It’s a Miracle — We Actually See a Forest Service Official in the Backcountry

Post by blogger | July 5, 2007      

What other choice than American Lake for a backcountry hike on the Fourth of July? American is a glacier tarn south of Aspen, off the Castle Creek drainage. It’s arguably the most popular hiking destination in legal wilderness accessed from Aspen; a fairly easy trek of just over three miles, 2,000 feet elevation gain.

Black Diamond Verdict backcountry ski
At American Lake, Colorado.

What’s interesting about a popular alpine hike in an affluent area such as Aspen is the number of people who take Fido on their walk. Yesterday, at least 3/4 of the people up there had dogs with them. What’s also interesting is how many of these probable lovers of legal wilderness will remove Fido from his leash at every opportunity — or just ignore using a leash altogether. That is, until you have a Forest Service employee present in uniform.

When we got to the lake, we noticed a tan shirted government worker gal (we’ll call her Judy) ensconced under a tree next to the rippling waters of the lake. I was amazed. This was one of the few times in decades of wilderness travel that I’ve seen one of our forest stewards anywhere but at a trailhead or in an office.

The dog owners seemed to have a sixth sense about Judy’s proximity — or perhaps they noticed the Forest Service vehicle parked at the trailhead (or their dogs were trained to sniff out leash enforcement officers?). Whatever the case, I’ve never seen so many dogs on leashes in the backcountry. It was surreal — like a tableau from a walking path in the city.

More, it was amusing watching said dog owners sussing out Judy’s location, then sneaking a quick unsnapping of the leash so their beloved pet could join the marmots and squirrels in feral celebration of freedom from civilized restraints.

Judy told us that some dog owners were pleasant to deal with, while others came up with angry statements such as, “coyotes chase wildlife, so what’s wrong with my dog doing it?”

That person might actually have a point about coyotes vs dogs. Even so, we’d just as soon see all those canines kept on leashes when they’re in legal Wilderness their owners probably support (at least during summer when potential dog food critters are abundant). But I’d hope that happens by choice, not having tan shirted police writing tickets.

(And can someone lend us a dog to defend our Jeep from marmots?)


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22 Responses to “It’s a Miracle — We Actually See a Forest Service Official in the Backcountry”

  1. Ted White July 5th, 2007 10:01 am

    Regarding dogs in the backcountry…. I very much respect a dog owners right to take their pooch with them into the backcountry. I dont own one but if I did I would take it with me more for protection (or for a decoy) than anything. I find that my Airweight .44 eats less.
    As for them allowed off leashes.. I also respect their feelings, especially in light of the statement that “coyotes and wolves chase wildlife too”. I respect that. BUT if I see a wolf, or a bear heading in my direction with their teeth bared and making nasty noises I would consider immediately taking said .44 off its leash. I think the dog owners whose large pets are off their leashes should respect my feeling toward said animal if it were acting in the same manner.
    I have had that experience many times in the backcountry with dogs off the leash. Only to be told..”oh, he wouldnt hurt you. He is a nice dog.” I feel the same way about that statement as I do the one that says, ” if a bear is charging be still, it is probably a false charge”.
    Yeah,, right ..

  2. Toby July 5th, 2007 11:29 am

    Unless the trail is packed I let me dog frolic freely on the wilderness. I love letting her roam around in her element as I roam around the pristine wilderness. I think leash requirements are more for the owners than the animals. My dog is highly trained. She doesn’t jump, she holds when told, even off leash. But this took time and endless repitition which I find most dog owners just don’t do. As long as the dog behaves I have no problem with dogs off leash. As an aside, I recently learned you can’t bring dogs into Rocky Mountain. Apparently this has been the rule for a few years now. I understand the logic but I think it is stupid. So Iowa family drives the RV out to drive over Trail Ridge and they have to turn around because BooBoos is in the rig? Not that it effects me, I stopped going to Rocky Mountain years ago, access is way to limited and the crowds are never fun.

  3. El Jefe July 5th, 2007 1:24 pm

    I was up there yesterday as well. Beautiful day…..

    I had my dog…..but also brought the leash…..i knew there would be a ranger up there…

    as long as your dog isn’t causing trouble and you clean up his crap…….i could care less…

  4. Lou July 5th, 2007 1:38 pm

    Jefe, I tend to agree on a practical level, but philosophically speaking, what good are wilderness management laws if no one obeys them? I mean, what’s the point? Snowmobilers sled Wilderness with impunity. Leashes are optional for dog owners. Should I hop in my Jeep and head up there too so long as I don’t cause trouble and clean up my mess?

