Speaking Up for Wildlife at Pillar Point Bluff

Ross’ Cove Trail, Pillar Point Bluff Photo Credit: Lisa Ketcham

San Mateo County Parks is proposing to implement a 12-month “Off-Leash Dog Recreation Pilot Program” on trails at Pillar Point Bluff and at Quarry Park on the hillsides east of El Granada. We will be supporting the Off-Leash Dog Pilot Program at Quarry Park, but strongly opposing it at Pillar Point Bluff due to the sensitivity of wildlife and habitat there.

Pillar Point Bluff is a coastal gem stretching along the scenic bluffs above Fitzgerald Marine reserve in Moss Beach. Here, visitors enjoy sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean on a clear day.  Interwoven trails provide opportunities for walking, running, cycling and on-leash dog walking.

Along the blufftop, rare coastal prairie, coastal scrub, and seasonal wetlands provide a rich tapestry of wildlife habitats for coyotes, foxes, bobcats, songbirds and raptors as well as the federally protected California red-legged frog and San Francisco garter snake. At the foot of the bluffs are a narrow sandy beach and rocky tidepools at Ross’ Cove, where harbor seals live year-round, and elephant seals, sea lions, and sea otters occasionally visit. All marine mammals are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.

County Parks pilot program would allow off-leash dogs within this sensitive habitat under new rules requiring: (1) Off-leash dogs to be under voice and sight control, and to return immediately when called, (2) Dogs must remain on designated trails within view and earshot, (3) Only two off-leash dogs per visitor are permitted, and (4) No dogs are allowed at Ross’ Cove beach and/or tidepools at any time.

A similarly proposed pilot program at the eucalyptus-forested Quarry Park would include off-limit areas such as the children’s playground and a small reservoir. There is far less potential here for impacts to wildlife and environmentally sensitive habitats from off-leash dogs due to the park’s predominantly non-native habitats and location away from the coast.

Off-leash Dogs Can Be a Threat to Wildlife

The effects of dogs on wildlife and their habitats are well documented. Dogs are predatory animals and instinctively will chase animals and birds, just as they love to chase balls and frisbees. At Ross’ Cove, an off-leash dog killed a harbor seal pup in 2019; other incidents are often unreported as there is no regular ranger presence in this area. Many wildlife species are deterred by the scent of dog urine and/or feces left by dogs “marking” their territory. Some dogs will also dig up areas where small burrowing animals live. And some wildlife can threaten dogs, as they are prey for larger predators including coyotes and mountain lions.

Off-leash Dogs Can “Recreationally Displace” Park Visitors

Many people take joy in observing and connecting with nature. While numerous visitors enjoy sharing their park experiences with their canine friends, others are afraid of dogs. It’s often difficult to tell whether a dog running in a park is friendly or aggressive. Dogs that are not under adequate control of their owner/handler have been known to attack other dogs, intimidate people, and chase and bite cyclists. All of these people are “recreationally displaced” by off-leash dogs.

A Call for Greater Enforcement of Leash Requirements at Pillar Point Bluff

Green Foothills will be speaking up on behalf of wildlife that do not have a voice when the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors will consider the Pilot Program on November 9. While we will support the Off-Leash Dog Pilot Program at Quarry Park, we will strongly oppose it at Pillar Point Bluff where current provisions for on-leash dog walking should continue with greater enforcement of leash requirements.

Watch for our Action Alert!

We’ll be sending out an Action Alert asking you to send a brief message to the Board of Supervisors.  We hope you will help us speak up for wildlife and sensitive habitats that don’t have a voice in this process.

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