ST. GEORGE — While an exploding raven population and the potential for a heavy fire season are seen as clear and present dangers to the threatened Mojave desert tortoise within the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, man’s best friend has also come under the scrutiny of the reserve’s stewards.
Specifically, unleashed dogs are proving to be an issue in particular parts of the reserve, said Lura Snow, the outreach coordinator for the Habitat Conservation Plan administration which helps oversee the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve north of St. George.
During a May 28 meeting of the HCP advisory council, which is comprised of individuals representing local, state and federal interests, it was mentioned that visitors at the desert reserve are allowing their dogs to go on trails unleashed, which is expressly prohibited.
“Some areas are worse for it than others,” Snow said. “It’s been bad at the Cinder Knolls Trailhead on 600 North in Hurricane. That area is essentially being used as a dog park. There is posted signage that says all dogs must by leashed, and there is a countywide leash law as well.”
Moreover, the dogs are being allowed to roam free in an area that is heavily populated by the desert tortoise, she said.
The HCP administration staff told the advisory committee last month that there had already been an incident reported involving an unleashed dog seen carrying a tortoise in its mouth.
“The area is not a dog park,” Snow said, “not by any stretch of the imagination.”
While there is overarching concern for the federally protected Mojave desert tortoise, unleashed dogs can also go after other animals within the reserve. They also face the risk of running into rattlesnakes and getting bitten if not restrained by their owners.
“There are multiple reasons to keep your dog on a leash,” Snow said.
The HCP staff is also dealing with dog waste on the trails within the reserve.
“People are supposed to practice leaving no trace ethics,” Snow said. “But they’re leaving their dogs’ waste in bags on the trail. Our trail stewards go out and help clean up litter on the trails, but they’re not meant to be garbage collectors.”
Washington County Sheriff’s deputies have been citing people on occasion for not following the leash laws.
It should be noted that causing harm to a federally protected species, such as the desert tortoise, can carry potential penalties. While Utah law allows dogs within state parks on a leash, a dog owner can be slapped with a misdemeanor charge and associated fines if they allow their dog to kill any protected wildlife.
For now, there are plans to place additional signage highlighting the prohibition on unleashed dogs in parts of the reserve, like the Cinder Knolls Trailhead.
In addition to the unleashed dogs issue, the HCP advisory committee was also given an update on potentially devastating fire conditions brewing within the reserve. A growing raven population is also seen as a significant threat to desert tortoise hatchlings.
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