Dogs may not belong at local wildlife refuge

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Dog walkers may be disappointed, even angry, but we respect the right of the Stanton Bird Club to define the vision for Thorncrag Nature Sanctuary.

If that means banning dogs, so be it.

The club’s Stewardship Committee unanimously voted in April to no longer permit dogs at the 357-acre wildlife preserve, which has for years been popular with families, student groups and people walking their pets.

The Stewardship Committee’s recommendation now goes to the full board, which has invited input from the public before a final decision is made.

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The club reports that there have been complaints of dogs intimidating walkers, droppings found on trails and dogs chasing wildlife.

There was no indication in a statement last week from Board President Tom Robustelli of how many conflicts had occurred, or whether the number of incidents was growing.

However, similar complaints arose this spring from people using the Whitman Spring Road trail along Lake Auburn.

There, a walker complained to the Auburn Water District that dog walkers were not picking up after their pets.

The district decided that the feces didn’t constitute a water-quality threat to Lake Auburn, but still decided to put up poop-bag dispensers at the entrances to the Spring Road.

Dispensers installed along Auburn’s River Walk have also reportedly cut down on the amount of waste left by dog walkers.

The Stanton Board may want to consider this alternative, but the bird sanctuary and learning-lab mission of the Lewiston refuge make it different from the River Walk and Spring Road trails.

All federal wilderness areas ban pets, as does Baxter State Park and many wildlife refuges. They have found that dogs chase wildlife, disrupt sensitive areas and contaminate water resources.

Despite a posted leashed-dog policy, there are always a few dog owners determined to ignore the rules and let their dogs run.

Plus, all people — children and adults — should feel secure within the confines of the sanctuary, and dogs add an element of stress for some people.

Indeed, when a reporter and photographer visited the refuge on Thursday, a brief fight between two dogs broke out in the parking lot.

Ultimately, Thorncrag is a bird sanctuary, not a public park. The dog-walking public may have to accept that there is a difference.

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