Snohomish debates ban on dogs at wildlife sanctuary

SNOHOMISH — Most people seem to agree that setting aside a 55-acre former sewage lagoon as a public wildlife viewing area is a good idea.

The disagreement comes over whether dogs should be allowed on the property, owned by the city of Snohomish.

The area is located immediately to the west of the current sewage treatment plant, along the Snohomish River west of Highway 9.

A 4-acre wetland section owned by the Pilchuck Audubon Society north of the lagoon also would be set aside as a bird sanctuary and viewing area and connected to the city property.

Many people already walk along the dike that surrounds the sewage lagoon. The only access is by foot from city property east of the highway.

Many of those people walk their dogs there, said Morgan Davis, 71, who lives in Snohomish. City residents should have full use of the city property, he said.

“We should have the right to walk out there with a dog on a leash,” he said.

The idea for the project came from Bill Fulton, 66, a Snohomish resident, business owner and Pilchuck Audubon Society member. He’s also chairman of a city-appointed panel studying the issue.

More than 140 bird species have been identified at the lagoon and wetland, including great blue herons, red-tailed hawks, swallows, ducks and teal.

“I don’t think dogs are appropriate in a bird refuge,” he said. “And I have three dogs. There are other venues for dogs.”

Ann Stanton, project manager for the city of Snohomish, said there are seven parks and trails in the city that allow dogs on leashes. There are no off-leash dog areas in the city.

Pilchuck member Kathleen Snyder, who also serves on the city panel, said she has never seen a wildlife refuge that allows dogs.

“They are too disruptive to the wildlife and dog waste also is a problem,” she said.

Many dog walkers at the lagoon are not packing out dog waste, Stanton said.

Davis said that can be remedied with signs and plastic glove dispensers.

He said dogs stay on top of the dike and don’t venture into the lagoon.

“They’ve already been allowed two years on that trail,” he said. “Dogs can’t fly, they can’t catch the birds even if they tried. Cats catch more birds than dogs. Humans can disrupt wildlife, too.”

Dogs also make it safer for women to walk alone, Davis said.

Stanton said 14 people attended a recent parks board meeting on the subject and were about evenly split on whether to allow dogs.

The City Council appointed the steering committee last year. The group includes Fulton, Snyder and Stanton; resident Dean Randall; Bob Krull of the Boeing Bluebills, a group that has volunteered to help improve the property; parks board member Leanne Burke, and Ruth Milner of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

No final decision has been made. The City Council will have the ultimate say. The committee is scheduled to make a report to the council Feb. 19 and a decision could come in late spring or early summer, Stanton said.

The committee hasn’t yet determined its recommendation to the council but the group is leaning away from allowing dogs, Stanton said.

“If you have a place that’s a remarkable bird refuge it doesn’t make sense to harm that when there are alternatives,” she said.

“A lot of us have dogs; we’d like to be able to walk there with our pet. It’s not an easy decision.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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