The Bay Area has a rich diversity of wildlife. Millions of birds rest, feed, or overwinter here along their migratory route. Among them are the raptors that fly over the Golden Gate, songbirds that rely upon our wildlands, parks, and backyards, and shorebirds and waterfowl that depend on the San Francisco Bay’s shorelines and tidal wetlands. Countless other birds and wildlife species rely year-round on our native habitats.

Increasing human activity and development pressures put our wildlife and their natural territories ever more at risk. Golden Gate Audubon plays a critical role in preserving key habitats in the Bay Area. Working with our volunteer Conservation Committees, we restore habitats, advocate to conserve wildlife areas, and encourage Bay Area residents to get involved in protecting our local birds and wildlife.

Dog Management in the GGNRA

Golden Gate Audubon has long advocated for reasonable management of on- and off-leash dogs in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). Current dog-related recreation is managed under the 1979 Pet Policy, which is not a legal regulation and which fails to protect wildlife, habitat, and park visitors.

In 2013, the National Park Service released its revised proposed Dog Management Rule and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to manage dog-related recreation in the GGNRA. The proposed rule is the biggest accommodation for on- and off-leash dogs in the National Park System.

The proposed Rule allows for four off-leash dog areas and 21 miles of on-leash dog recreation in the San Francisco portion of the GGNRA. No other National Park allow off-leash dogs, and most limit on-leash dogs to a few paved trails.

GGNRA needs to accommodate many users -- families, cyclists, dog owners and nature lovers, as well as wildlife.  / Photo by Allen Hirsch

GGNRA needs to accommodate many users — families, cyclists, dog owners and nature lovers, as well as wildlife. / Photo by Allen Hirsch

Golden Gate Audubon supports better regulation of dogs in the GGNRA. While we believe that the proposed regulation is a good first step, the proposed rule does not adequately protect park resources.

We encourage you to share your opinions and experiences with the National Park Service. Click here to file an online comment. The NPS is accepting comments through February 18, 2014.

In our comments, we will emphasize the following points: 

  • The GGNRA should provide more opportunities for visitors to recreate in the GGNRA in San Francisco without interacting with dogs.  Currently, the Preferred Alternatives only provide a few areas where visitors, including those with small children, may go without having to interact with dogs. Many parents and grandparents have told us they will not take children to areas where there are many off-leash dogs. This is not fair to community members that have a right to enjoy the park without fear or discomfort due to the presence of dogs. 
  • Off-leash areas should be well defined by a physical barrier. Park visitors should have the choice of interacting with dogs during their park experience, rather than having the choice made for them. Clearly defined on- and off-leash areas will allow dog owners and other visitors to know where dog-related recreation is appropriate. It will also better protect sensitive wildlife and habitat resources, reduce conflicts with other users, and allow for less controversial enforcement of the new rules. 
  • The SEIS fails to establish that “voice control” is a valid method of controlling off-leash dogs. The National Park Service records hundreds of Criminal Incident Reports relating to out-of-control dogs each year; often, the dog owners and walkers do not have any voice control over their dogs. The SEIS provides no evidence that voice control is a valid method for controlling dogs or protecting people, natural resources, or other dogs within the GGNRA. 
  • Commercial dog walking should not be included as a component of the Preferred Alternative. Commercial dog-walking constitutes an economic use of park lands that is not permitted by the National Park Service’s Organic Act, the GGNRA enabling legislation, the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998, the National Environmental Policy Act, NPS Management Policies 2006, and Director’s Order #53.  Commercial activities within the National Parks are allowed only to the extent that they support the park mission to protect resources and enhance the visitor experience. Commercial dog-walking constitutes a use of the public land that puts a drain on park resources without any financial or mission-oriented returns for the Park Service. 
  • Park visitors should be limited to two dogs per visitor.  On trails, visitors with more than two dogs have a wider space requirement and have the potential to impact other park visitors by disrupting or impeding their progress along the trail.  In off-leash areas, few dog owners or walkers are capable of exerting voice control over one or two dogs, let alone more than two at the same time.   
  • A simple and effective violation reporting system should be established. The Dog Management Plan should include a means by which park visitors can easily and effectively report non-compliant behavior. 


