Now Seattle wants to copy Portland’s disastrous homeless camping policy

Originally published October 7, 2016 at 8:02 pm Updated October 10, 2016 at 1:38 pm

Seattle’s big idea is to let the homeless camp legally in parts of the city. Another city just tried this. It was such a disaster it dropped the approach after only six months.

Eight months ago, our little brother city to the south, Portland, tried out an “all experimental” progressive effort to get a handle on its homelessness crisis.

Key to it was that rather than shooing the homeless from place to place, the mayor announced that big swaths of city rights-of-way and parking strips would instead be open to homeless overnight camping for the first time.

“We’re going to be tolerating some level of street homelessness, whether it’s in a doorway or a camp, until such time as we have enough shelter beds,” Mayor Charlie Hales said.

But only six months later, in August, Portland pulled the plug on its liberal camping experiment. The reason was, as I’m betting you’ll be able to guess: People started camping all over the place.

Legal urban camping was a circus right from the beginning. An alternative newspaper sent its reporters out to camp on parking strips, including in front of the mayor’s house, and then published “A Field Guide to Urban Camping.” A coalition of business groups then sued.

But what happened on the ground was both dispiriting and, if you stop to think about it for even a second, entirely predictable: Camping boomed.

“In every part of town, seemingly permanent tent camps are forming,” Oregon Public Broadcasting reported two months after the “safe sleep” policy took effect.

The rules in Portland were designed to allow some camping, but not everywhere or at all times of day. You could set up a bedroll or tarp on most sidewalks or city rights-of- way, but you had to move during the day. Most park areas were to remain off-limits to tents.

But all anyone apparently heard was “free camping in Portland!”

Even in parks, camping took off. A homeless encampment in a greenbelt called Springwater Corridor grew exponentially, amassing 500 campers even though it was off-limits under the new policy.

“It’s likely the largest camp in the Northwest and possibly the nation, since Seattle cleared out much of their largest unauthorized homeless camp, the Jungle,” Portland’s Willamette Week reported in July.

The police became overwhelmed.

“It became very hard to enforce it just because of the sheer number of camps that came up all over the city, whether it was two or three tents or the larger encampments,” a spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau said.

Portland reverted in August to the old “no camping” rules (which, as in Seattle, are enforced only sporadically). There is a big difference between tolerating some unauthorized camping and a message from the city that camping’s OK.

“People believed that camping was made legal, and outreach workers and law enforcement struggled to educate people about the difference between a safe night’s sleep and unsanctioned camping,” the Portland mayor’s office concluded in a statement.




Dear Seattle Nature Advocates,

Last week, the Seattle City Council moved closer to allowing homeless encampments in certain parts of parks. It’s a backward, confusing piece of legislation, but the picture that is emerging is not good for nature. So far, unrestored natural area (it’s roughly 1500 acres or so), or wooded areas in parks that “have no specific use” or that get only “incidental use” would be considered SUITABLE for encampments. In effect, this means many of our urban forests. In their last meeting, Woodland Park was specifically named as perhaps being suitable for encampments. As currently worded, it could also mean that in parks like Lincoln Park, Seward Park, or Schmitz Park, wooded areas that have not yet been restored could be used for encampments. It’s unworkable and unwise. It’s amazing this is even being considered.

Please take a moment to write the Council. Even if you have already written, you must do so again, because last week, one Council member dismissed the thousands of protest emails they have already received as “misinformed”. He said that people are only concerned about playgrounds and schoolyards. He is wrong. We are concerned about nature, too.


Here’s a sample email you may copy and paste if you like;

Dear City Officials,

Seattle’s park forests and natural areas must be protected against high-impact use. Our forests are not unused spaces, their value lies in the fact they are Seattle’s last remnants of our natural heritage. We must preserve, protect, and improve them so they will be intact for future generations of people and wildlife. We also need to work on helping people of all ages and backgrounds access them, connect with the nature in meaningful ways, and learn to appreciate their true value. Nature—especially urban nature—is vital for human health and happiness.

Please do not make our forests “suitable” places for encampments, which would have a very great impact on urban forests and their role in urban life.

As a city, we should have more compassion for people experiencing homelessness, and should do much more to help solve the crisis. But if forests are deemed “suitable”, the Council would be putting two worthy causes—nature preservation and homeless advocacy—in opposition to one another, and that is wrong. If public land is needed for encampments, the City should select defined areas that would be able to withstand high-impact use. City leaders should solve the housing crisis without using our forests.

