FEATURE STORY: Dog days are (temporarily) over

By on March 11, 2015



Illustration by Anthony Martino


Forest Service warns dog owners with week closure of Cache Creek.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Aw, poop, no dogs in Cache Creek for a week? Bridger Teton National Forest will enforce the temporary ban, from March 18 to March 25, after rangers picked up 168 doodys left behind along the trails in Cache Creek drainage in the past month. The seven-day “time out” is an experiment that will send dog owners to obedience school. In doing so, the forest service wants to raise awarness about the importance of dog control as the popularity of multi-use trails grows.

A week without dog access is a small price to pay considering the punishment handed down by a town outside Madrid, Spain, where the authorities spied on violators and mailed the owners their dog’s poop. The town of Brunete reported sightings of doody violators were reduced by 70 percent after they sent 147 piles of poop back to their owners, according to Huffington Post.

The forest service hasn’t gone as far as putting in secret cameras and hiring people to gather information on violators. But officials are dealing with a similar problem. No one is paying attention to the signs that say “Do your duty, pick up your doody,” despite multiple Mutt Mitt stations and the peer pressure of an estimated 70 to 90 dog walkers on Cache Creek trails each day.

“It’s disgusting,” said Randy DePree as she walked her king charles spaniel, Bugsy, with a roll of blue bags dangling from the leash in her pocket.

“It’s not as bad as the dike,” said another self-proclaimed responsible pet owner referring to the levee by the Snake River Bridge. “No one picks up their poop there. We always pick up our poop.” Neither of the dogs in this person’s charge were on a leash.

“People want to talk poop,” said BTNF public affairs officer Mary Cernicek, noting that more than 100 people have responded to its online survey. The survey is set up to gauge people’s use of the trail and how dogs impact it. “The overwhelming message is supportive, like ‘It’s about time,’ ‘Thank you for being responsive,’ and  ‘This was needed.’”

The early snowmelt, which made the trail messier than usual for this time of year, amplified the outcry motivating the Forest Service to respond.

“Dogs need to be well trained and under control,” Cernicek said. “People look at it like it’s a back yard. We wanted to do something different for sake of wildlife, water pollution, and people using the trails for recreation. From here we hope we get real solutions to protect this environment. There are just too many adverse encounters from harassment of wildlife to droppings on trailways that makes it unusable for cross country skiers, fat bikers and walkers.”

Friends of Pathways, which has fielded a number of complaints about the poopy trails, recently helped the forest service get another ambassador for Cache Creek with the ability to write citations for violating the leash laws.

“The intent is like a reboot to let people know that the Forest Service is serious about dog control,” said Katherine Dawson, FOP executive director. “The sentiment on our Facebook page is universally supportive.”

Audrey Hagen, whose father-in-law is the namesake of the Hagen trail in Cache, put it into perspective with this online post:

“Many years ago, the Cache Creek area was almost lost to oil and gas drilling. The community got together, took a stand and saved this drainage for future generations. Fast forward many years later, the Cache Creek drainage became a dangerous and scary campground. You could drive to the “upper parking lot area,” there were tents everywhere, garbage, toilet paper scattered in the bushes. The Forest Service closed the road and changed the camping regulations and the area was once again cleaned up and safe. Now, we are in that same predicament, except with dogs. Humans are the common denominator in this equation.”

Hagen said the lack of respect from dog owners is a sad new chapter. It has gotten so busy that “we almost have to look at it like an urban use area.

“I’m almost happier walking my dogs around the alleys,” she said. “It’s safer.”

An early melt in Cache has resulted in an unsightly (read: poopy) trail. (Photo credit: Bridger Teton National Forest / www.fs.usda.gov/btnf)

An early melt in Cache has resulted in an unsightly (read: poopy) trail. (Photo: Bridger Teton National Forest / www.fs.usda.gov/btnf)

Will a time-out help?

The jury is still out on whether a week without access will change people’s behavior. But it certainly has sparked a number of ideas that may lead to changes in policies toward dogs.

