Op-Ed: Dogs in Montini will disturb and alter nature

By Fred Allebach

The City of Sonoma is proposing to amend the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District Management Plan for the Montini Preserve to allow leashed dogs. According to the city’s own biological review, the impact of dogs on the preserve’s wildlife and habitat will be wide-ranging and significant. Two good reasons to oppose this amendment are based on land use ethics and failure of control issues.

The opportunity to enjoy and interact with nature, in and of itself, is a valuable resource in an increasingly dense urban area. Renowned naturalists Edward O. Wilson, Aldo Leopold, John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, provide a solid basis for values and philosophical precedents supporting a preservation-based land ethic for the Montini Preserve. Wilson notes we are in the midst of the human-caused Sixth Great Extinction. Is this not motivation enough to keep our human desires and effects out of a nature preserve? Enough is enough.

Plainly stated, domestic animals disturb and alter nature. The point of the preserve is to emphasize and highlight nature. The preserve’s ultimate controlling document, the conservation easement, is strong and meaningful and weighs in favor of preservation.

The arguments in favor of dogs are specious compared to Leopold’s land ethic. What we are seeing is an appeal to more tourism and a prior, private quid pro quo deal that 10,000 voters and taxpayers never agreed to. Must ethical land use be balanced by diminished stewardship practices? Dogs, mountain bikes, what next?

The Open Space District defines a hierarchy of uses where protection of natural resources is the first priority, scenic values are second and recreation/ education come in third place. Any conflict of uses defaults to this prioritization. This is clear enough.

Yet, dogs may be allowed. Now is the time for noteworthy individuals and organizations of influence to step up and be counted. This is a preservation issue worthy of taking a stand.

From a wildlife preservation standpoint, the Sonoma Ecology Center supports a dog-free trails policy. State Parks and the National Park Service serve as best practice examples of dog-free public land. All the land use around Montini is dog-free. Frankly, the city has a track record of non-enforcement of dog rules on the Sonoma Overlook Trail and Mountain Cemetery already. The City is determined to spend no extra money on enforcement. This Montini dog allowance adds up to nothing but trouble.

Off-leash dogs represent a clear negative impact to wildlife, habitat and hiker safety. Leashed dogs, by their presence alone, have a negative impact. There is demonstrated and widespread non-compliance with leash rules on other public lands (Bartholomew Park, Sugarloaf Ridge, Jack London and the Marin Open Space District). The proposed intermittent and underfunded volunteer enforcement will open a window for substantial environmental impacts. This trail is small. Dogs will have an outsize impact and influence on hikers and the nature they want to experience.

The 2014 biological review by the city reaches clear conclusions highlighting many wide-ranging negative impacts of dogs on the preserve. The mitigations recommended by the city – signs, leashes, a poop bag dispenser, volunteer patrols and low fences – will not reduce negative impacts and significant effects. The study’s conclusion: “Overall, introduction of dogs to the preserve would be likely to have widespread and long-lasting effects on natural resources …”

None of this means that people don’t like dogs. There are many local alternatives for dog owners close by, Bartholomew Park among others. Local dog owners deserve a large dog park; it should not be the Montini Preserve.

For the above reasons, I encourage the city to support a preservation-based land use policy on the Montini Preserve and oppose allowing dogs.

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Fred Allebach is a Sonoma Valey resident and a Sonoma Overlook Trail steward.