In 1972, the GGNRA was formed from a variety of public and private lands, all of which had different policies about dogs. As a result, GGNRA became the only national park in the country to allow unleashed dogs and allowed on-leash dogs on unpaved trails throughout the park.

In 1979, the National Park Service adopted a Pet Policy aimed at governing where dogs were allowed, both on-leash and off-leash. But the Pet Policy was not created as legal regulation and had no environmental review or public comment.

Over the decades, the GGNRA has become overwhelmed by significant increases in the number of visitors and visitors with dogs. Dog-related recreation has been identified to have a significant and growing impact on the park’s resources. The Park Service determined that it had to better regulate dog-related recreation to protect park resources, visitors, park personnel, and wildlife.

A Need for Regulation

Family of goslings before April 2013 attack by off-leash dog at Crissy Field / Photo by Mikiye Nakanishi

Family of goslings before April 2013 attack by off-leash dog at Crissy Field / Photo by Mikiye Nakanishi

Dead gosling after dog attack / Photo by Mikiye Nakanishi

Dead gosling after dog attack / Photo by Mikiye Nakanishi

Dogs and dog-related recreation has significant impacts on wildlife, habitats, and park visitors within the GGNRA. (1)  It is not just wildlife that are affected. Every year Park Service rangers record hundreds of incidents of dogs attacking or assaulting people (2),  wildlife (3),  and other dogs (4).

While a dog chasing shorebirds may seem like harmless, good fun, the shorebird is under extreme stress from what it sees as deadly predator.

Harassment of birds protected by the Endangered Species Act is against the law (5).  It is also inhumane—birds and other wildlife deserve to have space in the GGNRA where they can rest, forage, and live without constant disturbance and fear of death.

While many dog owners are conscientious, many others fail to comply with leash requirements in certain areas, to clean up after their dogs, or to maintain voice control over their off-leash dogs. For example, GGAS volunteers monitoring Snowy Plovers at Ocean Beach and at Crissy Field have recorded that dog owners comply with the requirement to keep dogs leashed in the plover area less than 30% of the time. The Park Service’s Criminal Incident Reports record numerous instances where owners are unable to prevent their off-leash dog from attacking people, wildlife, or other park users.

Recognizing these impacts were impairing the park, the National Park Service is required by law to implement better regulation. The Park Service’s mission statement states:

The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.

Moreover, National Park Service Organic Act, which created the Park Service, mandates:

The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

(16 U.S.C. 1). Any recreational activity within a national park must not impair the park for the enjoyment of current or future generations.

Golden Gate Audubon believes that the National Park Service must move forward with the proposed Dog Management Plan to ensure that all park users get to enjoy every aspect of the park in the future.

Dog on leash in the GGNRA / Photo by Allen Hirsch

Dog on leash in the GGNRA / Photo by Allen Hirsch


1. See, e.g., Lafferty .D. 2001. Disturbance to wintering western snowy plovers. Biological Conservation. 101: 315-325 (finding that dogs were a “disproportionate source of disturbance” for snowy plovers); Lenth, B. et al. 2006. The Effects on Dogs on Wildlife Communities. 2006. Research Report Submitted to City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, available here.  (“The presence of dogs along recreational trails correlated with altered  patterns of habitat utilization by several wildlife species.”); Banks, P.B. and J.V. Bryant. 2007. Four-legged friend or foe? Dog walking displaces native birds from natural places. Biol. Lett. (2007) 3, 611–613, available at (finding that dog walking resulted in a 41% reduction in the number of birds detected and a 35% reduction in species richness).

