Leashing Out

MOST FAMILIES IN Marin consider themselves conscientious environmentalists. Many oppose using the herbicide glyphosate to control invasive vegetation; more than 70 percent voted yes on Measure A, the 2012 initiative that increased the sales tax by .25 percent to raise $100 million to buy and maintain more open space; and many attend Board of Supervisors meetings dealing with mountain bikers abusing trails laid out for hikers.

It also may be said that many Marinites are avid hikers — and many know no greater joy than walking on an open-space trail as their family dog scampers freely about, chasing butterflies or an occasional rabbit.

So what is wrong with this picture?

Here is the problem: more often than not, in Marin County, dogs should be — and in many cases must be — on a leash. And that applies to county-maintained open spaces as well as to state and national parks, Golden Gate National Recreational Area open spaces and/or the 22,000 acres of the watershed that the Marin Municipal Water District manages on Mount Tamalpais.

Here is an example: unless signs otherwise indicate, dogs must be on a leash (not to exceed six feet in length) when on trails managed by the Marin County Open Space District. This includes, but is not limited to, Mount Burdell, Bolinas Lagoon, Horse Hill, Lucas Valley and Old Saint Hilary’s in Tiburon. The only exception is when you’re with your canine on an established fire road.

“On certain fire roads, dogs can be off-leash,” says Marin County Parks supervising ranger Craig Solin, “as long as they’re under the immediate voice control of a responsible person.” And even then, Solin adds, “Dogs shouldn’t roam free, say, more than a few feet off the fire road.”

Why the tight leash laws in Marin? “It’s relatively simple,” says Barbara Salzman, president of Marin Audubon Society. “Most of these lands were acquired through public tax dollars as a way of preserving nature, which means wildlife as well as native vegetation. And dogs running free not only scare off deer, rabbits, birds, and other critters; they can’t help but trample native vegetation.” And then come the issues of dog poop and dogs, angry or not, threatening hikers, bikers and equestrians.

A few specifics regarding Marin’s dog laws: leashed or not, dogs are not allowed on Angel Island or at GGNRA’s Muir Woods, nor at Abbotts Lagoon, Drakes Beach and Point Reyes National Seashore or the public portion of Stinson Beach, and dogs need to be on leash at all times in Ring Mountain, Rush Creek, Cascade Canyon and Deer Island open space preserves. Dogs are not allowed, with or without a leash, at McNears Beach, Stafford Lake, and Paradise Beach county parks.

On many trails in the GGNRA-managed Marin Headlands — Miwok, Coastal and Muir Beach, for example — dogs are allowed on a leash, while elsewhere — at Rodeo Beach and on Wolf Ridge Trail — dogs can be under voice control and roam relatively free. (GGNRA is expected to release new regulations by early spring.)

I agree that in Marin, with its abundance of open space, dog laws are both complex and restrictive. With that in mind, all of the above agencies, along with the Marin Humane Society, have excellent websites delineating local leash laws. And sure, allowing a dog to run free in Marin’s open spaces gives great satisfaction to many families. But unless those families are walking on a fire road and their dog is close by and under voice control, they are threatening the health of the local environment and could be disturbing others who also want to enjoy the open space. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Marin Magazine and its staff.