30 Aug 2019

Opinions:

Dog Owners: Let’s Protect Other Forms of Wildlife!

Jade Stone is a decade-long resident of Kingman Park and has two dogs, a 7-year old Miniature Schnauzer named Moose and a 2-year old Yorkie/Shih Tzu mix named Peaven (a City Dogs rescue alum). She is a board member on Friends of Kingman and Heritage Islands (FOKHI) and Friends of Kingman Park (FOKP).

I visit and volunteer regularly at Kingman and Heritage Islands, although that wasn’t always the case. Despite living nearby for years, I wasn’t aware that the islands existed until I attended my first Kingman Island Bluegrass & Folk Festival. When I got my first dog, Moose, I incorporated the islands and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail to our weekly dog walks.

This is how I learned about the wonderful organizations that work for and advocate for the islands and the Anacostia River, such as Living
Classrooms of the National Capital Region.
Living Classrooms has worked to inspire and educate disadvantaged youth and young adults in the D.C. region for over 15 years through hands-on education and job training. They operate Kingman and Heritage Islands for use as a public recreation space, nature preserve, and “living classroom” for hands-on environmental education programs for underserved area schools.

Jade Stone with Moose and Peaven at Kingman Island. Photo courtesy of Jade Stone.


The Kingman and Heritage Islands area encompasses about 45 acres and represents a unique natural space in the heart of the nation’s capital. The product of dredging the Anacostia River over 100 years ago, Kingman and Heritage Islands are now home to important and rare ecosystems, including tidal freshwater wetlands, vernal pools, wildflower meadows, and tidal swamp forests. The islands are home to more than 100 different species of birds, mammals, and other wildlife. In early 2018, Mayor Muriel Bowser directed the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) to designate portions of both islands as a State Conservation Area and the southern area of Kingman Island as a Critical Wildlife Area. The State Conservation Area designation mimics the federal covenant for the islands, restricting their use to environmental, educational, and recreational purposes.

In accordance with this designation, DOEE has placed signs on the islands to remind folks to keep their dogs leashed. Unfortunately, some park visitors have vandalized or sabotaged the signs. Other visitors have refused to obey the signs and let their dogs off-leash while scoffing at staff or volunteers who remind them of the islands’ rules. During a 5-hour mussels monitoring stint at Heritage Island last Saturday, our volunteer group saw several off-leash dogs and their owners passed by. We only encountered one dog owner with their dog on a leash.

While we volunteers were seated on the trail logging data, we came frequently face-to-face with passing pups. Given that the majority of people on the islands are the youth with Living Classrooms, off-leash dogs can be a recipe for disaster. This summer, a 14 year-old participating in a nature scavenger hunt through a DOEE and Living Classrooms program was running to find a clue, and was chased, pinned to the ground, and injured by an off-leash dog.

Aside from the risks that off-leash dogs pose to humans and other dogs, here’s how they have impacted the wildlife at the islands:

  • Off-leash dogs have chased and killed squirrels, rabbits, ducks, groundhogs, and other wildlife
  • Off-leash dogs disturb nesting areas and damage sensitive wildlife habitat
  • Ground-nesting birds are particularly vulnerable to off-leash dogs because dogs running through the underbrush can either destroy the nest itself or cause the parents to abandon the eggs or nestlings
  • Raptors are driven off breeding grounds by off-leash dogs, who, aside from directly disturbing the birds by running through the woods, diminish the prey animals that the raptors depend on
  • Dogs urinating in nesting and sensitive wildlife habitats “marks” the territory, which makes it undesirable or uninhabitable to the wildlife living there
  • Dog fur/paws pick up seeds, which can spread invasive plant species

Jim Monsma, Executive Director of City Wildlife, offered his thoughts on the subject: “Kingman and Heritage Islands are extremely important for wildlife in the District. It’s some of the very best habitat that we have left, and the wild animals cannot move elsewhere. There is no suitable place that still has room for more wildlife… If people knew how much damage an off-leash dog does to ground-nesting birds and wildlife in general, they would be eager to keep their dog on leash. People with dogs respect wildlife: they just aren’t aware that dogs, just like cats, can be devastating to wildlife unless the owners take responsibility. It really is up to them to make sure these animals have a chance.”

When I asked Jim what threats to dogs that dog owners could avoid by leashing their dogs, he said, “Dogs are safest on leash. Rabies is a problem the city, especially among raccoons and foxes. An off-leash dog could easily come in contact with a rabid animal. This would be very unfortunate, even for a dog who has been vaccinated. Mange is also prevalent among
foxes and can be spread to dogs. Groundhogs and beavers have fierce, injurious bites, and will defend themselves from a loose dog viciously.”

I love dogs and want my furry loved ones to have places to run free. I’ve been that person at Lincoln Park scrambling to get my dog on a leash when the United States Park Police arrived, but now I am a more educated dog owner and steward of the environment. I encourage people to only allow their dogs off-leash at designated dog parks, although as a dog owner, I’m sorely aware that the extended Capitol Hill area is underserved when it comes to dog parks.

I encourage you to educate yourself more. For information on current dog
parks, visit the DPR site. For information from DPR on creating a dog park, click here. Let’s not focus our energy on being upset with me for my views, nor being upset with DOEE for enforcing the rules through fines for noncompliant dog owners. Let’s instead apply for more dog parks in our area and focus on conserving the limited and precious natural resources that we do have!


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