Suggestions so far include: limiting the number of pets people can take on a trail; requiring pet owners to register their dogs; pay a fee to help pay for the maintenance of the pathways; and reigniting the discussion of providing public dog parks.

The forest service, which plans to hold public meetings for more feedback, has written 32 violations of leash requirements this winter on sections of trail adjacent to crucial wildlife winter range. It requires dogs to be on a leash from December 1 until May 1 on sections of the Putt-Putt and Game Creek trails adjacent to crucial wildlife winter range including trailheads. It is not mandatory for dogs to be leashed in the parking lot right now, but it is strongly advised to keep them nearby.

“You wouldn’t let your kid run around a parking lot or jump up and punch someone in the stomach,” said Lesley Williams-Gomez, who does winter patrols and education for BTNF. “Why do we let our dogs?”

Ultimately, Williams-Gomez said, the ban is an opportunity for owners to consider their behavior, pay better attention and clean up after their pets. Basically, disobedient dog owners must change their ways and keep their pets under voice control and at a heel so that they don’t disturb wildlife and other people.

At least six altercations between dogs and wildlife have been reported to the forest service this year resulting in the deaths of one deer, one dog and another injured dog.

Cache Creek drainage is a headwaters that goes underground through town and into Flat Creek, making it an important water source for the area. The narrow and steep landscape was a popular area for trappers to stash their provisions and hides more than a century ago, hence the name. But forest service officials say the cache of poop is ruining it for all.

Dog doo can carry viruses, bacteria like giardia, salmonella and parasites such as hookworms and tapeworms that increase the growth of damaging algae and aquatic weeds in our local waters. A 2005 water quality study conducted by Teton Conservation District found that four water samples from Cache and Game Creeks exceeded the State Department of Environmental Quality proposed standard for moderate use recreational contact. Microbial source tracking found that the number one domestic source was attributed to dogs, according to the forest service.

A spark for a new park?

PAWS of Jackson Hole executive director Amy Romaine said the ban is “a good call to action.” She hopes it will mobilize people to open a new dog park. It has been almost a year since Sophie’s Place, a two-acre dog park on Scott Lane, closed to make way for a new development. Town Planning Commission is now looking at a half-acre parcel in Powderhorn Park for a new dog park. She said Town Council could approve the new park as early as August.

Dog parks are most popular in urban areas where dogs are relegated to sidewalks and have become somewhat controversial because of the aggressive nature of some dogs. But, according to an informal survey by PAWS, Jackson is one of the only mountain towns in the Rockies where there is no designated dog park.

“One of the main things we will do is to have a small dog area,” Romaine said. “Larger dogs sometimes confuse small dogs for rodents and their prey drive kicks in.”

PAWS supplies 150,000 Mutt Mitts at 20 different stations throughout town per year, indicating a lot of poop is picked up. In the winter, however, the poop is more concentrated because there aren’t as many trails open and Mutt Mitts run out quicker.

Red flags in Cache Creek signify souvenirs left behind by valley pooches. (Photo credit: Bridger Teton National Forest / www.fs.usda.gov/btnf)

Red flags in Cache Creek signify souvenirs left behind by valley pooches. (Photo: Bridger Teton National Forest / www.fs.usda.gov/btnf)

PAWS suggests the following tips:

Most poops happen in the first quarter mile of the trail so pay close attention at the beginning of your walk.

Make sure your dog is supervised as you gather your gear and get out of the car at the trailhead.

Don’t forget to pick up your bag and put it in the trash on your way back to the car.

While these tips seem obvious, they are often forgotten. And the convenience of the mitt stations can leave the wrong impression.

One person said, “Once there is a Mutt Mitt station, it’s time to find a new trail.” Another told the Forest Service that they thought you were supposed to leave the bag along trails with Mutt Mitt stations because there was a service to pick up the bags.

For those who want to jump in and help or make amends, BTNF will host a clean up day 9 a.m., March 21 at Cache Creek.

About Julie Fustanio Kling

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