Steamboat Parks and Rec commission considers increased fines for dogs at large
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In the final of three dog-related work sessions, the Steamboat Parks and Recreation Commission hammered down recommendations to Steamboat Springs City Council regarding enforcement of dog-related violations and off-leash areas.
These recommendations will go to City Council on Tuesday, March 12, when council will hear an update on dog issues from Parks and Recreation.
The following areas allow dogs off leash permanently and under the city’s trial program:
- Rita Valentine Park
- Whistler Park (seasonal restrictions in some areas)
- Spring Creek Lower Pond
- Lower Spring Creek Trail
- Butcherknife Trail (time of day restrictions)
For maps and more information about seasonal and time restrictions, visit the city’s website at steamboatsprings.net/614/off-leash.
Fines and court summons for dogs at large
After considering increasing fines for multiple convictions for animals at large, the commission recommended tabling discussion on the proposal until more information is gathered. Commissioners unanimously voted to recommend adding a provision to city code that would penalize people who deliberately violate posted closures.
Current fines for animals at large are $50 for a first offense, $75 for a second offense and $100 for each conviction thereafter.
Commissioners floated the idea of an increase in fines for repeat offenders at the rate of $100 for a second offense and $200 for subsequent convictions.
Parks and Recreation commissioners also wanted to see the results of the newly implemented process of sending pet owners to court when they are cited for having a dog at large. The new process allows the city to track repeat offenses — something Steamboat Springs Police Department officers in the field are unable to do.
“I don’t think we know whether we have a problem with (repeat offenders) right now,” said Commissioner Holly Weik. “We have some anecdotes, but they’re just anecdotes. I would prefer to see a baseline for a year before we change the structure, honestly.”
City code outlines an increasing scale of fines for those repeatedly convicted of a dog at large, but convictions are handled by the court, not the cops.
Steamboat Police Chief Cory Christensen explained that his officers cannot tell if someone has been convicted of having an animal at large when they respond to a call in the field.
“City Council has specifically directed me to find a way to hold second and third offenders accountable,” Christensen told the audience, many of whom expressed frustration at the new policy in public comment.
“The only way to do that is to send them to court because it’s based on convictions, not on contacts,” he said. “I don’t control convictions. The municipal court controls convictions. I don’t know in the field. I have no way to tell if you’ve been convicted prior or not. There is no mechanism for that … The court manages the convictions. They keep track of those. That’s why we send you to court.”
The Parks and Recreation Commission will also pass on a recommendation to City Council to “investigate construction and maintenance costs for a fenced dog park” at Rita Valentine and Bear River parks.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff has repeatedly voiced a preference for a fenced, off-leash dog park, which they say would allow dog owners more time to respond to wildlife and to create a boundary between humans, their dogs and wildlife.
Parks and Recreation commissioners have also indicated that along with funding for a program, a fenced dog park is among the first steps needed to institute a formal voice and sight control training program for dogs and owners.
At Rita Valentine Park, the idea of fencing the off-leash dog park has been around for at least two years.
Bear River Park was recommended for consideration as a fenced dog park late last year. Part of the park is already fenced on three sides as the city wraps up remediation of the park, a former wastewater lagoon. Under the proposal, this area would be fully enclosed as an off-leash park.
The final step of remediation is allowing grass to grow in the area. So far, the plants aren’t tall enough to open the area to the public.
The commissioners expressed interest in holding a public meeting focused on issues related to Blackmer Trail. Last year, the commission and City Council removed the trail from the off-leash trial program, citing concerns for conflict between dogs and wildlife.
“When it came down to it, Blackmer is just not a good place to have off-leash dogs,” said Kris Middledorf Area Wildlife Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
He described two incidents in which off-leash dogs killed elk calves on Blackmer and another in which a dog on nearby 13th Street was sighted chasing deer.
Some residents, many of them members of Steamboat Digs Dogs, requested the commission consider seasonal, off-leash use in the winter to mitigate impacts to wildlife. Commissioners did not give this idea much consideration.
Middledorf said that while he doesn’t expect an elk to walk down Blackmer Trail this time of year, he does believe off-leash dogs could cause problems as they run off trail chasing animals in the area. Parks and Wildlife considers the area both summer and winter range for local elk.
“It’s really hard to discount what these guys (Parks and Wildlife) are saying,” Commissioner Sarah Floyd told audience members. “I also know how much you guys love having your dogs on Blackmer, not on a leash, so this isn’t easy … We’d love to make this something that makes sense and works for the community, but we also just agreed to use Colorado (Parks and Wildlife) in all of our future decisions moving forward.”
To view the Parks and Recreation Commission’s work session on this topic, visit http://docs.steamboatsprings.net:10100/OnBaseAgendaOnline.
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