A warming West Coast sun has visitation beginning its annual bloom and the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is reminding anyone headed to its sandy shores that all dogs must be leashed at all times.
“As we get into the time of year when wolves are going to be more active and the bears are going to be waking up and the shorebirds are going to be returning, it just becomes more important,” Park Warden Jonathan Hopkins told the Westerly News, adding that leashes have been mandatory within the Park Reserve since the early 2000’s.
A wolf was euthanized in the Park Reserve last May after it attacked a dog near Long Beach, and while the dog was leashed at the time of the attack, Parks Canada staff suggested the wolf had attacked because it had become habituated to seeing dogs off leash. It was the first time a wolf had been destroyed within the Park Reserve since 2008. Another wolf was killed in Ucluelet in June.
In light of the attack, the Park Reserve increased its efforts to ensure dogs were leashed last summer by launching a Park Ambassador program that saw summer staffers patrolling beaches making sure visitors were in compliance.
Hopkins said the program worked well and will return this summer.
“They’re boots on the ground to help remind people and guide visitors throughout their visit to the Park Reserve,” he said.
He added off leash dogs can disrupt shorebird migration.
“This is a very important feeding area and it’s been proven that dogs disturbing and flushing those shorebirds does have an impact on their ability to feed during their migration process,” he said. “Any time that they’re disturbed by people or, more so, dogs they flush and have to move and they’re not as efficiently able to feed and maintain those energy levels needed to migrate.”
He said dogs can also disturb visitors seeking peaceful experiences that don’t include dogs running up to them.
“When those negative encounters happen, we hear those complaints quite often,” he said.
The fine for allowing a domestic animal to run off leash in the Park Reserve is $58 for the first offence, but that amount escalates for repeat offences or incidents where a dog disrupts wildlife, like shorebirds or moulting seals.
“In the past, we have had dogs attack seals. In that instance it would more likely be a court appearance,” Hopkins said.
The Park Reserve’s neighbouring communities of Tofino and Ucluelet both have animal control bylaws in place. Like the Park Reserve, leashes are mandatory in Tofino while Ucluelet does not enforce leashes, but does require animals to be under a guardian’s control.
Hopkins said the Park Reserve is working with Tofino and Ucluelet “to try to come up with a better strategy across the peninsula as opposed to everyone siloing and doing their own thing.”
“If we can come together and work on a better people management strategy then, maybe, we can combat not only issues with dogs, but issues with garbage and wildlife attractants and everything that we have to manage to better coexist with the wildlife in this area.”