The dog turds lurking on our trails

A poop awareness campaign unleashed a lot of anger — some of it unexpected.

 

Lucia Hadella is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. She is a first-year M.A. student in environmental arts and humanities at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon.


When I’m 90, I’ll probably still be haunted by memories of bins overflowing with the remnants of hiking snacks and thinly wrapped dog turds, left to bake for a week in black plastic bags.

As a student employee at the McDonald Research Forest, seven miles from Corvallis and one of seven research forests run by Oregon State University, I was sometimes given the task of tugging such stinking bags from receptacles and heaving them into the bed of a pickup truck. This was not pleasant, but I took solace in knowing that people cared enough to stick their trash in a designated container. In 2015, however, when I was involved in a public awareness campaign about dog behavior, I found the whole issue of dogs unleashed a lot of anger — some of it mine.

The reason for the campaign: As the number of visits to the McDonald Forest increased from an estimated 7,500 visits in 1980, to 105,000 when last surveyed in 2009, the number of dog-related incidents and complaints has also risen. About half of the visitors now bring dogs along on a typical visit, and this amounts to quite a few canines on the trails.

Dogs can scare horses and chase mountain bikes. They are allowed off leash on the forest as long as they respond well to voice commands and don’t stray from the owner’s sight. This, however, is difficult to enforce. Sometimes dogs jump on strangers, and even when the dog isn’t covered in creek water, mud or poison oak, nobody wants someone else’s dog to jump on them. Dog fights with other dogs are another concern, and if the animals stray from the trails, which they often do, they occasionally traipse through a research plot and may distort someone’s data.

Dog days of summer.
Virginia State Parks/Flickr

The real problem is that dogs poop, and sometimes humans refuse to pick it up. The poop becomes an unsightly addition to a well-loved trail, and it can make people and other dogs sick, as well as mess with what’s natural in a forest. Dog feces is not a “natural fertilizer.” As cute as canines can be, they are not native to our forest environments, so nature lacks a seamless way of managing dog waste, especially when it’s deposited onto a trail in high quantities. Parvovirus, giardia and roundworms are just a few of the organisms you, your family and your pets probably don’t want to encounter on a hike, yet dog feces can carry such parasites and pathogens. 

To gain a better sense of how much poop I’m talking about, consider the number 98. That is how many pounds of woof waste 25 volunteers and three staffers collected from the forest’s Oak Creek area in the course of just one Saturday. Altogether, they collected 231 pounds of poop from four locations on the forest in a single day. 

News of this “Tails on Trails” cleanup campaign reached the Corvallis newspaper and then spread across the country through the Associated Press. The upshot? People from near and far wrote nasty notes to my boss. One Oregon State University alumnus said he would not be returning for a while because of our anti-dog attitude. I probably would have written back: “Woohoo! One less person leaving a mess on the trails!” — which is why I will never be able to do my boss’ job. 

Empty your dog here.
Ian Line/Flickr

As a natural resources graduate, I can recite the pep talk professors of my discipline share with their classes at least once a term: “It will be your job to decide what to do about the big environmental issues of your lifetime — global climate change, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, catastrophic fires. …” Some professors admit, “My generation and the one before it screwed everything up. Sorry. Our bad. But now Mother Nature is counting on you.” A few even go so far as to insert a joke warning us not to expect to get paid a lot for saving the planet. Few students laugh. 

It makes me angry that many dog owners fail to clean up their basic environmental messes, and then lash out when nudged to do so. Granted, many people had nothing but praise for the “Tails on Trails” campaign, which included not only the poop purge and educational signage, but also a community dog celebration called “Poocha-Paw-Looza.”

Still, I found the negative outcry disheartening, especially when it came from Corvallis folk who pride themselves on being nature lovers. If they’re unwilling to bend down with a baggie and bundle up a few dog turds, what hope is there that big problems will get fixed in my lifetime — or ever?

High Country News Classifieds
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Type: Permanent, fulltime Reports to: Executive Director Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state and out-of-state required Compensation (beginning): $44,000 to 46,500/yr., DOE plus excellent benefits...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.