Dog owners who have appreciated the off-leash dog loop trail at the Quarry Lake area over the past year can expect it to remain in place – for now.
The dog park and the trail – which was approved as a pilot project – have been subject to plenty of discussion throughout the summer because it is partly located inside a habitat patch and adjacent to a wildlife corridor.
Sustainability coordinator Lori Rissling Wynn provided an update to council on Dec. 12 at its committee of the whole meeting.
Rissling Wynn said the pilot which connects to the overall Quarry Lake dog park, was proposed as a result of recommendations from the 2015 human use management review.
She said the goal of the review was to address the issues around when humans – and their four-legged family members – come into contact with wildlife and conflict occurs.
“There is passion expressed in the community around dogs and decision making around how people and dogs use the valley,” she said. “We also know there is passion in the community for coexistence and living with wildlife and we know the community is interested in the next steps around the Quarry Lake area.
“We want to make the best decision … with positive outcomes for wildlife and humans.”
Reconsidering the boundaries of the dog park at Quarry Lake was recommended in the human use review, to accommodate access to a water area. The reality was, people were already using the unofficial ‘dog pond’ as an off-leash area and as a result a formalized trail was proposed and approved by council.
“The intent was to designate a formal trail and delineate use of the pond,” said Rissling Wynn, adding if off-leash dog use were concentrated in that one area, it would be reduced elsewhere.
So far, that theory has been challenged by results of a remote-camera study by Alberta Environment and Parks. With four cameras located in the habitat patch, and outside the off-leash dog area and trail, administration was able to count the number of off-leash dogs in the area before and during the pilot.
She said the results are concerning, as there were five per cent more off-leash dogs in the habitat patch – which is permitted for human use, but dogs are required to be on-leash – than before the pilot began.
From summer 2015 to mid 2016, she said, the cameras found dog owners had their pets on leash 73 per cent of the time, and off leash 27 per cent. During the pilot trial period from Aug. 2016 to Aug. 2017, only 68 per cent of dog walkers had their pets on leash, while 32 per cent were off-leash.
“This is information that should be considered as council determines what the next steps of use in the area will be,” she said, adding it is well known that both black bears and grizzly bears regularly use the overall area.
Signage for the dog park has been identified as a challenge. Soon after the trail was approved and markers installed, some were vandalized and removed.
Several smaller temporary A-frame signs were put in place at key locations to inform the public of what is an off-leash area and what is not – however, the permanent signage at the park remained in place, causing confusion for some over what was and was not included in the off-leash area.
Bylaw Services supervisor Micheal Orr said when bylaw officers patrolled the area, there was confusion expressed by dog owners over what was inside the off-leash area and what was not.
“If there is no strong delineation for what is an on or off-leash area, it is hard to articulate where the boundary is for enforcement,” Orr said.
Council honed in on the fact that enforcement of off-leash dog regulations in the Quarry Lake area has been inconsistent. During the pilot period, there were 305 patrols of the area and 25 tickets or warnings issued.
“Enforcement would be a welcome addition to education,” said Councillor Vi Sandford. “I think we are hearing that from the community, we just have to decide our role in that.”
Coun. Rob Seeley said the results of the pilot are disappointing, but questioned whether there would be more compliance in the habitat patch if there was more enforcement of the regulations.
“There has not been a lot of enforcement,” he said. “If we send the community a message we want this to work … we should move toward enforcement as part of the pilot to see if it changes people’s habits.”
Another issue to be considered as part of comprehensive management of the area is attractant management, Rissling Wynn said. Throughout 2016-17, there has been removal of shepherdia bushes in the Quarry Lake area in an effort to reduce conflicts between bears and humans, including the nearby Rundleview subdivision.
“We are doing attractant management throughout the community in areas of high human use and this management action may be required moving forward.
It was suggested during finance committee meetings in November that the pilot trail be cancelled completely and the Quarry Lake off-leash park area be fenced and signage installed to provide a clear boundary for enforcement.
However, Mayor John Borrowman has initiated a roundtable process on human wildlife coexistence with the province to look at the issue in a comprehensive way, which includes a technical committee that would provide advice.
That process, said Rissling Wynn, is expected to result in recommendations for the entire Quarry Park area, including the off leash dog amenity.
“There is no request from administration for council to make a decision at this time,” she said. “Administration is recommending council consider this information along with the advice from the technical committee and the human wildlife roundtable prior to making any decisions.”
The capital project for the Quarry Lake off-leash dog park fencing – set at $110,000 – was included in 2018 as a placeholder. Council and the community can expect the discussion to continue as the roundtable makes progress on its mandate to examine solutions to reduce human wildlife conflict in the community overall.
Once recommendations for changes at the dog park are ready, they are to be presented to council for a decision sometime next year.