Thank you.

Here are the email addresses, and we suggest sending an email to each of them.

Many thanks,
Denise, Mark, and Rebecca 

Seattle Nature Alliance
Directors: Denise Dahn, Mark Ahlness, and Rebecca Watson

Citizens for the Protection of Volunteer Park (CPVP)

Contact: Ellen Taft Tel or Txt : (206) 310-9973

 For immediate release

Ellen Taft proposes “Dog Free, People-Only Parks”

No more OLA’s for Unlicensed Dogs

In response to COLA’s (Committee for Off-Leash Area) demands that Seattle Parks and Recreation provide more Off Leash Areas, Ellen Taft, president of Citizen’s for the Protection of Volunteer Park proposes the following

DOG LESS PARKS- PEOPLE ONLY PARKs- If Public property and park land can be taken out of use, for people, then that the same percentage of Park land dedicated to OLA’s should be dedicated to People Only-Dogless Parks.

BAN DOGS FROM PARKS WITH BEACHES. Dogs should be banned from all the parks which have beaches. However, there are several violations per hour. Dog feces pollutes water, contributes to the growth of milfoil, the fecal coliform level and the parasites from worms, which grown in dog feces actually kill fish such as salmon. It is also dangerous for small children and babies.

DECREASE NUMBER OF DOGS PER HOUSEHOLD TO ONE Since COLA believes that there is too little acreage for the number for dogs in the city, The Logical conclusion is NOT to increase the number of OLA’S but to DECREASE the number of dogs. Currently SMC allows three dogs per household, which means three Great Danes, Three Irish Wolfhounds, Three Rottweilers or Three Pit bulls even in an apartment.      If we only had one dog per household it would cut down on the number of dogs in OLA’s as well as the amount of dog feces polluting our environment

NO DOG WALKERS IN OLA’S , ONE DOG PER OWNER       Dog walkers should be banned from OLA’S and a one-dog per owner adopted in OLA’s

ONLY LICENSED DOGS SHOULD USE OLA’s.   Perhaps COLA could enforce.

BAN PIT BULLS AND FIGHTING BREEDS FROM OLA Pit bulls and all fighting breeds should be banned from OLA’S here is a petition signed by Seattle users.There are many people with dogs who will not use the off-.leash areas because they and their dogs have been attacked by Pit bull.

Taft will be speaking at the Parks Board Commission meeting on Thursday Sept. 22nd at Miller Community Center at 19th and E. John.

“In 1991, my ten month old child was attacked by three dogs in the wading pool of Volunteer Park. Although I grabbed her just in time, the owner never said he was sorry,

In 1992-I suggested to City Councilor Cheryl Chow at the old Kinko’s on Broadway, that maybe we should do something about off-leash dogs in the parks.

In 1993, I founded Seattle Pro-Leash after I had been chased and attacked several times while running in Volunteer Park.

In 1995, when the City of Seattle designated some part of parks as off leash areas, there was an implicit agreement, that if dog-owners had off-leash areas, that dog-owners would leash their dogs and there would no longer be dogs running in parks.

It is now 20 years later and we still have the same problem.

I agree with Cola’s proposal to “Legalize DOG”. It is precisely what I have been telling city Council and a succession of Mayors since ‘93.   I want the 80% of dogs who are currently unlicensed to get legal and buy their licenses.

According to Animal Control there are only 39,527 licensed dogs in the City, that is the appropriate number of dogs for a city of 282, 335, not a city of 652,405. according to estimates by the AVMA.* However, if there are approx. 40,000 unlicensed dogs then the number of dogs in the city is probably around 200,000, with about 160,000 unlicensed dogs.

Since I have been tracking the figures, Animal Control’s budget comes up $1 o $1.5 million short every single year because of unlicensed pets. The general fund has to subsidize 2/3rds of its budget. Since 1990, The owners of unlicensed dogshave cost the city over $35 million.   All other taxpayers have been subsidizing Animal Control.

Now, it seems to me that the City of Seattle is under no obligation to provide Off leash areas to ANY unlicensed dogs, I believe that the current acreage is sufficient for the approximately 40,000 Licensed dogs.” Says Taft.


* Extract from email received from Brett Rogers of Animal Control.

