Dogs in the Greenway

Dogs Must be Leashed on Hansville Greenway for the Sake of Wildlife and Other Users 

By Ralph Thomas Rogers, Greenway Science and Education Specialist 

The Hansville Greenway came into existence with the first land acquisitions in the mid-1990’s. It is the result of the vision and dedication of many local residents who recognized the immense value in preserving the natural areas and wildlife for the benefit of present and future generations. 

The primary intent of the Greenway is to manage the area as a nature preserve. However, in addition to providing sanctuary for native wildlife and plants, the Greenway is intended to provide for low-impact human recreation activities that do not conflict with the primary management goals of habitat and wildlife protection. These uses include hiking, bird-watching, nature photography, horseback riding and bicycling. 

Currently, in accordance with County ordinances, dogs kept on a leash are also permitted in the Greenway. However, illegal off-leash use is common. Domestic dogs can be a serious problem where they are permitted to run at large in natural areas, and dog owners are often unaware of the impacts dogs can have on wildlife and their habitats. 

Following is a partial list of the impacts to wildlife and habitat caused by unrestrained dogs. Although not all of these impacts have been directly observed thus far within the Greenway, these impacts are well documented at other natural areas across the country, and they are very likely to occur here as well. 

  • Loose dogs scare and kill small mammals, amphibians and birds. As dogs are recognized as predators by wildlife, their presence may stress wildlife and reduce breeding success. Birds chased off nests can lose eggs or young to other predators, such as crows, ravens and jays that are alerted to the nest location when the parent is flushed. Ground-nesting birds in meadows and along the shorelines of lakes and ponds are especially vulnerable, as are those species that nest in the low vegetation of marshes. During the spring deer fawns also are particularly vulnerable.
  • Even when dogs are unsuccessful in catching the object of the chase, the potential prey has had to expend significant energy in order to save themselves. Since in many cases animals are just barely surviving, expenditure of extra energy may push them over the edge to malnutrition and allow other predators to kill them. In particular, pregnant wildlife and newborn animals do not have the reserves to expend in avoiding dogs. Breeding success can also be reduced when dogs chase or their presence scares wildlife that could otherwise spend their time foraging to feed their young and themselves.
  • During the winter, once food supplies are greatly diminished and daylight foraging time is more limited, stress caused by the presence or being chased by a dog can affect wildlife survival. Wildlife that are chased and harassed by dogs cannot feed and their survival is threatened.
  • Playing in steams, lakes and ponds, a favorite activity of some dog visitors, harms fish habitat; exposes bare soil on banks causing erosion and sedimentation; stirs existing sediment; and kills eggs of fish and amphibians. What is interesting about most accounts of dog impacts in shallow water areas is that there is seldom mention of the devastation that a single dog can have in a brief period on an entire annual population of amphibians as the animal romps through breeding areas at critical times of the year and dislodge the egg masses. Those egg masses then float to the surface and are often destroyed by solar radiation and/or are susceptible to desiccation. This is of particular concern in seasonal wetland/ponded areas where many of our native amphibians breed.
  • Likewise, dogs can be devastating on the tadpoles and nearly morphed juvenile amphibians which can be crushed underfoot, splashed out of the water, and/or impacted by the resulting turbidity. Dogs-on-leash rules do not work effectively at protecting sensitive species such as amphibians because it only takes one dog a short period during amphibian breeding and rearing season to have a significant effect.
  • Visiting dogs (leashed or unleashed) can transmit diseases to wild populations or pick up a disease carried by wildlife. Dogs can apparently transmit a number of pathogens to wildlife through the abundant feces that dogs leave on and off the trails. 

Off-leash dog use is never appropriate in natural area parkland where they may threaten wildlife, disturb sensitive habitats, and transmit diseases to and from wild animals. This has become such a significant impact in some natural areas that land management agencies are restricting dog access or eliminating it completely. For example, in April 2000, The Nature Conservancy has restricted dog access to its Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge because it was determined that the presence of dogs has contributed to the steady decline in the area’s bird breeding success. Many National Wildlife Refuges also now prohibit dogs in habitat areas. 

Finally, impacts to other trail users are as significant a problem as impacts to wildlife and habitat.  Because of the rules requiring dogs to be leashed, park users have the expectation that dogs they encounter will be leashed and they need not worry about their children, themselves, or their leashed dog being approached by loose, strange dogs.  

Many people are immensely bothered when a strange dog comes up to them and starts to smell them at close quarters, or worse, jumps up on them or barks at them.  Many dog owners may not even be aware of this, since, after all, dog owners consider this close contact with their dog to be a pleasant experience, and may even think that everyone else enjoys this too.  This is a particular concern when small children are confronted by strange dogs. 

Dog owners who bring their dogs to the Greenway must keep them leashed to protect the wildlife that resides there, seasonally or year-round. It is against the law to allow dogs to chase any wildlife according to Animal Control. The goal of keeping dogs under control is to protect wildlife so everyone can enjoy the natural resource.