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Free the Dogs!:One pooch's thoughts on off-leash laws in national forests 

Woof! Sprocket here. Every Monday morning for the past two years, my mom has typed up a column for the Source. You know, she does a pretty good job of bringing home the Milkbones, so I thought I'd help out this week.

click to enlarge outside_pooch.jpg

Woof! Sprocket here. Every Monday morning for the past two years, my mom has typed up a column for the Source. You know, she does a pretty good job of bringing home the Milkbones, so I thought I'd help out this week. I'm an Australian shepherd, so my grammar and syntax are in the 99sprocket dog, th percentile, and I have a very important issue to write about: playing in the forest.

My most favorite thing in the world to do is run in the forest, especially with my friends, like Bodhi or Rio. Again, I'm an Australian shepherd, so I can run circles around them. I like to go every day, or else I get pretty grumpy.

My mom is a decent runner, but if I run on a leash I don't get a workout. Once, just out of curiosity, she put a GPS on me and one on herself and we ran the Fall Creek/Soda Creek loop. She ran 10 miles and I put on 26.

I am lucky to have the Deschutes National Forest and all its trails practically in my back yard. I've run them all: Phil's, the River, Green Lakes, Mirror Lakes, Broken Top, Tumalo Mountain, South Sister, Flagline, North Fork, South Fork... you get the picture.


Here's the problem: the management of the Deschutes National Forest has arbitrarily imposed leash laws on many of the best trails. They would like you to believe that restrictions on dogs are both common and necessary. Not true. In fact, the Deschutes has more miles of leash restrictions than all other national forests in Oregon combined! The Deschutes National Forest comprises 11 percent of the total non-motorized summer trail miles in Oregon national forests, but it accounts for 53 percent of the leash-restricted miles.

In an attempt to defend their arbitrary restrictions, The Deschutes National Forest claimed that their decisions were based on complaints received about dogs. Not true. Members of DogPAC, the local non-profit dedicated to keeping Central Oregon dog-friendly, recently invoked the Freedom of Information Act to access Deschutes National Forest records since 1970. Guess what they discovered?

In the past 40 years the Deschutes National Forest has received a total of 188 complaints from all types of users. Of those, not a single one cited an attack, injury or safety issue involving a dog and only seven commented about dogs off-leash in restricted areas. In fact, they actually received more complaints (10) from users who said the leash laws reduced their enjoyment of the forest.

The Deschutes National Forest management plan itself states that "when conflicts arise, all avenues of resolution will be explored. The intent is to use the minimum regulation necessary to resolve conflicts." In an internal memo uncovered by DogPAC, one wilderness ranger proposed dog restrictions to address perceived overcrowding issues on popular trails. The Forest Service felt it would be politically difficult to limit access generally on Green Lakes, etc., so they selectively limited access to dog owners. Stuart Macdonald of American Trails states, "Trying to reduce the use of a popular trail by excluding certain types of users just leads to all kinds of problems, and is not the correct solution."


Now, I am an extremely lovable dog who just wants to run and run and run some more. I realize that some dogs may not be as friendly as me and some people may not like dogs. I'm into sharing, except when it comes to my dinner. I think we should share the trails, especially the best ones at the best times of year.

The Deschutes restricts off-leash dog access along the entire Deschutes River Trail off Century Drive, with the exception of a small stretch (at Good Dog!) that is not directly accessible and that has very limited parking. It also restricts access in the alpine area of the wilderness, which has the best water access for dogs.

The Deschutes National Forest could apply restrictions to only a portion of the River Trail or only a portion of the alpine wilderness trails. The Bend-Fort Rock Trail User Group subcommittee formed a "dog working group" and at its October 2007 meeting recommended that the seasonal closure be shortened (it was adopted). It also recommended that restrictions remain between Dillon and Lava Island, but be removed elsewhere on the River Trail. It has also been suggested that in the wilderness, the restrictions could stay in place on South Sister Climbing Trail, Green Lakes/Fall Creek Trail and Todd Lake Trail, but be removed elsewhere. This has not happened yet.

Most importantly, it is time for the public to demand that the Deschutes National Forest be transparent and consistent in the management of our public lands. And fair to dogs.

Time to go for a run! Woof Woof!

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