  5. Scott Nelson July 5th, 2007 1:42 pm

    Hi Lou- Touchy subject. As an avid trail runner and road cyclist, I can’t tell you how many times I have had unleashed dogs jump on me, chase me down, and the like. And most of the time the owners are right there saying something like, “I’m sorry, he (i.e. fido) doesn’t normally do that sort of thing. ” Yeah right. The local trails around the Aspen / Basalt area (Arbaney-Kittle is one of the most problematic trails, you’re in the minority if you don’t have an unleashed dog or even a dog for that matter) seem to be ruled by unleashed dogs at times. I’m not a dog hater and 99% of the time I just ignore their “playfullness”and keep my thoughts to myself, but the lack of responsibility and respect for others (i.e. humans) on the part of the owners is absurd. And if you were to confront them on it they come up with all the excuses in the world as to why they can’t control their pets, or they make it look like its your problem, not theirs. Another great thing is how the owners will actually use the little poop bags, but then they just throw them on the ground and hope for decomposition to set in overnight. It’s great in the spring when the snow starts melting, and you start seeing all these little black bags scattered on the trail, at least that’s the case with Arbaney-Kittle. Like the previous comment, if owners would just take the time to train their dogs and actually, God forbid, follow the rules of leashing your dog, like some people actually do, then maybe we all could coexist a little more peacefully on the trails. As I’ve heard someone say before, your dog may be your best friend, but he’s not mine. A friend recently took an owner to court after a dog chased her down on her bike and bit her. The owner was found guilty and received a nice punishment for her irresponsibility. Now she rides with a nice bottle of pepper spray, which works really well. If people would just realizedthat rules are there for a reason, not to stifle your fun, but for your protection and mine, then I think things on the trails would be a bit more enjoyable for everyone.

  6. Jeff Prillwitz July 5th, 2007 2:55 pm

    I can’t help but remember the last time I saw a Forest Service employee in the field. She was checking spark arresters on OHVs and giving people plenty of big bad sheriff attitude in the process. Two weeks later she started the Hayman fire. Maybe they should stay behind a desk.

  7. Lou July 5th, 2007 2:55 pm

    Yeah, Lisa got bit last winter while uphilling at Buttermilk ski area. I almost got taken out in the same place. Next winter I’m definitly carrying pepper spray in some sort of quick-draw pouch. Can you imagine getting jumped on by a dog while you’re skiing, and blowing out a knee or something as a result? I’m not going to let that happen.

    And by the way everyone, I’m no stranger to the companionship of dogs in the backcountry, and have enjoyed many canine friends. So don’t get the idea I’m starting a dog bashing agenda here. We’re just talking about the problem pets as well as human behavior when it comes to things like Wildernss rules.

  8. Lou July 5th, 2007 2:57 pm

    Jeff, that’s amazing! But I’m not surprised for some reason…

  9. Jay Jurkowitsch July 5th, 2007 3:42 pm

    Now come on Lou! The USFS,NPS,BLM and other land management agencies are “trying” to do the job they’ve been handed by BIG Gov’t in Washington DC! in addition, they are trying to do the “right” thing for the: land,people,recreationists,business,ect – YOU or anyone else “I” know try to juggle ALL that; several jobs,with several bosses,several objectives,ect!!
    I’m NOT a fan of Gov’t,exploitative business,butthead recreationists(no matter what form of recreation they use) and all the other aspects of Federal regualted lands. These agencies were set-up in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to protect the land and resources from thieving people/business! when i look at the REST of the World – these folks have doen pretty good, BUT if the population of the US continues to grow – resources are going to get even MORE stressed!

  10. Kirk July 5th, 2007 5:18 pm

    I never leash my dog. That way she can keep up with my specially-designed ATV, which runs on bald-eagle heads and wolves teeth.

  11. El Jefe July 5th, 2007 8:02 pm

    Hey Lou,

    better question yet….How the hell were you hiking up there in a long sleve shirt and long pants……whewww… that was hot….

    are you trying to make weight as a greko roman wrestler?

  12. Derek July 5th, 2007 10:25 pm

    Lot’s of negative dog stories. Like the rest of you, I’m on trails or the backcountry 6/7 days per week. I’ve never (honestly) had a scary or negative encounter with an unleashed dog.

    Dogs do better socially if they are unleashed. Unfortunately, most leashed dogs are nuts, like their owners. They are unsocial, like their owners, and never learn any social skills, like their owners.

    Take your dog to the bark park at a young age, socialize it. Ever seen a human who’s been in prison most of their life??? Same behavior. Imagine that.

    I am a dog owner. I ski with my dog off leash as often as possible. And I also take him on summer trails off leash as much as possible. He’s never killed an animal. He’s domesticated, and doesn’t have the skills.

    End rant.

  13. Lou July 6th, 2007 5:03 am

    Jefe, when you’re out as much as I am for as many years, the less sun on the skin the better. My hiking outfit is thin nylon fabrics that are quite cool and I’m probably as comfortable as someone with bare skin working on their skin cancer in the alpine sun. It’s not stylish, but then, I’ve never been a style victim. Such clothing is also better for the health than smearing bug spray over miles of exposed skin, though I was amazed at how few bugs their were up there — must be the dry conditions.

