MARIN STUDIES LEASH LAW ... Would apply to county fire roads
by Mark Prado - IJ reporter

In the wake of a heated battle over dogs running free on Golden Gate National Recreation Area property, a similar debate is escalating about dogs on Marin County fire roads.

Dogs now enjoy free rein on the county's Open Space District-controlled fire roads, which criss-cross the county.  But complaints from walkers, joggers and others have prompted Open Space commissioners to take a closer look at the policy.

In the past several months the Open Space District's staff has been considering options ranging from leaving the policy as is to requiring leashes on all dogs on the fire roads.

The possible leash law has alarmed some dog walkers and gotten the attention of the Marin Humane Society, which is calling for officials to allow dogs to stay off-leash on the roads.

"It is unnecessarily punitive to limit the use of district land to resonsible people and their canine companions because of an offending few," said Marin Humane Society Executive Director Diane Allevato.

Open Space District planner David Hansen said the staff has not made a final recommendation on the matter.  He acknowledged, however, a policy requiring all dogs to be leashed is being eyed because of a number of complaints received about packs of pooches endangering wildlife, trampling pristine spaces and intimidating hikers, bikers and others who roam the fire roads.

"The staff has made some statements about being more stringent with dogs, but we are putting together various options," Hansen said.  "We are concerned about the impact on natural resources and safety."

Other options could include limiting instead of banning dogs off-leash, and allowing professional dog walkers to get permits so their dogs wouldn't be subject to restrictions. 

Complaints have focused in particular on fire roads in Tiburon and Indian Valley in Novato, Hansen said.  The Humane Society asked the Open SpaceDistrict for an accounting of complaints and found there had been 81 over the past two years.

"That's only three complaints per month.  That's really a low number of incidents considering how many people use those roads," said Humane Society spokesman John Reese.

But Hansen said the numbers only represent official complaints made by rangers who have filed reports.

"That doesn't take into account the number of phone calls and correspondence that arrive here," he said.

Humane Society officials question why trails used by bikers, equestrians and others should suddenly become off limits to unleashed dogs.

"We are definitely concerned about staying on the roads and being sensitive to wildlife issues, but when you have people on horseback and bicyclists and a high volume of traffic on these roads, there is no reason why dogs off leashes can't be part of the mix," Reese said.

The issue being discussed only affects fire roads.  Dogs on narrow, single-track trails in the district must be on leashes and the Humane Society has no qualms with that policy.

The debate resembles one held earlier this week at a meeting of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Advisory Commission.  The panel was considering forcing all dogs to be on leashes at Rodeo, Muir and other beaches in the system, but backed off after protests.  The commission will now try to develop a policy over the next 120 days.

A meeting of the Marin Open Space and Trails Committee to discuss the dog leash issue has been set for Feb. 20 at 4 p.m. in the Hospitality Room of the Marin Center on the Avenue of the Flags in San Rafael.