Feds Surrender In Tooth-And-Nail Fight To Leash Dogs In Bay Area's Open Space

LIfe's a beach — unleashed.

After a snarling battle, the National Park Service has announced that it’s “permanently” backing off its plan to impose tough new leash restrictions on dogs on federally managed open space in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The feds are now resigned to continue enforcing the more lenient 1979 rules in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The regulations, among the more dog-friendly in the nation and California on federal lands, allow dogs off leash in many areas, including beaches. The GGNRA covers more than 80,000 acres in the Bay Area.

Authorities had tried to impose leash laws on most areas as part of a plan that they said would protect wildlife. But an appellate court ruling in 2005 ordered the National Park Service to first conduct a hearing process. That brought dog owners out in packs, determined to protect the right to run free.

A suit last year by dog owners to obtain records on the plan revealed that staff had used work and personal  emails to communicate with groups backing dog restrictions. Some staffers even offered advice to the groups on how to organize and lobby officials for the changes, according to the dog owners.

The trove of emails, which became known as “Woofie Leaks,” revealed what pet lovers argued was a clear bias against their dogs that undermined a fair hearing process — and they used that information to press their case.

An NPS review team determined that, while staff use of personal emails for parks business was inappropriate, the communication “ultimately did not influence the outcome” of the planning process,” according to a park service statement.

National Park Service acting director Michael Reynolds, however, conceded that “we can do better.” He added in a statement Thursday: “In the interest of upholding the highest standard of transparency and trust with our Bay Area neighbors, we have determined that it is no longer appropriate to continue with the current dog management rulemaking process at Golden Gate National Recreation Area.”

Christine Corwin, president of Coastside DOG, told the Half Moon Bay Review that the decision is a “huge victory for the people of the Bay Area who have enjoyed walking with their dogs in the GGNRA for decades. The GGNRA is a national recreation area ― not remote wilderness. We are thrilled and relieved that this important public access has not been lost.”