Op-Ed: ‘Untruths’ versus ‘facts’ about dogs in Montini

By Bob Edwards

Lisa Summers’ letter of June 13, opposing dogs in the Montini Preserve, contained many untruths.

Here are the facts:

Being a preserve does not “bind Montini to an elevated level of protection.” As with all conserved open space, its conservation easement simply requires safeguarding its identified conservation values.

Montini is not Jurassic Park. Its conservation values are those of a working ranch bordered by vineyards, hillside residences, ball-fields, paved roads and a city of 11,000, where households have more dogs than kids.

Its wildlife is part of the vast Valley ecosystem, unrestrained by property lines. Together with Bill Montini’s cattle, wildlife at all levels survives on its plants (and/or each other), poops (big time), makes and destroys burrows and nests and spreads seeds and spore of countless plant-life which itself invades, dies, regenerates, and spreads via wind, rain, poop, insects, hooves, paws, boots, pants, feathers and fur of all life-forms traversing Montini – sadly, occasionally including homeless humans. That’s Montini “Preserve.”

The sole reason the county Open Space District originally banned dogs in its Management Plan was to eventually be able to convey Montini to State Parks, which bans dogs as a matter of policy, not because leashed dogs would harm conservation values. Soon, however, the City of Sonoma will own Montini, and the City Council has asked that the pet ban be removed.

In so doing, Councilmember Steve Barbose was unopposed in noting that the dog-impact study Ms. Summers referenced was clearly and unprofessionally biased against dogs. Nonetheless, it recognized that while dogs can/could/might impact Montini conservation values, simple measures exist – e.g., leashes – to mitigate any possible impacts to a less-than-significant level. Changes requested by the council include such measures, which the Open Space District has already approved for dog-friendly Healdsburg Ridge, Taylor Mountain and other preserves.

Also in need of correction is Ms. Summers’ unfortunate characterization of dog-owners as law-breaking tax burdens on the community who, in asking to take dogs on Montini, exude a sense of special privilege and entitlement. Not so.

Tens of thousands of dog-owners and their fellow taxpayers made Montini possible. While Ms. Summers opposes it, their right to ask permission to walk their dogs there is a right provided by laws and regulations governing a place which dog-owners bought and paid for. We offer no apologies.

If the vast majority of dog-owners weren’t law-abiding, the Overlook Trail, Montini and the Plaza would be overrun with dogs and hip-deep in poop. If dog owners were scofflaws, why would they respectfully use the existing process to seek a rules change and then, like all good dogs, politely sit/stay – six years and counting – waiting for the same rights other county dog-owners enjoy on similar preserves?

Yes, a small percent don’t obey dog laws, just as some people drive drunk. But the city doesn’t ban cars – it enforces the law. And it’s dog-owners who pay extra for dog-law enforcement, with dog license fees.

If candid, Ms. Summers would admit that the threat to Montini values is the trail itself, which gives the Valley’s entire population access to once off-limits natural space. Before building it, district biologists determined that invasion by thousands of the planet’s most environmentally destructive species (humans) won’t significantly impact Montini conservation values. If some bring along the family dog on leash (for companionship or personal safety), they won’t add to that impact. In asking the district to lift its pet ban, the council wisely recognized that.

Hopefully, grateful dog-owners will soon be able to walk their dogs on Montini. Perhaps some will help Ms. Summers dig up star thistle and Scotch broom, thoughtlessly put there by Nature without her approval. Ironically, were she a dog, she might be seized and impounded for digging there, and her owner fined. But dog-lovers would just bail her out.

• • •Bob Edwards is president of Sonoma Valley Dog Owners and Guardians.