The National Park Service, which manages the Golden Gate National Recreational Area (GGNRA), fenced and closed ten acres of land to the public at Fort Funston this spring. This land consists of a so-called “seasonal closure area” closed during bank swallow nesting season (roughly mid-April through mid-August), and an ominously worded “permanent closure area” to be closed year-round forever. This is in addition to areas closed in 1995 and in spite of promises made by the Park Service at that time that no further closures would be necessary.
Surrounded and bisected by unsightly fences, the closed zone includes a sand dune, valley, ocean-view cliffs, and beach access. For decades, hikers walked down to the beach, children rolled down the huge sand dune, and off-leash dogs ran free here.
The Park Service closed the ten acres to all recreational activities, purportedly to protect the nesting site of a colony of bank swallows, listed in California as a “Threatened Species”. Bank swallows can be found in far greater and increasing numbers in California along riverbanks, and in many other states and countries. Fort Funston’s is one of only a few colonies known to nest along the ocean. The birds dig burrows into the cliffs for hatching their young. The main burrows are far from the beach and the top of the cliffs.
The Park Service says that: (1) The closed area provides an undisturbed area for the swallows to use as a “flyover” between their nests and feeding grounds at nearby Lake Merced; (2) people and dogs need to be kept away from the nests; (3) native plant seedlings are to be introduced in the area, ostensibly to provide the bank swallow colony with additional insects to eat; and (4) the eroding cliffs are a public safety hazard.
These reasons are suspect, in part because:
• Bank swallow experts from California’s Department of Fish and Game, whose general recommendation was used to justify the closures, state clearly in their research reports that the bank swallows do not require any special vegetation to support their colonies. There does not appear to be evidence to support the claim that native plant introduction will help the bank swallow colony. In fact, since “native” plants were introduced in 1995, the colony has been in steady decline.
• The same researchers found that the bank swallow is remarkably indifferent to the activities of people near nesting sites. Bank swallows frequently nest near intense human activity, including busy highways, construction sites and quarries. There do not appear to be scientific evidence supporting the claim that people or dogs on the bluffs far above the nests or beneath the flyover zone would hurt the birds.
• Regarding public safety, officials have consistently ignored dog walkers’ repeated requests for fences or signs along the cliff edges to protect both people and dogs. Instead, a “land grab” occurred with the closure of ten acres, mostly far inland from the cliffs.
Regrettably, the Park Service seems to be changing Fort Funston away from its long-standing recreational use, with these and previous closures. This has been done without public discussion or valid science. Simply waving the name of the environment without further evidence of need is not enough. We all want to make sure that the bank swallows are healthy at Fort Funston, but the facts do not support these closures.
Federal regulations specifically address what the Park Service must do before a closure it expects to be “highly controversial” or to significantly change land use patterns. It must publish a proposal in the Federal Register and allow comment for 60 days. This gives the public time to become informed and to have a say. However, the Park Service closed these areas without an announcement in the Federal Register or adequate opportunity for input. To force the Park Service to comply with its own regulations, Fort Funston Dog Walkers (FFDW), San Francisco Dog Owners Group (SF DOG), and several individuals filed suit in federal court on March 13, 2000. These plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction to re-open the closed areas while the case awaited trial.
E-mail messages released in the lawsuit’s discovery phase reveal that the Park Service intentionally hid its plans from the FFDW. The Park Service was in contact with FFDW on routine issues, and knew that gaining the support of this primary user group would be important. Instead, they tried to minimize the involvement of dog walkers. One e-mail from a manager said, “Regarding the meetings with dog reps, I want to keep it as small as possible ….. Otherwise we are asking them to organize their constituency even further than they already are. Why would we provide a forum, i.e. meeting, with ‘dog walkers’ with regularity for them to beat us up?” The fences were to be built posthaste so as to be completed before opposition could be mobilized.
On April 23, U.S. District Judge William Alsup found that the closure was indeed “highly controversial” and determined that there was “… an intent on the part of the National Park Service to railroad through the closure, to maintain secrecy, to unleash the fencing with lightening speed, and to establish a fait accompli.”
