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The Deschutes National Forest won’t be changing summertime rules requiring dogs to be on-leash along the Deschutes River Trail near Bend.
An ad hoc group of dog lovers, called the Summer Dogs on the Deschutes River Trail, turned in a petition with 500 signatures this January asking for changes to the rule. Bend-Fort Rock district ranger Kevin Larkin responded to the petition with a letter earlier this month, saying the rule will stay in place.
“Though the multiple facets of this issue are daunting, the heart of my rationale remains that (a) I view leash restrictions as appropriate measures to improve safety to visitors in heavily-visited areas like the (Deschutes River Trail), and (b) that increased visitor safety is a fair trade-off for the inconvenience dog owners experience in restraining their pets,” Larkin wrote.
Larkin said Monday that his safety concerns include collisions between mountain bike riders and dogs, altercations between on- and off-leash dogs, and bites from off-leash dogs. He said such incidents are rare, but the popularity of the trail for a wide variety of users during the summer makes them possible. The dog-leash rule for the Deschutes River Trail covers 8 of the 9 miles between Meadow Camp and Benham East day use areas from May 15 to Sept. 15.
Through the petition the Summer Dogs on the Deschutes River Trail aimed to have at least a couple more miles open to dogs off leash in the summer.
“I’m disappointed,” said Val Gerard, founder and spokesman of the group. The group has a half-dozen members.
Larkin said the decision is for this summer, and he plans to continue a dialogue with members of Summer Dogs on the Deschutes River Trail, as well as with DogPac, a Bend-based nonprofit advocating for off-leash dog areas.
While it didn’t turn in a petition, DogPac did ask Larkin to consider reducing by a month the length of the summertime closure, said Jane Sabin-Davis, who took over as president of the group in January. The group asked that dogs still be allowed off leash along the entire trail between May 15 and June 15. The change would sync the on-leash requirement with summer vacation for students in Oregon, when she said there is an increase in trail use.
Forest officials also rejected the DogPac’s rule change suggestion.
“We concluded that the use on the trail is intensive enough that it justified keeping the policy as it is,” Larkin said.
In his letter Larkin wrote that there are 900 miles of non-motorized trails open to off-leash dogs throughout the summer, but Sabin-Davis said few of those offer the convenience of being close to Bend and close to water like the Deschutes River Trail.
“In the summer trying to find a place to go in those many, many trails that is close to water becomes difficult,” she said.
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