched WoofieLeaks, which they said in a news release exposes a "biased federal process riddled with clear contempt for the public, the press, and elected officials who dared to stand in their way."
Joel Engardio, a gay man who ran for supervisor last year and opposes the GGNRA plan, noted in a Facebook post last week WoofieLeaks uncovered that Park Service officials made fun of elected officials, including now-state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), also a longtime critic of the Park Service's dog management plan.
"The officials even make fun of the pro-dog stand of state senator Scott Wiener, saying he must have a 'wiener dog,'" Engardio wrote. "I'm really proud to see my name disparaged, too! Officials called my Examiner column about the issue a 'screed' and sarcastically referred to it as 'award-winning journalism.' Actually, my column has won six journalism awards in the past two years."
On Tuesday, Engardio said it was too bad officials had to be "shamed" into acting.
"The uncovered emails only show the anti-dog bias and disrespect of the public input process by the National Park Service that dog owners knew existed all along," he said in an email to the Bay Area Reporter. "It's too bad officials have to be shamed into following their own standards and serving the public with respect. As one of the targets in those emails for columns I wrote in the Examiner about the dog management issue, I'm very proud of that badge of honor."
Chris Carr, a partner with Morrison & Foerster, the law firm representing dog and recreation advocacy groups, also issued a statement Tuesday.
"The NPS dog management plan is plagued with legally significant procedural irregularities," Carr stated. "The deliberate destruction of public records, failing 'recollections' of computer passwords necessary to access years of documents, and the use of private emails by NPS personnel have revealed a fatally flawed, fundamentally unfair, and unlawful decision making process. It's unfortunate that it took a lawsuit to force the belated disclosure of emails that reveal just how biased and unlawful the GGNRA's dog management planning process has been. We fully expect the next director of the NPS will not allow this travesty to recur under his or her watch, if the rulemaking goes forward at all."
Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) on Tuesday called for the Department of the Interior's inspector general to conduct an inquiry into what she called "improper and potentially illegal actions by the Park Service."
"I am shocked, but unfortunately not surprised, to find out the leadership of the GGNRA conspired to mobilize opposition to counter the voices of citizens with whom they disagreed," Speier said in a statement.
In its release, the Park Service said that an independent inquiry would be conducted to determine whether personal email was used in a manner not consistent with applicable laws and policies and if so, whether its use affected the planning and rulemaking processes. The Park Service said it would make the findings of its investigation public and that the inquiry would be conducted by Park Service personnel who were not involved in the dog management planning process.
Speier said she called on the IG to conduct an independent review because an internal inquiry staffed by Park Service employees cannot be truly independent as the Park Service claims.