CLC staffer hands a Greenport visitor a flyer
By Peter R. Paden
For Hudson–Catskill Newspapers
This past month local news outlets carried a story about an appearance before the Greenport Town Board by a neighbor of the Greenport Public Conservation Area. The neighbor voiced his concern about people who bring dogs to the site, which is managed by the Columbia Land Conservancy for the Open Space Institute, and turn them loose, unleashed, causing aggravation to those who live nearby. The articles accurately reported that, in fact, the CLC does not invite people to let their dogs run free. Posted rules clearly require that dogs be kept on a leash at all times and, moreover, that dog walkers must clean up after their pets.
Fliers describing the leash law are prominently posted at the entrances of the Greenport Conservation Area
The articles also reported that from CLC’s perspective, the use of our conservation areas by dog owners poses a significant management challenge, and our policies are under active review. We are hopeful that we’ll be able to work with the people who use our conservation areas, dog walkers and non-dog walkers alike, to develop a much higher level of compliance with our rules for taking along canine companions. If this effort fails, we will have to consider banning dogs altogether. No one at CLC wants to do that.
CLC’s Public Conservation Areas
CLC manages almost 2,000 acres of beautiful, open lands that are available free of charge 365 days a year for public recreation and enjoyment. Situated on ten sites throughout the county, these properties provide access to a broad sampling of the exceptionally varied landscapes and ecosystems that make the natural world in Columbia County so rich in conservation value: open grassy fields; lakes, streams, wetlands and estuaries; deciduous and conifer forests; places that are relatively flat and those full of topography. They are managed for the conservation of the wildlife and ecosystems found there. They are also managed so that people can visit and experience the extraordinary natural world of Columbia County. They are used by people of all ages for walking, jogging, birding, fishing, canoeing, snowshoeing and the like, and they serve as outdoor classrooms for CLC’s educator and others.
Dogs or No Dogs?
Every organization that provides open spaces or park land for public enjoyment faces the question whether to permit people to bring along their dogs. Many conservation organizations simply do not allow dogs. CLC has chosen a different course. We want our conservation areas to be available to as broad a constituency as possible. We understand that dog owners love their pets and enjoy being with them outdoors. We therefore permit people to bring their dogs to our PCAs, but we’ve established two rules: the dogs have to be on a leash, and owners must clean up after them. Since we operate what are in all other respects carry-out-what-you-carry-in facilities, you have to put the bag in your car and dispose of it somewhere else.
So What’s the Problem?
As the Register-Star noted in an editorial on the subject a few days ago, these rules are wellgrounded in reason, are simple and easy to follow. But while there are many dog owners who follow the rules, many do not. An awful lot of people apparently value the experience of walking with their dog off leash; and way too many fail to clean up after them. Let’s review the risks and adverse consequences.
Unleashed dogs present a danger to others. Obviously, an unleashed dog can harm people, intentionally or not. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. It really shouldn’t.
From the dog owner’s perspective, letting your dog run off leash exposes your pet to physical and emotional danger. I have spoken to more than one person who reports cases where a dog was seriously injured, usually by another dog, but sometimes also by, say, a porcupine, while running off leash. Some dogs, even gentle loving pets, have instinctive aggressive reactions to other dogs. Nasty encounters can flare up in a flash. Dog fights are no joke. Even if there is no physical injury, dogs that are attacked can experience serious and permanent personality changes, becoming fearful or hostile.
Unleashed dogs are also a major annoyance, and in more than a few cases, a source of stress and anxiety to others. I think it’s hard for dog lovers to fully appreciate how uncomfortable their well loved pets can make a lot of people. Many, many people are afraid of dogs. The sight of an unleashed dog bounding toward them on a sparsely populated trail in the woods creates a lot of fear and can spoil what was supposed to be a tranquil walk in the woods. Similarly, even people who love dogs that are visiting the conservation area with a young child or jogging on the trails are likely to be distressed when approached by an unleashed pet.
Unleashed dogs are a threat to wildlife. There are numerous studies documenting the damage to wildlife caused by dogs running loose in natural areas. Being dogs, they love to chase small animals and birds, sometimes maiming or killing them; sometimes just giving them a good scare. It is not consistent with our conservation goals to give the canine world free range to indulge themselves on these properties.
Then there is the issue of excrement. It requires little discussion. No one walking at one of these areas wants to step in it. But it happens – to hikers, to school children on our programs, to our staff while working at these areas. Guiding your dog off trail into the woods or high grass to do their business, or throwing the waste there, is not a satisfactory solution. People, staff and visitors, can and do go off trail themselves. Our educator has had the experience of brushing back foliage to call something to children’s attention and coming up with a handful of dog waste.
What’s the Solution?
It is my hope that, with effective outreach, we’ll be able to develop a broad consensus on the need for a high level of compliance with our simple rules. At 5:30 P.M. on Tuesday August 23, 2011, we will host a meeting at Trinity United Methodist Church, 555 Joslen Boulevard, to discuss these issues. All are invited – people who love to walk their dogs at our PCAs and those who use the areas without their pet. We look forward to a full discussion, and will welcome suggestions as to how we can effectively ensure that the rules are followed.
I also encourage you to share your thoughts by making a comment on this article. I encourage everyone who has an interest in this issue to participate in this discussion. We’ll be paying close attention as we review our policies and practices regarding canine companions at our conservation area properties.
Peter Paden is Executive Director of the Columbia Land Conservancy. His column appears in the Register-Star on the first Friday of every month.