The number of currently license dogs is = 39,527


Robin L. Klunder-Ryall, Operations Manager

City of Seattle – Dept. of Finance & Administrative Services  206.386.1985


Websites about pollution caused by dog feces

Continue reading

People, Dogs and Parks Strategic Plan

The Draft People, Dogs and Parks Plan is now posted for public reviewed and comment.  The Draft, released for public review on June 21, 2016, will not be finalized until December 2016.

A public hearing by the Board of Park Commissioners (Board) will be held:

September 22, 2016
Miller Community Center
6:30 p.m.

Public testimony at the Board meeting will be limited to two minutes per person.  Public comment may also be submitted in writing and will have equal weight as oral testimony.  Written comments should be addressed to:  Rachel.Acosta@Seattle.Gov and should be submitted by October 14, 2016.

This plan has also been sent to the Seattle City Council who may review it in the Parks, Seattle Center, Libraries and Waterfront Committee.  The Superintendent will finalize the plan after considering public testimony, receiving recommendations from the Board,  and receiving input from the Seattle City Council.

The Board of Park Commissioners were briefed on February 25, 2016 on the Superintendent’s Preliminary Recommendations and took public testimony. This followed a preliminary discussion about issues relating to this policy on Thursday, January 28 where the Board again heard public comment.

The Draft People, Dogs and Parks Plan will be published in early June with opportunities for public review and comment thereafter.


Q2 2015
  • Best practices researched and compiled
Q3 2015
  • Dog owner survey
Q4 2015
  • Dog owner survey results and focus group research posted online
June 2016
  • Draft plan released
June – Oct
  • Public comment period
Sept 22
  • Public Hearing
Nov 10
  • Park Board of Commissioners Recommendation
  • Plan finalized
  • Final Report to Council

What is the Off-Leash Area Strategic Plan?

The Seattle Animal Shelter estimates there are close to 150,000 dogs currently in the city of Seattle. We are looking for sustainable solutions to help accommodate dogs in a city growing in density.

The purpose of the Off-Leash Areas Strategic plan is to identify a long term plan for the City’s existing 14 Off-Leash Areas, as well as for maintenance, acquisition, and expansion of Off-Leash Areas projects.

The Off-leash Area (Off-Leash Areas) Strategic Plan will be a long term plan which will guide the operations of existing Off-Leash Areas, explore alternative service models and create a strategy for the potential acquisition and development of future Off-Leash Areas. It will also provide direction on how to spend Park District funding designated for Off-Leash Areas in ‘2.5 Improve Dog Off-Leash Areas’ funding initiative described in the six year Park District spending plan (2015-2020).

One goal will be to determine how much of the funding should be focused on paying for improvements to existing areas and major maintenance, versus providing additional staff support to the Off-Leash Areas community or creating new Off-Leash Areas. As the Plan is developed, Parks will also consult with representatives from the Citizens for Off Leash Areas, Animal Shelter and other interested parties and conduct a public outreach process.

Specific Report Components

  • Survey and analysis of the behaviors and characteristics of dog owners in Seattle;
  • Assessment of service delivery through partnership with Citizens for Off-Leash Areas;
  • Alternative revenue options to support annual operating and maintenance costs of Off-Leash Areas;
  • Assessment of existing Off-Leash Areas and recommend improvements;
  • Defined strategy around how new Off-Leash Areas are acquired and developed;
  • Alternative service delivery models to help meet demand (e.g. Off-Leash Areas hours at designated parks, rotating Off-Leash Areas among designated parks);
  • Enforcement strategy options with Animal Control to help reduce illegal off-leash activity and moderate activities (e.g. unlicensed dog-walkers).

Public Outreach

Seattle Parks and Recreation will manage this project and facilitate the public outreach. Parks will also bring in a consultant to help host public meetings and other types of outreach.Subscribe to our email list by sending a blank email to the link. Be the first to know about our outreach process, draft documents, surveys, etc!

Part 1: Off-Leash Area Survey

We had 5140 participants complete the survey.

