Bringing Fido on a walk to a conservation area may have a bigger impact on the environment than expected, whether it be chasing birds, trampling vegetation or just marking their scent. Some wildlife preservation areas have rules in place to limit the impact dogs have on the environment, and people’s experience visiting the areas.
After repeated complaints regarding negative and unsafe encounters with unleashed dogs and issues with dog waste, MassWildlife is now taking action. They’ve proposed regulations that require dogs to be leashed and their waste to be removed from wildlife management areas.
A public hearing on the proposed regulations is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 6, at the MassWildlife Field Headquarters, 1 Rabbit Hill Road, Westborough.
Under the proposed regulations, dogs are allowed to be off-leash when hunting or hunt-training with licensed hunters or at permitted field trials. Dog waste must be picked up and disposed of off-site, according to the proposal.
“Leashing dogs decreases conflicts with both people and other dogs, resulting in a safer and more positive experience for everyone,” MassWildlife wrote on its website. “Removing dog waste reduces nuisance and protects the safety and health of dogs and other pets, people and wildlife.”
In response to requests for further information, Katie Gronendyke, spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the emailed this statement: “MassWildlife takes seriously its responsibility to strike a balance between protecting the Commonwealth’s wildlife while ensuring access to public lands, and MassWildlife has engaged in public outreach throughout the promulgation of the draft regulations which seek to protect manage critical habitat while providing continued public access.”
Meanwhile, other state wildlife areas, including all but one of Mass Audubon’s sanctuaries, do not allow dogs.
Jonah Keane, director of the Connecticut River Valley Sanctuaries for Mass Audubon, said the organization put the rule in place back in 1981. Before then, dogs were allowed, but on leashes, he said.
“We found a lot of people were following that rule,” Keane said, but said that many dog owners instead let their pets roam free.
He said the sanctuary is meant to protect wildlife, but it is also for people to come and enjoy nature. Dogs can interfere with both, Keane said.
“They can actually harass and kill other wildlife. They are predators,” Keane said. “They can also harass other visitors.”