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Pet owners growl over ban in Metro parks, on trails



PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - PSU instructor and noted hiker Jim Thayer with his dog, Zoe, at a gate of where he can no longer walk her, due to Metros rules prohibition against dogs. Portland resident Jim Thayer has walked his dog in the North Tualatin Mountains for 30 years. But ever since the Metro regional government recently bought the natural area with voter-approved bond proceeds, Thayer and other dog owners must find new trails to walk their four-legged friends.

That’s right: no dogs allowed.

“At all, under any circumstances,” Thayer says. “Not even on a leash.”

Metro is not the only government agency to ban dogs or curb their use of trails and natural areas. At Crater Lake National Park, dogs are only welcome in certain areas such as the campground at Mazama Village, and on or within 50 feet of paved areas, including the quarter-mile promenade at Rim Village with stunning views of Crater Lake.

As for hiking trails, dogs are only allowed on four of them. None offer views of the landmark lake.

Metro’s no-dogs-allowed policy is nothing new, but is gaining more attention as the agency buys more property in the Portland metro area as part of its ongoing conservation efforts.

Metro is investing $360 million from bonds passed by voters in 1995 and 2006 to buy property to protect wildlife habitat, assure clean water and provide more opportunities to enjoy nature and outdoor recreation.

So far, Metro has bought 13,500 acres in an area ranging from the Chehalem Mountains west of the Portland area to the Sandy River Gorge on the east.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - A dog sniffs around a 'No pets' sign at the edge of Metro's Burlington Creek Natural Area in the North Tualatin Mountains.“All of their acquisitions are dog-free,” Thayer says. “And that just shocked the hell out of me.”

Thayer contends that such blanket exclusions of dogs are unwarranted, especially on Metro’s newly acquired properties. “When investing public money into land purchases, we must accommodate prior users and prior uses,” he says.

Before Metro purchased the collection of properties that make up the North Tualatin Mountains natural area, a private lumber company owned the land just north of Forest Park and allowed people to walk their dogs there, Thayer says.

Metro is now in the process of restoring the former timberlands to preserve and enhance fish and wildlife habitat, says Dan Moeller, Metro’s conservation program director.

Although Metro has considered the public’s use of the land, the regional government must strike a balance between creating opportunities for people to enjoy nature while also protecting it, Moeller says.

Dogs can damage plants. Barking scares away birds and other wildlife that people are trying to enjoy. Dogs also can be a threat to water quality — dog feces can contaminate creeks and streams near parks where dogs are allowed, Moeller says.

“I definitely understand,” Moeller says of Thayer’s concerns. “I have a dog. I love my dog.”

But given the preservation priorities for the North Tualatin Mountain properties, such as water quality and wildlife habitat, “we just had to eliminate this use,” Moeller says.

Metro does allow leashed dogs on regional trails that cross into other jurisdictional boundaries, as well as at boat ramps it manages.

“In Portland, there are lots of opportunities to explore nature in different ways,” Moeller says, adding that Forest Park offers 70 miles of on-leash dog-walking trails and many Portland parks include off-leash areas for dogs. “Metro feels that managing the properties in the way that we do allows us to meet our missions and goals in protecting these sites.”

Some even appreciate Metro’s stance on dogs. Families often comment to staff at Blue Lake Park in Fairview that they are thankful for a space to picnic, barbecue and recreate without unwelcome canine guests, Moeller says.

Thayer — who operates a blog at foresthiker.com — isn’t suggesting that all 13,500 acres of Metro’s bond-acquired natural areas be open to dogs. He even applauds the conservation efforts, but feels they come at a higher cost to dog owners.

“It is unfair that we’re using public funds to buy public lands that will be entirely off limits to dog owners,” he says. Instead, he thinks dog owners could be routed around protected areas using strategically placed on-leash trails and fines with bite for people who violate the on-leash policy.

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