As temperatures soar to the 90s this weekend and recreationalists head to the river to cool off, the Wood River Land Trust is reminding dog owners to pick up after their pets after observing more dog waste left at its preserves.
The advice is especially prudent as the Wood River Valley faces a record-low water year and drought conditions this summer, according to Liz Pedersen, annual fund manager for the Wood River Land Trust.
“There is just less water to help dilute pollutants,” Pedersen said in an email to the Express.
Dog waste can make fisheries susceptible to contamination from disease-causing bacteria and parasites. Giardia, E. coli and salmonella—frequently found in dog feces—can promote algae growth, for example, absorbing oxygen from the water and producing ammonia as the waste decays.
In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has labeled pet waste as a “nonpoint source” of pollution, putting it in the same ranks as oils, toxic chemicals and acid drainage from abandoned mines.
“Most people don’t realize that one gram of dog feces contains 23 million fecal bacteria or that the extremely high levels of nitrogen found in waste can be extremely harmful to our waterways,” said Lily Brunelle, a Student Leaders Summer Fellow at the Environmental Resource Center. “With the average dog producing 271 pounds of waste every year, our valley faces negative environmental health impacts of unattended dog waste.”
According to data gathered by Brunelle, the Wood River Valley trails see over 160,000 dog visits in a normal year.
“This year, the numbers have spiked,” she said.
Florence Blanchard with the Friends of the Howard Preserve has seen several more visitors neglecting to pick up after their dogs despite conveniently placed waste bins, according to a press release from the Land Trust.
“The Wood River Land Trust is committed to protecting the Big Wood River in every way and works to make it easy for visitors to clean up after their dogs,” the Land Trust stated. “At our preserves, dog waste stations are located near the entrances and exits to ensure easy clean-up.”
Farther north in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, an increase in dog waste—and human waste—left on trails and at campsites has pushed rangers into more educational roles. Many forest personnel, according to Forest Service spokeswoman Julie Thomas, are now having to educate campers and hikers on leave-no-trace etiquette and fire prevention measures— “things that seasoned campers and woodsmen do naturally,” she said.
With each trip out to the forest, she said, comes responsibility.
“What we have witnessed in the Sawtooth National Forest this year is an increase in use by all sorts of user groups,” Thomas said. “We have noticed an increase in trash, no doubt about that. We have seen an increase in campfires being left [burning]. We have seen a greater use of dispersed sites.”