  14. Brandt July 6th, 2007 5:45 am

    A wise man once said, “put enough rats in a box and they’re gonna fight.” Our box isn’t getting any bigger, is it?

  15. dave downing July 6th, 2007 7:15 am

    lou. i don’t like dogs until they prove to be likable, largely b/c of experiences with no leashes and bad owners. I had one encounter with a very aggressive dog in avalanche creek that proceeded to bark and snip at two of us, and tried to bite another. The owner said it was “unusual” behavior and that she could NOT use a leash anyway b/c holding the dog back “hurt her back.” That dog was about 2 seconds away from receiving the beating of it’s life with a 6 foot stick before the owners friend finally got control of it. And this was not a rare incident. That’s my rant….sorry.

  16. Matt Kinney July 6th, 2007 7:47 am

    “then sneaking a quick unsnapping of the leash so their beloved pet could join the marmots and squirrels in feral celebration of freedom from civilized restraints.”

    Very good Lou!

  17. El Jefe July 6th, 2007 10:15 am

    Lou, you know i am just funnin with ya…….

    i have been contemplating some Saudi formal wear for my next outdoor adventure.

    good looking dog you had…..

  18. DaveC July 6th, 2007 11:44 am

    I don’t buy the argument that because coyotes chase wildlife, its OK for my dog to chase wildlife. While coyotes are less fearful of humans than most wildlife, coyotes do not concentrate around the trails like domestic dogs. Dogs drive wildlife away from trails. Some of us enjoy the opportunity to view wildlife on wilderness trails. There is also an obvious difference of concentration between coyotes and dogs on Lou’s trail. If the numbers of dogs allowed on trails were limited by the coyote density of the area, there would certainly be less dogs, less dog poop, and less dog impact to complain about.

    Leave your dogs at the jeep to ward off the marmots, pick up their poop before you leave, and let your fellow human beings enjoy the wilderness.

  19. Lou July 6th, 2007 12:06 pm

    Jefe, yeah, I write too fast sometimes and was indeed thinking about some humor about my Bedouin inspired outfit.

    Dave, indeed, that’s the whole point about dogs on trails. They do drive the wildlife away and we all need to remember that when we’re feeling like our pet can do no wrong and should prance around the wilderness like he or she was born there.

    In reality, I’ve noticed that as soon as land managers notice or anticipate a recurring problem with too many dogs, they just rule them out altogether. Dog owners might be wise to remember that fact.

  20. AndyW July 6th, 2007 12:15 pm

    We’re much too lazy to properly train our dog and her behavior is unpredictable around strangers. But that’s why we keep her on a leash. Well, that and she really helps pulling on the uphills.

  21. patrick July 6th, 2007 7:32 pm

    oh no lou, you touched on the sacred cow, the issue that gets everyone going…. as a dog owner who skis with my dog all the time, i think dog owners need to step up and get their act together. period. before owning my well trained mutt, i was chased off trails by pitt bulls, had my xc poles bit by two dogs chasing me, dogs freak out because of my headlamp, etc. it sucked. most dog owners don’t realize the difference in their experience between them and those without dogs… now, my dog breaks the ice and it’s all smiles and roses (actually, much sniffing and tail wagging!) and the dogs don’t pay me any attention. polar opposite experience.

    in my opinion, if you own a dog, train it and train it well. put some time into getting the dog to understand the rules. you can’t make those excuses that “one time” the dog does something “it doesn’t usually do.” and make sure they don’t chase wildlife… dogs are like subsidized predators. the coyotes don’t get to go home to their warm house, with a dog bed and chew toys. totally different.

    just a quick note about usfs enforcement… across the nfs system, you can have a dog off leash (save at trail heads, campgrounds and picnic areas…) no matter what. HOWEVER, local forests can elect to institute dog leash laws through rules specific to forests and ranger districts.

  22. CW July 6th, 2007 7:42 pm

    It’s interesting that only dogs would be considered factors in “driving away wildlife.” It seems easier to create a scape goat than to identify the root issue.

    It is people (walking, running, biking, ATVing, snow mobiling, hunting, camping, etc.) on trails and in the wilderness that drive away the wildlife, not JUST dogs! Dogs are only a small portion of the larger civilized population hitting the trails and interupting the peace and quiet of the wilderness. Just ask the yuppies up from suburbia with 2.5 kids in tow, throwing rocks, banging trees with sticks and scaring all the brook trout away when stomping in streams!

    Bottom line, our world around us is for all to enjoy. So, let’s all respect each other and our earth. If your dog is a behemouth that you can’t control, leave ’em at home (same should be said for unconroleable kids). If your dog responds to voice command and is well trained, use your common sense and respect those around you. At the same time, some people have got to relax – not every dog off of a leash out there is going to kill you. Case in point, if you ignore my dog, she’ll ignore you. But if you freak out and get excited, well you can guess the rest…but more than likely she’ll be obediently healing at my side, while watching you ever so carefully, as I stand aside the trail to let you pass by unmolested.

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