Part 2: Off-Leash Area Complaint and Violation Research

Off-Leash Area Violations Map
There have been 4818 off-leash complaints filed with the Animal Shelter since 2009. There have been 411 letters written to Seattle Parks and Recreation since 2010 and 41% related to leash violations (164 emails). Complaints fall into the following themes:

  • Owners who walk their dog on-leash frustrated by off-leash dogs because it is their only option for exercising their dog legally (e.g., dog doesn’t get along well with other dogs)
  • Adults and parents of children feeling threatened by dogs
  • Feces create public health concern (e.g., feces in athletic fields, in sand on beaches, playgrounds, etc.)
  • Health of natural areas and wildlife (e.g., plant damage, endangered seals on beaches)
  • Asset damage (e.g., turf damage on sport fields, run patterns on grass, holes from digging)

Part 3: Focus Group Research

In parts one and two we identified issues based on years of feedback. In part three we developed focus groups to help us develop community-driven solutions. The focus groups represented diverse community perspectives including: adding off-leash areas, protecting urban habitat, participating in other park activities such as walking, athletics, etc. The focus groups were provided information and then asked to consider different ideas that have been implemented in other cities. The ideas presented at the focus groups were conceptual and not recommendations. There were 56 participants including 26 dog-owners and 30 people without dogs. Of the dog owners, 11 preferred off-leash exercise, 10 preferred on-leash and 3 liked both equally.

We completed seven focus groups during October 2015 at locations throughout the community.

Part 4: Drafting the Plan and Public Review

In part 4 we will develop the report and recommendations based on the dog-owner survey, best practices research, complaint data, focus group themes, financial data, a study of recreational demand, among other sources.



Edward B. Murray, Mayor

Jesús Aguirre, Superintendent


For immediate release                                                                      August 24, 2016

Contact:          Christina Hirsch, 206-684-7241


Board of Park Commissioners to hold a Public Hearing on the

People, Dogs and Parks Strategic Plan

The Board of Park Commissioners will hold a public hearing to receive feedback on the Draft People, Dogs and Parks Strategic Plan. The meeting will take place at Miller Community Center on September 22, 2016 at 6:30 p.m.

The Draft People, Dogs and Parks Strategic Plan is available here. The plan will guide the operations of existing off-leash areas, and provides strategies for development of future off-leash areas. It provides direction on how to spend Seattle Park District funding designated for existing off-leash areas over the six-year term of the Park District funding plan (2015-2020).

The Board of Park Commissioners will receive oral and written testimony, and will make a recommendation to the Parks and Recreation Superintendent based on the feedback they receive from the public.

Seattle currently has 14 fenced off-leash areas totaling 28 acres. The People, Dogs and Parks Plan offers recommendations on how to add new off-leash areas, and how to improve off-leash area conditions and user experience.

New off-leash areas may be added through new park development, existing park redevelopment and community requests, on park land or non-park public land. All new off-leash area proposals will be reviewed by a committee of environmental and dog advocates, community members, animal behaviorists and Parks staff, who will make a recommendation to the Parks and Recreation Superintendent.

The Plan recommends that future off-leash areas be fenced, does not recommend allowing unleashed dogs on trails, and recommends against establishing more off-leash areas on beaches. User conflicts, limited enforcement and maintenance resources, and environmental concerns limit the capacity for adequate management of unleashed dogs in city parks outside of fenced off-leash areas.

The plan proposes the use of Seattle Park District funding to improve existing off-leash areas based on site assessments included in the plan, and to explore possibilities for partnerships and sponsorships to expand resources. It also proposes the creation of a license for dog walkers, and limiting the number of dogs in a dog-walker pack to three unless dog walkers complete an approved animal behavior training program.

Those who want to give input on the plan but are not able to come to the meetings can give written comments, which bear equal weight to verbal comments. Please email comments to

Approved by voters in 2014, the Seattle Park District provides more than $47 million a year in long-term funding for Seattle Parks and Recreation including maintenance of parklands and facilities, operation of community centers and recreation programs, and development of new neighborhood parks on previously acquired sites. 2016 is the first full year of implementation and there is work going on in every corner of the city. This year includes funding to tackle the $267-million major maintenance backlog, and will fund the improvement and rehabilitation of community centers; preservation of urban forests; major maintenance at the Aquarium and Zoo; day-to-day maintenance of parks and facilities; more recreation opportunities for people from underserved communities, programs for young people, people with disabilities, and older adults; development of new parks; and acquisition of new park land.

The Seattle Board of Park Commissioners is a nine-member citizen board created by the City Charter. Four members are appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council; four members are appointed by the City Council; and one member is a young adult appointed by YMCA Get Engaged. The Board generally meets twice a month, normally on the second and fourth Thursday, to advise the Parks and Recreation Superintendent, the Mayor and the City Council on parks and recreation matters.



