Wednesday, March 13, 2013

More Local Politics

PBC: No leash and the owner didn't clean up after his dog.

Back in early January I shared a discussion on Facebook with Troy Alton. Troy is running for Town of Middleton Board this spring. The election is on April 2nd. He has said on several occasions that the main reason he is running is to allow dogs in the town's two conservancies, Goth and Pope Farm. You can read his comments in this Middleton Times Tribune article and this one as well.

We were both present at a January town board meeting the evening prior to our online conversation. At the meeting, Troy offered a comment on allowing dogs back in town conservancies. I provided a rebuttal for reasons I've written about on my blog, but many other people provided arguments and comments against allowing dogs back at conservancies. In our online discussion the following day, Troy wrote:

"This campaign to let people access their local parks with their dogs is not about trying to ruin something that is good. This is to bring awareness to the issue and get meaningful discussion with everyone involved to come up with some good ideas so everyone is relatively happy. Maybe an off leash dog park in the area is a possible solution for all. If this issue I have raised as well as many others in the past hadn't caught the attention of the board, then I don't think any discussion of a dog park would be given. If we have learned from the fiscal cliff disaster two sides holding their ground without discussion is not helpful for anyone."

I was relieved to see him write that he isn't out to ruin something that's good. At the end of our exchange Troy said, "Good things can happen if we work together." I agreed with him. Oddly enough, a few days later he deleted the thread from his Facebook page. I wonder if it had something to do with one of his supporters basically agreeing with me:

"Thanks for the insight, Mike, I truly appreciate it. I honestly don't think most local dog owners want to see conservatory wildlife endangered at the expense of letting their dogs roam free in their nesting grounds. I am all for keeping these parks dog-free PROVIDED the city can create another OFF-LEASH dog park nearby."

At the January meeting, the board passed a motion which, in part, directed the Parks Commission to explore opportunities for dog walking within the town, but specifically prohibited them from considering conservancy lands. Weeks later, the Parks Commission held a special meeting on February 25th to present their findings and listen to public input. Curiously, Troy did not attend the meeting, neither did any of the people who signed his petition that has over 140 signatures. So much for having a meaningful discussion, I guess. Frustrated with the lack of any input from the dog walking contingent, the commission decided to table the issue. Why waste additional tax payer time and money if they're not even going to bother to include themselves in the discussion?

Now at some point during all of this, Troy changed the title of his online petition at from allow dog walking in "Town of Middleton Parks: Goth Park and Pope Farm Park" to "more green spaces of Town as well as open an off leash dog park" and recently said, "I have actually changed from the initial petition some of the goals I am trying to accomplish." It's difficult to know exactly what he means because as recently as Monday (March 11th) he's on the record saying this to the Parks Commission:

"It's more important to allow dogs in Town parks conservancies than it is to work to protect the habitat of birds."

Do not adjust the settings on your computer monitor! This is what is shown in a draft of the meeting minutes, which I was able to obtain a copy of. I decided to write Troy about this and asked him to drop conservancy lands as a place for off-road dog walking. He responded:

"First of all, with no disrespect, this is an issue for residents of the town of Middleton and though you have your opinions, the opinions that matter MOST are the people who live here."

He's absolutely right that off-road dog walking in public spaces in the Town of Middleton is a matter for residents to decide and I've been reading with great interest the opinions expressed in letters to the editor appearing weekly in the Middleton Times Tribune. Nevertheless, these conservancies do not exist in a vacuum. Any park rules the town adopts will apply to anyone who visits them regardless of where they're from. Open conservancies for dog walking and you will have compliance violations, and where there are compliance violations there will be added pressures to birds and other wildlife. This simply should not occur at designated nature conservancies. 

Troy added:

"Since you don't live here you aren't restricted from using the parks like I am with my dog. You are not limited to walking a dog on a road. You talk about how tough it is to step in dog poop or having to avoid dogs. How about someone like myself or my child who has to jump out of the way of a distracted motorist? How about stepping into a pothole on the side of the road filled with water?  What do you propose? Mike, you are good about passing judgement [sic] on people but you have NOT stepped forward to help what-so-ever."