2. See, e.g., Criminal Incident Records prepared by the U.S. Dept. of Interior rangers for incidences in the GGNRA of dogs attacking or harassing human visitors in the park, including reports on 1/17/08 (dog bit horse on the muzzle, causing it to rear and fall over and, when freed, ran away into the ocean in a panic), 4/21/08 (in which a dog owner tried to separate his dog from an attacking pit bull and had been bitten, requiring medical attention; both dogs had been off-leash), 8/16/08 (child bitten in face by off-leash dog, requiring medical attention), 9/23/08 (woman hiking attacked and bitten on the hip), 9/24/08 (two women were harassed by a large, aggressive dog and the owners failed to call the dog off before giving up, letting the dog continue to harass them), 10/23/08 (dog made physical contact with a juvenile female, leading to a physical altercation between the girl’s father and the dog’s owner), 10/25/08 (two dogs attacked dog belonging to 75 year-old woman, biting her twice; attacking dogs’ owner fled scene); 11/21/08 (man bitten by dog while hiking on a trail), 12/5/08 (dog attacks mounted park ranger), 12/30/08 (dogs attacked a horse causing it to throw its rider, then chased the horse down the beach).  See also U.S. Center for Disease Control (2003). Nonfatal Dog Bite–Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments — United States, 2001. Available at and, a web-based clearing house of information for dog-related attacks in the United States.

3. See, e.g. Criminal Incident Records prepared by U.S. Dept. of Interior rangers for incidences in the GGNRA of dogs chasing wildlife, including citations on 1/6/08 (“off-leash dog chasing birds in the dunes”), 3/5/08 (“dog chased nesting shorebirds…it ran more than 200 yards away from the dog walker and beyond any control for at least fifteen minutes.”), 3/7/08 (“The pet was unattended and not under any control as it continually ran through the designated Wildlife Protection Area chasing birds.”), 3/14/08 (owner of dog chasing birds explained, “He’s a Pit Bull, likes birds, and needs something to chase.”), 10/28/08 (“small dog running off leash jumping at flying birds”), and 12/15/08 (two large dogs flush a group of ducks from the shore into the water and then forced them to take flight). These are only a small sample of reported incidences of harassment of wildlife in 2008 alone, which are in turn a small subset of total disturbances to wildlife, most of which are unreported.

4. See, e.g., Criminal Incident Records prepared by the U.S. Dept. of Interior rangers for incidences in the GGNRA of injuries to dogs, including  2/08/08 (small dog “overpowered” and bit “multiple times” in the face and neck by off-leash dog), 4/20/08 (dog stuck on a cliff, requiring officers to perform a rescue), 5/31/08 (small dog attacked by pit bull, owner sustained injuries separating the dogs), 10/08/08 (dog fight occurred after professional dog walker failed to keep control of dogs), 11/22/08 (off-leash dog ran into roadway, colliding with a motorcycle and throwing the rider, requiring medical attention for the rider and dog), 12/30/08 (dog suffered “deep” laceration after being attacked by off-leash dog).  These are only a few examples from 2008 of reported incidents in the GGNRA, which we know are a small subset of total incidents of this kind.

5. See USFWS. 2007. Recovery Plan for the Pacific Coast Population of the Western Snowy Plover, at 65).

Oakland’s bird-safe building rules in the SF Chronicle

The S.F. Chronicle ran a nice story on July 8th on Oakland’s new bird-safe building rules, which Golden Gate Audubon suggested and helped develop.

You can read the Chronicle story here.

Or click here for our blog post on the new rules (including a link to the rules themselves), which make Oakland the third major city in North America to adopt such standards.  The other two cities are Toronto and San Francisco.

Thank you, Oakland! And thank you to GGAS staffer Noreen Weeden who worked with Oakland city planners on drafting the rules.

Sharp Park Restoration in San Francisco – Mayor Vetoes

On December 19, 2011 San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee vetoed proposed legislation to restore Sharp Park.

This legislation which was sponsored by Supervisor Avalos was supported by 36 community and environmental groups and approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Read Bay Citizen coverage of this veto : Lee Sides with Golfers

Golden Gate Audubon supports legislation to restore the wetlands and Sharp Park and to transfer the long term management of the Park to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.   This is the best solution in terms of the endangered species protection while meeting the current recreational needs of San Franciscans. 