Rachel Acosta

ABGC/Park Board Coordinator

Seattle Parks and Recreation

100 Dexter Avenue N

Seattle, WA 98109


Please enact and enforce BSL in Seattle and King County Parks

One thought on “Declaration”

Teresa Pierce |

“Off leash areas do not direct off leash dogs, but only create overspill with accompanying issue mentioned above, and it is the responsibility of Parks superintendent to monitor impacts of off leash areas and to close them when negative impacts are determined.”

The increasing number of dangerous dogs, primarily Pitbulls and their crosses, cause several safety issues for non-fighting bred dogs, their owners, and park Patrons. This is a growing concern worthy of immediate inspection.

Our animal shelters in King County are overflowing with disproportionate numbers of Pitbulls in comparison to the number of other dog breeds (and yet Seattle Humane Society and other King County Pitbull Rescue organizations continue to bring Pitbulls here for potential adoption). The misconception that these dogs are as safe a companion animal as any other dog breed contributes to the growing number of Pitbulls and their ignorant, ill-equipped handlers in King County off leash dog parks. This leaves non Pitbull owners and their dogs searching for undesignated off leash alternatives. For this reason and no other, I now consider off leash parks too dangerous to take my dogs to and no longer use them.

The remedy to this situation isn’t simple. It begins where Pitbull owners acquire their dogs – Pitbull breeders, animal shelters, Pitbull rescue organizations and elsewhere. Pitbull owners often surrender their dogs to shelters, not identifying them as dangerous or potentially dangerous. We learn of the consequential carnage in the media far less often than it actually happens, especially if it’s dog-on-dog injury or death. Breed specific legislation (BSL), whether by creating breed-specific off leash areas or by banning Pitbulls from municipalities altogether, is the obvious immediate solution. Spay/neuter and euthanasia are permanent remedies.

Seattle loves it’s dogs and they’re not going away soon. Anti-BSL activists are as fierce as their dogs. There are enough misunderstandings about the fighting bred dogs to go around but the realities remain constant: these dogs are wildly, unpredictably dangerous and should not be tolerated in public areas. Leash law enforcement becomes a mute point because Pitbulls are stronger their handlers and the leash they’re on (it’s appalling to me how many Pitbulls are at the business end of retractable leashes, as if they were a toy poodle)! Ceasar Malone even states that Pitbulls too strong and unpredictable for all but the most experienced.

In the absence of US pro Pitbull lobby, Canada attempts to enforce BSL inclusive of public muzzle laws. But, unless a dog is conditioned to a muzzle early on, it’s simply difficult/dangerous/inhumane to introduce beyond puppyhood.

Please enact and enforce BSL in Seattle and King County Parks.

People, Dogs, and Parks Plan – Draft plan released — Seattle Nature Alliance

Seattle Parks and Recreation has released the long awaited People, Dogs, and Parks Plan draft, a document focused on updating the off leash dog policy in our city parks.

The ‘draft‘ is very long (161 pages) and shows the extent to which Parks went in researching, reviewing, and justifying their options on this very contentious issue. Highlights of the recommendations (pages 41-43) include:

  • No unfenced or mixed use off leash areas in parks
  • No offleash dogs on trails in parks
  • Current offleash budget to be spent on maintenance of current areas, not creation of new ones
  • No new offleash areas with beach access (i.e., on Puget Sound)
  • Several suggestions for finding/creating offleash areas outside of Seattle Parks property

The Seattle Nature Alliance strongly endorses the Draft Plan.offleash dog 3

With limited greenspace, we believe the needs of ‘all people’ outweigh the desires of specialized user groups. Off leash dog owners should not get special privileges for their off leash dog recreation at a cost to other park users, wildlife, and the well being of the park ecosystem. We support passive use in our greenspaces, which does includes dog owners who leash their dogs. We hope, as stated in the draft document, other more appropriate recreation area options become available for what is clearly a dog recreation need.