On May 16, the judge granted a preliminary injunction, but delayed its enforcement due to the Park Service’s “emergency” closure of the “seasonal” area after the bank swallows returned in April. The judge had already declared that tactic “a complete end-run around this lawsuit,” and in the preliminary injunction warned that he would not be sympathetic to such an “emergency” next spring.
This court order mandates access to the entire closed area when the bank swallows leave Fort Funston for their annual migration to South America (probably in August). The fences can remain for now, but access points must be opened in August to allow the public to resume enjoyment of this land as the case goes to trial this fall.
The next step in this expensive and lengthy battle will be a trial in which the full case against the Park Service will be argued.
What’s happening at Fort Funston isn’t just about dogs, birds or plants. It's also about people and preserving recreational space, especially in a densely populated urban environment. If you care about maintaining access to multi-use recreational areas, please help in this fight.
If you share your life with a dog or are considering doing so, this lawsuit is especially important to you. We must protect our right to exercise well-behaved dogs off-leash at Fort Funston. Off-leash dog walking was already an important recreational activity long before the Park Service took over in 1974. Yet, every time dog walkers challenge an action by the Park Service, we’re threatened with enforcement of a long-standing federal regulation against off-leash use. We need to be fully prepared to fight vigorously any off-leash challenge. It probably will require legal action to secure this right once and for all. We need to work together to protect the right given to us by Congress to walk our dogs off-leash at Fort Funston (see Letters section below).
Even if you are exclusively a city-park dog walker, it is important to secure off-leash rights at Fort Funston so that we can establish a precedent for other parks – that responsible off-leash dog walking in public parks is a valid recreational right.
Please donate as much as you can to the legal funds of Fort Funston Dog Walkers or San Francisco Dog Owners Group. We need to raise a substantial sum for the lawsuit’s next phase! Please make a large donation today.
Write letters to elected officials and the Park Service. Tell them that off-leash dogwalking has been an acceptable recreational activity at Fort Funston for almost 40 years, that Congress recognized dogwalking as a recreational activity in its enabling legislation when GGNRA was established. In conformity with this, GGNRA similarly has recognized off-leash dog walking as an acceptable recreational activity. It cannot now terminate this activity, in contravention of the enabling legislation, without extensive public hearings.
The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator
525 Market Street, Suite 3670
San Francisco, CA 94105
The Honorable Tom Lantos
Member, U.S. House of Representatives
400 South El Camino Real, Suite 410
San Mateo, CA 94402
Fort Funston Forum
Photos, news, commentary, maps, signs and many court documents filed in the lawsuit.
San Francisco Dog Owners Group,
general and S.F. city parks info, and a section on Fort Funston.
Fort Funston Dog Walkers
General info, plus photos and more.
Off-leash dog parks, dog and dog owner etiquette, health issues and a Fort Funston section.
Pass this news along to everyone you know -- especially if they use Fort Funston. Urge them to contribute generously to the legal fund.
FFDW and/or SF DOG
Stay informed via newsletters, e-mail, meetings.
with FFDW’s monthly clean-up.
Clean-ups are the first Saturday each month: 9:30-11:30 a.m. Coffee, donuts & dog treats are provided! Keep our park clean, meet people, and learn what’s happening. Meet at other end of parking lot from hang gliders.
Please join and/or give to the Legal Funds of SF DOG and/or Fort Funston Dog Walkers -- separate checks for each group, but you may add the $10 membership for either group to your legal fund donation for that group. To make it easier, it’s OK to mail checks to both groups in the same envelope, addressed to either group.
Mailing Address ___________________________
SF Dog Owners Group …... $ 10
SF DOG Legal Fund ..... + __________
Pay To SF DOG: = $ ________
Fort Funston Dog Walkers $ 10
FFDW Legal Fund ..... + __________
Pay To FFDW: = $ ________
SF DOG: firstname.lastname@example.org 415 339-7461
FFDW: email@example.com 415 468-1262
San Francisco Dog Owners Group
Fort Funston Dog Walkers