1) Today send an email or call each of the supervisors on the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee:

Supervisor John Avalos email John.Avalos@sfgov (415) 554-6975
Supervisor Eric Mar email (415) 554-7410
Supervisor Sean Elsbernd email (415) 554-6516
2) Attend the hearing on Monday, December 5, 2011 starts at 10:00 a.m.
SF City Hall, City Operations & Neighborhood Services Committee – Legislative Chamber Room 250

Why restore the Sharp Park wetlands and create a new public park in San Francisco?
·    To protect, recover, and ensure the long term survival of two federally-listed endangered species, the San Francisco garter and the California red-legged frog in the area.
·     Since 2004 Sharp Park has lost an average of $162,000 each year on a park that continues to inflict harm on wildlife.
·     Closing the course will save additional millions of dollars by eliminating the obligation for costly infrastructure projects needed to protect the park against sea level rise, costs from failing to comply with federal environmental laws.
·      The money saved would allow San Francisco to improve currently underfunded neighborhood parks, community centers, education programs, local jobs, and/or social services within the community. 
·       Resources for more popular recreational activities, such as hiking and biking, would benefit more people, rather than investing additional money to improve this golf course.  Sharp Park Golf Course has received failing reviews in nearly every category the National Golf Foundation measures.
What will the Sharp Park legislation do?
·      The legislation directs the Recreation & Park Department to partner and create a long-term management agreement with the National Park Service including a financial roadmap, and address urgent environmental and infrastructure needs. ·        Sharp Park would be transformed from golf to a new public park emphasizing trail-based recreation and would be managed by the National Park Service.
·      Protection of the endangered wildlife would be ensured by the National Park Service.  The Recreation and Park Department does not have the expertise or the financial resources to provide the required protections.

For more information contact Mike Lynes, Conservation Director

Beach Chalet Soccer Fields in Golden Gate Park

The SF Recreation and Parks Dept. is proposing to replace 9 acres of open, naturally-growing grass in Golden Gate Park with synthetic turf and to install several 60-foot tall lights that will illuminate the western end of Golden Gate Park for the first time.  This project will remove important wildlife habitat, increase disturbances to neighbors and wildlife, and violate the Golden Gate Park Master Plan.

What can you do?

1) Attend the Draft Environmental Impact Report Hearing at the Planning Commission:

 Thursday, December 1, 2011 starts at 5:00pm Location: San Francisco Planning Commission, Room 400 San Francisco City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place

2) Submit comments by December 12 at 5:00pm on this project to

Mr. Bill Wycko, Environmental Review Officer

San FranciscoPlanning Department, 1650 Mission Street, Suite 400, San Francisco,CA94103


What are the concerns with this project?

  • Removal of 9 acres of natural grass which provides habitat to birds, butterflies and other wildlife and there is no mitigation proposed
  • Installation of 10-60’ towers with stadium lighting that will remain on until 10:00pm every night.  Artificial lighting has been shown to draw birds off course during migration.  This site is within the Pacific Flyway, inGolden GateParkand 1000 feet fromOceanBeach. 
  • The lighting will negatively impact nesting birds and other species that depend on the area surrounding the soccer fields as habitat.
  • There is no recycling of the artificial turf plastic and tire crumb rubber, in 8-10 years 400 tons of debris will go to the landfill.
  • It is much less expensive and more environmentally sustainable for the City to restore the natural grass fields.
  • This is a onetime gift to the City.  When the artificial turf fields need to be replaced in 8-10 years where will the millions of dollars come from?

Contact: Mike Lynes, Conservation Director

In the news:

San Francisco Bay Guardian article “Whose Park?” November 30, 2011

Bird the Bay Trail in December

Our Birding the Bay Trail Docents will be back on the trail in December. 

You can learn from the docents about the birds on these dates:

  • Thursday, December 8th from 10:30am-12:30pm at the Hoffman Marsh in Richmond, CA.
  • Saturday, December 10th from 2:00pm -4:00pm at Vincent Park in Richmond, CA

Celebrate Urban Birds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Celebrate Urban Birds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology invites organizations and educators to apply for mini-grants to help fund neighborhood event in communities everywhere.  To apply for a mini-grants, please visit their website.  For more information, please contact Celebrate Urban Birds:

2011 State of the Birds Report

The State of the Birds Report for San Francisco Bay, 2011 was just released by the Point Reyes Bird Observatory and San Francisco Bay Joint Venture.  Click here to read more.