For decades, San Francisco Bay Area residents have been free to walk dogs off-leash within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). A few years ago, the National Park Service (NPS) announced plans to radically restrict dog access within the GGNRA and started a complex planning process to create such a rule. That included the preparation of a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act and a formal rulemaking process.
In April 2016, Morrison & Foerster filed in the Northern District of California a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior and the NPS. The firm’s clients, which include multiple dog and recreation advocacy groups, sought access to public records to learn more about the rulemaking process and to determine whether the process was tainted.
The lawsuit resulted in the release of thousands of records and revealed that government officials sought to evade FOIA by discussing the rulemaking process using private email. Many of these records are published on a website created by the firm’s clients: Woofieleaks.com.
In direct response to the FOIA litigation filed by MoFo, the NPS announced yesterday that it has permanently dropped its plans to significantly reduce off-leash access and severely cut, and in most places, entirely ban on-leash dog walking. The decision follows the completion of an independent review by a federal agency of the dog rule planning and rulemaking process that was triggered by the FOIA lawsuit. Among other things, the independent report highlighted significant issues with the NPS’s record keeping practices and shortcomings in conducting an appropriate fair planning process. The independent review team noted that the use of personal email by NPS employees to conduct official business was troubling.
The MoFo team was led by Navi Dhillon based in San Francisco. Dustin Elliott from our DC office also worked on the matter.