As this is still a ‘draft’, it has not been approved, and the Board of Park Commissioners, Seattle Parks and Recreation, Seattle City Council will be watching public comment and reaction closely. We encourage everyone to either testify in person, or send a letter to the Parks board by July 28, 2016. (See details in letter below) :


The Draft People, Dogs and Parks Plan is now posted for public review and comment.  The Draft, released for public review on June 21, 2016, will not be finalized until late September, 2016.  A public hearing by the Board of Park Commissioners (Board) will be held:
July 28, 2016
6:30 – 9:00 pm
Northgate Community Center
10510 5th Avenue, NE
Seattle, WA 98125

Public testimony at the Board meeting will be limited to two minutes per person.  Public comment may also be submitted in writing and will have equal weight as oral testimony.  Written comments should be addressed to: Rachel.Acosta@Seattle.Gov and should be submitted by August 17, 2016 in order to allow the Board to review all public input prior to the September 8, 2016 Board meeting.  The Board will make recommendations to the Superintendent of Parks and Recreation at the September 8, 2016 meeting of the Board.

The September 8, 2016 meeting of the Board will be held:
6:30 – 9:00 pm
100 Dexter Avenue North
Seattle, WA 98109

This plan has also been sent to the Seattle City Council who may review it in the Parks, Seattle Center, Libraries and Waterfront Committee. 

The Superintendent will finalize the plan after considering public testimony, receiving recommendations from the Board, and input from the Seattle City Council.

Rachel Acosta
ABGC/Park Board Coordinator
Seattle Parks and Recreation
100 Dexter Avenue N
Seattle, WA 98109


For more from the Seattle Nature Alliance on this issue, see our earlier post, Seattle should not approve off-leash in natural parks. As you will see at the end, we love dogs, but recognize the limitations and responsibilities that come with dog ownership in a dense urban area.

the Phantom Orchid appeals to off trail dog mentality

Return of the Phantom Orchid

(Guest post from Stewart Wechsler)

May 21, 2016
While Lincoln Park is blessed to have a number of indigenous plants that survive nowhere else in Seattle, there is one of these that stands out like no other, as both beautiful and the most unique and special. It is the Phantom Orchid – Cephalanthera austiniae (in older references as Eburophyton austiniae). This plant has no leaves and no chlorophyll, and it has nothing visible above ground when it is not flowering or setting seed. With no leaves and chlorophyll, you ask how does it grow? It is fully dependent on the fungus underground that it is attached to, while the fungus is dependent on the tree roots that it is attached to. So if anyone would get the bad idea that they might want this beautiful and unique flower in their garden, they should know that if it is dug up, it is killed, because the essential 3 way connection between the orchid, the fungus and the tree is broken. Not only is there nothing visible above ground when it isn’t bloom and seed time, they don’t bloom every year, and the number of flower stalks that come up in any year they do bloom is quite variable. Phantom Orchids have been recorded not blooming for up to 17 years then blooming again. At Lincoln Park the first place I found one flower stalk, about 10 years ago, it sent up another stalk for each of the next 2 years, but since then I haven’t seen any flowers at that spot. While I suspect that orchid is dead, each year I keep checking, because I can’t know. No wonder these pale flower stalks, with flowers that have no more pigment than a yellow lower lip, that appear, then disappear, are called “Phantom” Orchids.
The time I first found a Phantom Orchid in Lincoln Park, there had only been one University of Washington herbarium record of this species for King County. It was one collected in 1937, by Sister Mary Milburge. Where? ­ In Lincoln Park! (Since then a second Phantom Orchid was collected in King County in the Preston area.) Due to its rarity statewide, the Phantom Orchid is on the state’s rare and protected plant list.
July 4, 2015
The biggest reason to tell people about these orchids, in spite of some risk that some rudely inconsiderate person might try digging one up, is to use the problem they have had to teach people about a problem for the park’s whole natural community. Every year that these orchids do bloom, a number of the flower stalks are knocked down before they can set seed. It seems most likely this is from the heavy traffic in the park of off trail, off leash and long leash dogs, with claws designed for digging, and who dig the forest floor and its vegetation with every leap, every pull, and sometimes just for fun. Last year we had 5 orchid stalks come up, but 3 were trampled before they could exchange pollen with another orchid and set seed. If our remaining Phantom Orchids don’t produce seed before they die, Lincoln Park will have no more Phantom Orchids. So before you allow your dog to run free in this most special remaining piece of nature left in Seattle, consider the dilemma of our Phantom Orchids struggling to have sex and babies before they die!
­Stewart Wechsler

(pictures by Mark Ahlness)


Continue reading

Portland’s dog ban protects native habitat, wildlife

Metro’s dog ban protects native habitat, wildlife


Oxbow Regional Park straddles the Sandy River. (Stephanie Yao Long/Staff)

Guest Columnist  The Oregonian on March 22, 2016 at 9:57 AM By Dan Moeller

One of my first memories after moving to Portland with my family 15 years ago was taking our beloved dog, Greta, for hikes and jogs throughout the region’s parks and trails. But I quickly learned through my job at Metro Parks and Nature that my organization doesn’t allow dogs and other pets — except for service animals — at most of Metro’s 17,000 acres of parks and natural areas, though dogs are allowed on designated regional trails and boat ramps. It’s a policy that some dog owners disagree with, but as a longtime dog owner, it’s one that I’ve come to understand and appreciate after learning the reasons why.

