San Clemente dog ban lift: good for people, or bad for the environment?

Beach entrance in San Clemente with a sign noting the city’s dog ban. Bryce Jorgensen/Lariat

Due to beach regulations, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether domestic dogs should be allowed by the sea. Some might see no problem with the notion, while others could argue that dogs actively disrupt and harm beach and marine ecosystems.

The discussion has become a hot topic in Orange County, California, particularly San Clemente, a city with a dog ban placed on its beaches. The city announced in a March press release that it would look into lifting its beach dog ban. On April 13, the Beaches, Parks and Recreation division discussed the issue in a public meeting that was live streamed on YouTube.

Regarding this topic, it is essential to consider both sides of the argument. Both halves of the debate have their respective strong points as well as their weak points. Environmental concerns are afoot when a dog is on the beach, but this can be situational in some cases.

A research study done at the University of Tasmania in Australia found that domestic dogs can serve a negative impact on a beach’s native wildlife by wounding or killing birds and mammals that call the beach their home. The study also claimed that dogs can transmit diseases to native species through excretion in the water.

Despite the potential for negative ecological impacts, it is notable that California ranked 40 in dog ownership amongst the states of the country, according to the American Veterinarian Medical Association via The Press Democrat. Could this environmental concern be an overreaction, considering how far and few dogs would supposedly be on the beach?

Not likely, as California’s relatively low dog ownership rate of 32.8% still translates to a massive amount when accounting for the large population. Couple that with the fact that most of the state’s population lives densely together near the coast, and there is a chance for disaster that the data doesn’t show on the surface.

So, what does this mean for San Clemente? The city’s beaches are relatively low in popularity compared to some of its more conveniently located neighbors, such as Laguna Beach and Dana Point. This relative decrease in human activity means a higher presence of beach life that tends to stay away from humans, such as shorebirds like willets and sandpipers.

With this potential for danger, the city of San Clemente should at most allow dogs in moderation. A proper solution would be needed for preventing wildlife from being harmed or displaced. Owners would be unlikely to keep their dog on a leash as anyone who has been to San Clemente could testify to seeing unleashed dogs on the sand, even with the total ban in place.

Coastal dog owners looking to let their pets enjoy a new outdoor environment have plenty of alternatives. Local parks work just fine and in some cases, are preferable for the dog. Some canines are afraid of water and loud crashing waves, but none are afraid of a big field of grass. According to VCA Hospitals, one in three dogs has noise anxiety.

The idea that someone must have their dog on the beach is typically just one of selfishness. Nobody hates the idea of spending quality time with man’s best friend, but the adverse effects of allowing dogs on beaches outweigh the positives. Beachgoers should consider what’s around them when looking out for their own convenience.

If the city of San Clemente wants to preserve its native beach wildlife adequately, it needs to come up with a solution where dogs don’t have the chance to hurt or kill another being. If that is not possible, then the city should scrap the idea of lifting the ban and toughen up on beachgoers who don’t follow the rules.