Douglas firs line popular trails all the way to Spencer Butte in Eugene, Ore. Hikers making their way to the rocky peak can see the bright red heads of woodpeckers hammering logs in search of insects and tiny golden mushrooms spreading over fallen logs. You are also likely to see dozens of plastic bags of dog poop on the paths, and sometimes even dangling from tree branches.
Last year, pandemic weary people and their pups flocked to hiking trails across the country. But the proliferation of outdoor dog lovers seems to have resulted in a deluge of colorful little bags that have been left everywhere. In January, a ranger hiking Devil’s Backbone Open Space in Colorado picked up 47 bags of dog poop that people hadn’t unpacked. In Oregon’s Forest Park, another ranger collected 52 bags in less than a mile. Hikers in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia cram bags into plastic brochure holders on posts as these trails dump bags into trees near Boston.
Aside from the ugliness, abandoned dog poop pollutes the floor and spreads bacteria. A child who plays in sand or dirt near or contaminated with dog feces can transmit salmonella or E. coli to the whole family. Not to mention other health threats to dogs, wild animals, and humans, including giardia and parasites like roundworms, hookworms, and Cryptosporidium. The mess can also contaminate rivers and lakes, cause algal blooms, and support invasive plants that displace native plants and fish. Dog poop may be “natural,” but that doesn’t make it harmless.
As a result, park rangers work overtime to scoop up leftover poop, assisted by volunteers who may or may not even own a dog.
Get the BARK NEWSLETTER in your inbox!
Sign up and get answers to your questions.
A threat to the environment and tourism
Oregon Park Ranger Simon Freeman patrols the beach and trails in Cape Lookout State Park near Tillamook. He has noted an increase in both tourism and the number of abandoned dog litter bags since the pandemic began, although bags left on trails were also previously an issue.
“Everyone wants to come out and enjoy the fresh air after being cooped up for so long,” he says, “but there is a shortage of facilities that are normally open, like public bathrooms, and not so many places for people to throw away their dog rubbish bags. So leave them on the beach or near beach access signs. ”
This is problematic, he explains, because marine mammals and birds may mistake the colorful pouches for a food source (like jellyfish) and ingest it, which can potentially be fatal. People are also negatively affected by droppings left on the ground. “It can take up to a year for dog litter to completely decompose,” he says. “The bacteria end up in the watershed, which can lead to all sorts of problems. It’s also very acidic and bad for plants. “
• DooDoo Tube. The portable container locks out odors and can be attached to a leash or fits in a backpack.
• PooVault. Soft or hard shell containers in various sizes; They contain odors and are attached with a carabiner or belt clip.
• Tailgate garbage container. The magnetic silicone trash can attach to the back of your car and hold dog poop bags until you get home.
• Or do it yourself. An empty tennis ball or other sports ball container is light and spacious. The lid prevents unwanted odors. Put the container over a garbage can and off you go!
In 1991 the Environmental Protection Agency classified dog waste as a pollutant. The litter that only 100 dogs produce in a few days can contain enough bacteria to close a bay and its surroundings to swimming and clams. “It’s a problem across the United States,” says Freeman. “All it takes is a quick Google search and you will see that state and local governments are facing the same problems we see here on the coast and all over Oregon.”
Part of Freeman’s job is to collect sea debris so that the people of the coast can have a comfortable experience. Sometimes – especially on July 4th – he loses count of how many dog litter bags he has collected. “It can be a lot,” he says. “Five gallon buckets, sometimes full.”
He and other Oregon park rangers educate people about the negative effects dog litter has on the environment and visitors – many of whom can only vacation on the coast once a year. “It can be daunting for us at times,” he says. “We are very proud to offer these amazing public areas and we want to provide everyone with a good visitor experience.”
Alleviate the problem
Education is key, says Dave Sutherland, retired education coordinator for the City of Boulder’s open space and mountain parks. For over 24 years he took part in several campaigns to solve the problem. The department installed dispensers with compostable dog poop bags at 19 starting points, as well as containers to turn the poop into potting soil for inedible plants. Another campaign encouraged hikers to pick up both their own dog’s poop and orphan poop.