I have provided information to the board on this as well as past issues regarding nesting birds at town conservancy lands. I think it's rather unfortunate Troy feels that just because I don't live within the Town of Middleton that my knowledge and service to the town with respect to the welfare of birds at Pope Farm and Goth Conservancies is of no value or consequence.

Despite what he said, Town of Middleton residents are not limited to walking dogs on roads. Nobody is forcing Troy or members of his family to walk their dog on town streets and roads; it's a choice he is making. When last I checked, it appeared to me that numerous opportunities for off-road dog walking exist within the town at places like Tallard Park, Ice Age Trail, Cherrywood, and nearby the town at Quisling Park, and well as other places. It is becoming increasingly evident to me that Troy is specifically targeting the conservancies and ignoring all other possibilities. The birds of Goth and Pope don't have the luxury of a choice; they will be forced to endure whatever hardships come their way throughout the nesting season. We've destroyed over 90% of North America's native prairies, decimating grassland bird populations in the process. I think we owe them.

Troy closed his email with this:

"Why don't you join the discussion and come up with your ideas other than just no dogs anywhere?  Until this happens I will continue the pressure on the board regardless if I lose or win the election."

If that's the kind of criticism he wants to level at me, why didn't he or any of his supporters attend the February 25th Parks Commission meeting? I was there. Contrary to what he wrote, I do not support the position that there is to be absolutely no off-road dog walking within the Town of Middleton. I am however, staunchly against dog walking at Goth and Pope Farm Conservancies due to their enormous value in the form of pristine habitat for sensitive grassland bird species, but this is not whole argument. There is a "people" component as well. As Russ Hefty, Conservation Resource Supervisor of Madison Parks, said, "Lack of compliance with people keeping dogs on leash is why dogs are banned from Madison's conservation parks. Our concerns are having natural areas where wildlife will not be harassed, and nature walkers should have a place to enjoy without someone's unruly dog off leash bothering them."

The lack of compliance is a fundamental issue. Nearly every time I visit Pheasant Branch Conservancy, I find at least one dog running off its leash. This is especially a problem at the prairie parcel and I have photographs of many offenders. One day this past January I counted nearly a dozen piles of dog waste at the conservancy in just two hours of hiking. Just a few weeks ago while I was photographing chickadees, I stepped in dog crap for the umpteenth time. Last summer at the conservancy I was ambushed and chased by two pit bulls that were off leash. I had to climb up on a wooden railing to avoid a confrontation while the owner secured his pets.

Young Barred Owl near the ground.

On another occasion I stood guard on a trail where young Barred Owls had fallen out of their tree cavity so I could keep off leash dogs from getting too close to them. A few years ago I saw a coyote attack an off leash dog. Again, the simple fact is that none of these things should be happening at a nature conservancy. This sentiment seems to be lost on Troy.

In the article Beyond Measure appearing in the March-April 2013 issue of Audubon Magazine by Scott Weidensaul, he closes with this thought:

"We have, all of us, been transfigured simply by watching a flying bird. We have been lifted out of ourselves; we have felt our hearts race, felt the hairs on the back of our necks rise when the wings flash. And we've realized that for those moments, we were privileged to experience something beyond ourselves - that older, greater, glorious world that a wild bird inhabits, and which through its very existence embodies and makes vivid to us. Birds matter. Period."

It's my firm belief that once you understand this sentiment and recognize the troubles birds have to endure on account of our actions, you'll do just about anything to make their lives even just a little easier … because birds really do matter; their value is truly beyond measure. Clearly, Troy has lots of options for walking his dog, but he seems to be ignoring them in order to win a political point. Personally, I don't feel finding places to walk dogs is as important as doing what we can to minimize stresses and mortality risks to our native grassland birds and I have been a part of that discussion for a long time whether he recognizes it or not.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent Post! Oh wait, I don't live in the town of Middleton so my opinion doesn't matter right? :)