At the core of all of Metro’s voter-approved investments is our region’s priority to protect clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, and to create opportunities for people to connect with nature close to home. Dogs and other pets can damage sensitive habitat and threaten wildlife the region has worked hard to protect. Strong scientific data show that animals think of dogs — even the friendliest ones — as predators.

Animals have a keen sense of sight, smell and hearing. The presence of a dog, even on a leash, will disrupt their normal behaviors and force many to avoid going near trails. Numerous scientific studies show that in natural areas where dogs are not allowed, people see more wildlife and get closer to it.

Among the 100 largest cities in America, Portland already leads the country with the most off-leash dog parks per capita, with 5.4 such parks per 100,000 residents, according to the 2015 City Park Facts report from The Trust for Public Land.

People have many options when they want to spend time outdoors with their pets, but very few places they can depend on to protect sensitive habitat and provide a unique experience in nature so close to home. At Metro destinations, visitors get special opportunities to see native Swainson’s thrush in the ancient forest at Oxbow Regional Park along the Sandy River, white-crowned sparrows in the open prairies at Cooper Mountain Nature Park near Beaverton and black-tailed deer at Graham Oaks Nature Park in Wilsonville.

These are just a few of the native animals, some rare and elusive, that would be significantly affected if dogs were regularly allowed. In particular, birds that nest on or near the ground would decline in numbers if dogs were allowed.

Although Metro doesn’t allow dogs at most of our sites, we believe it’s important to invest in parks, trails and natural areas where dogs are allowed, on leash or off. Metro has supported a number of dog-friendly destinations throughout the region with money from the natural areas bond measures voters approved in 1995 and 2006.

These bond measures designated money — $44 million in the 2006 bond and $25 million in the 1995 bond — to local cities, counties and parks providers to acquire land or make improvements. Voter investments have supported dog-friendly destinations such as Forest Park in Portland, Cook Park in Tigard, Hood View Park in Happy Valley and dozens of other sites.

Like my family, many others depend on these parks as places to exercise and explore with their dogs.

Greta died a few years ago after being with us for 12 years. I’ll always treasure the memories of our family spending time with her outdoors, as well as our new adventures with Stella, our current dog. But I also treasure the moments with my family seeing western painted turtles basking in the sun at Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area and western gray squirrels scurrying from branch to branch at Mount Talbert Nature Park. And I hope we all have many more opportunities to do so

Seattle should not approve off-leash in natural parks

Did you know Seattle’s Off-Leash Policy is under review? Your favorite park could become open range for free-running dogs.

The Parks Department calls the concept “Variable Hours”, meaning some locations in some parks might allow off-leash at certain times of the day. It could apply to certain areas of parks, or possibly in some entire parks.

Off-Leash advocates have argued that other cities have more park acres for off-leash than Seattle. The Seattle Nature Alliance points out that Seattle has far fewer park acres than most large cities. And, what we do have tends to be smaller and fragmented. Other cities like Vancouver BC and Portland have thousands of acres of protected natural parkland. Seattle has only a fraction of what they have.


Off-Leash advocates call for our current system to be changed and opened up to off-leash. This is called Multi-Use: open to previously prohibited forms of high-impact recreation. The Parks Department is considering making more parks Multi-Use.

We believe that Passive-Use is the best policy for our natural parks. Passive uses are those that anyone and everyone can enjoy, and they are low-impact and compatible with other users as well as wildlife.

What can you do?

Please write to the Park Board, the Parks Department, the City Council, and the Mayor, and tell them you do NOT want our natural or scenic parklands open to Off-Leash or Multi-Use. Tell them that Passive-Use is the best way to ensure we ALL—people and wildlife—have access to clean, safe, and welcoming parks.


Our Letter to the Park Board:

(Sent on Feb 1 to the Park Board, cc’d to Parks officials and the City Council)

Dear Park Board Members,

First of all, a word of thanks to all of you for your dedicated service. We are pleased to have such a bright, committed group of citizens overseeing our precious parklands.