People want trash cans every 100 feet or so along a path, but that would take twice as much park staff to maintain the trash cans, Sutherland explains. The solution, he says, is to take the dog garbage bag with you on your hike and take it with you. “Most people mean well; They plan to pick up their bag on their return, ”he says. “But they come back a different route or they forget it because they have a nice chat with their boyfriend.”
Most of the dog litter, he notes, remains on the first 200 meters of a path. “A dog is getting out of the car and he’s excited to smell other dogs, and he’s picking up a big dump right there at the trailhead,” says Sutherland. “People pack the poop up, but they refuse to go 20 feet back to the trash can. I’ve always told people that if they didn’t want to hold a warm, smelly bag of poop, they could tie the poop bag to their dog’s collar like a piece of bling. “
He describes the bags left by paths and in trees as “plastic garbage that wraps a piece of raw sewage. The bags are shredded and leak raw, unprocessed dog poop back into the environment. It’s ugly and offensive, especially to people who don’t have dogs. “
In 2018, Boulders Open Space and Mountain Parks and Sanitas Brewing Co. created a PSA video entitled “There Is No Poop Fairy”. In it, a bald man in black and purple striped tights and purple wings hops across a path with a basket and picks up poop bags while dog owners walk by. “Contrary to popular belief,” he says at the end of the video, “there is no poop fairy.”
But it turns out that there is.
Nobody threatens a poop fairy
Jane Frisch says she has been cursing dog poo on dog trails for 50 years. “In Jackson Hole we have these beautiful cross-country trails along the Snake River. It’s off-leash areas and I’ve seen plastic bags and pooped all over the place, ”she recalls. “I knew I had to either stop complaining or pick it up myself.”
She volunteers as a trail ambassador for PAWS from Jackson Hole, a local nonprofit animal welfare organization. After skiing with a friend one day, she spent 90 minutes cleaning up a short section of the trail. “This is an area where hundreds of dogs can be seen every day during winter and summer,” she says. “I filled 20 whole Mutt Mitts in just 400 feet.” In the end, she photographed all the bags on the signpost and then sent them to PAWS with the words “The poop fairy is poop”.
Shortly thereafter, the nonprofit’s program director asked if Frisch was ready to pose for an ad dressed as a dung fairy in wings and a pink tutu, with the Grand Tetons in the background. Frisch accepted the offer.
Now she regularly patrols the paths in her wings and tutu (or a brightly colored vest in winter) and informs people about the environmental dangers posed by abandoned dog litter and plastic bags. “My greatest joy is talking to people,” she says. “I greet all. When you have a bad day and you get out and volunteer a poop fairy on a beautiful trail, people can’t thank you enough for what you do, and we thank them for joining us in these efforts to help stay Jackson Hole clean. “
• Always carry spare dog poop bags.
• Be a poop fairy: get orphan dog poop as well as your own dog’s deposit.
• Carry filled poop bags until you see a public trash can (or until you get home).
• Don’t be a sloth; If your dogs poop near the starting point, go back to the trash can and discard the full bag.
• Do the neighborhood a favor by putting out a few pickup bags for those who forget (or whose dogs exceed their normal deposit quota).
Frisch has recruited other volunteers, people who are committed to preserving the beauty and environment around them in costume. “People are fascinated,” she says. “They ask to take pictures with us and they laugh and want to talk to us. If one dog walker says to another, “Hey, you better save this crap,” chances are you’re having a confrontation. But I can stop someone on the trail and tell them their dog just pooped and ask them to pick it up and I won’t be challenged. Nobody threatens a poop fairy. “
In the past two years she has left fewer bags on trails. “We picked up 20 full poop bags in a few hundred feet to often only five full bags or less in a five-mile round trip,” she says. “We have made a huge improvement by educating people. When you see volunteers of all ages on trails cleaning up poop and picking up bags everyone gets involved. They begin to understand that they cannot leave it behind. We can solve this problem so easily. But we have to bend down and pick up the poop and the bag. “