Please consider our thoughts about the discussion on January 28th about the Off-Leash Plan. We attended the meeting and are encouraged that you are willing to hear all sides of the issue.

We are concerned that Parks is considering allowing off-leash dogs in regular parks—in unfenced areas or at certain times of the day. This is a considerable departure from the traditional criteria for OLAs that were adopted when Seattle agreed to OLAs in the parks system in 1990.

The Seattle Nature Alliance is particularly concerned about our parks with natural habitat or scenic beauty, for example Lincoln, Seward, Discovery, Schmitz, Fauntleroy, and others in this category. Using parks such as these for variable-hours, unfenced Off Leash Areas would not be sustainable, equitable, or wise. We support OLAs in appropriate places only.

Off-Leash is an extremely high-impact form of recreation. It impacts other people—especially older, younger, and disabled people, and certain cultural groups. It impacts other dogs, wildlife, plants, soils, and water quality. Our parks are small, fragmented, and already highly impacted from heavy use. Even our largest park, Discovery, is only 534 acres. We don’t have Portland’s 5100-acre Forest Park, or Vancouver’s 2100-acre Pacific Spirit Regional Park and 1000-acre Stanley Park.

Additionally, we are concerned that the Off-leash advocates have based a good deal of their argument on what other cities have—but they are not making fair comparisons. For example, in the both the Focus Groups, the Park Board meeting, and in various Facebook Postings to their members, they have portrayed Vancouver BC as having off-leash opportunities on beaches and trails—something they say we should have also. But, the two cities are not comparable. Vancouver has much more parkland per city acre and more protected environmentally sensitive areas such as Puget Sound beaches and forests, including large spaces where dogs and the public are not allowed at all—a vital buffer for wildlife and mitigation for OLAs. See attached maps which show visually the great differences between Seattle and Vancouver.

Click on the image for more detail


Not Equitable
In the current boomtown-mode, Seattlites are expected to adopt a new, highly urbanized lifestyle. We’re being expected to give up a lot of things we’ve traditionally taken for granted: driving our cars, free parking, spacious backyards, and quiet single-family neighborhoods. Now, we’re expected to take transit, and live in smaller, more crowded spaces. Yet, why is high-impact dog-ownership still encouraged as though it were an assumed entitlement? The dog population—especially of large, sporting dogs—is growing at an alarming rate, and this is only going to increase with the next 120,000 people who are moving here.

Parks has accepted OLA as a form of legitimate recreation, and we agree that it is. And, as with all forms of high-impact recreation, it is limited by available space that can withstand such activity. But, the OLA advocates say that their dogsneedplaces to run, and that it is up to the city to meet this need. Comparisons are often made with children, and playgrounds, etc. But even though we love them, dogs arenot children. Our collective future depends on children—not dogs. And even though Off-Leash is a recreation that we should provide to the extent possible, it is not a societal duty that must be fulfilled at all all costs.

Less than one-quarter of Seattlites own dogs, but nationally, pet-care is a 330-billion dollar industry. Last year, Americans spent over 300-million dollars on dog Halloween costumes. Pet care—including required daily exercise—can and should be a personal responsibility, not a societal one.

When OLAs were first proposed to Seattlites, the advocates claimed that this would relieve the scofflaw problem in other parts of the city. Yet today, virtually every park—and park visitor—suffers from constant, daily, and growing illegal off-leash impact. It is particularly bad in natural area parks, where the impact is the greatest to wildlife and habitat. DSC04539bThe single greatest complaint to the Parks Department is illegal off-leash dogs.
offleash in LP 1
Yet, now, the Parks is putting a relaxation of the leash law on the table for discussion. This is counter to the public interest. If the “hours” model of OLA is adopted in unfenced parks, it will only increase dog owners’ sense of entitlement to let their dogs run free, particularly in the choicest, most beautiful natural areas and beaches.

In conclusion
We encourage the use of alternative locations outside the park system for OLAs. We think that the City and OLA advocates should do more to encourage their members to choose smaller, non-sporting breeds. They should also do more to encourage people to follow the leash laws, and to educate them about the damages to habitats and wildlife that dogs cause.

Thank you,

Seattle Nature Alliance

Directors: Denise Dahn, Mark Ahlness, and Rebecca Watson