Falmouth council gets proposals for leash law

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FALMOUTH — Two town committees presented their joint recommendations for regulating pets on public lands to the Town Council Monday night.

The Land Management and Acquisitions Committee and Parks and Community Programs Advisory Committee came up with the proposed guidelines after two public forums and a handful of meetings this year. 

The town’s ordinance committee will now be charged to discuss the issue and come back to the council with its own recommendation.

Lucky D’Ascanio, director of parks and community programs, and Ted Asherman, chairman of LMAC, said the proposed ordinance changes are based on data collected from the public forums.

D’Ascanio said each forum started by explaining a handful of assumptions everyone should work with. First, people need places in town to walk their dogs. Second, everyone using trails and public lands should feel safe. And third, uncontrolled dogs can have negative impacts on people, other dogs and wildlife.

“The challenge was to find the sweet spot,” D’Ascanio said.

The concerns about dogs on public land included people who are afraid of being bitten or knocked down; sanitation issues when people don’t pick up pet waste or leave bags of waste behind; and threats to nesting birds, deer yards and young animals.

Asherman said the first proposed change to the ordinance would require all dogs to be on a leash within 300 feet of a parking lot or trail head. Those are the areas that tend to be the most congested, said Asherman, who added there would be signs to let dog owners know when they were out of the 300-foot zone.

The second proposed ordinance change, Asherman said, would set the rules for different properties. Some properties might be off limits to pets; others might allow them to be off-leash, or only leashed at certain times of the year.

The two committees also had a handful of proposed regulations. One would allow dogs to be off leash and within voice command in all parks and many conservation areas when farther than 300 feet from the trail head. Exemptions would include children’s play areas, playing fields and during children’s activities.

The second was to designate River Point Conservation Area as a pet-free zone, so residents who might be fearful of dogs could have a place to walk. Service dogs would be exempt.

The third recommendation was for leashes to be required during breeding season, April 1 to Sept. 30, in three other important wildlife preservation areas: North Falmouth Community Forest, Hadlock Community Forest and the Suckfish Brook Conservation Area.

The fourth recommendation was making Woods Road Community Forest off-limits to pets from Dec. 1 to March 31, as the area is a state-sanctioned winter deer yard. Finally, the committees recommended against having different rules on a single property, such as allowing pets on certain trails in a parcel but not others.

D’Ascanio said the proposed restrictions would apply to town-owned properties only; land owned by the Falmouth Land Trust is not governed by the town. She said the regulations, if enacted, would leave “plenty of places” for pets and their owners to enjoy the outdoors. The town would work to educate residents of the rules by posting signs and informing pet owners about the rules when they register their pets.

Asherman said the committees did not want to try to limit the number of dogs a person could walk at one time, and also didn’t want to try to regulate dog-walkers from other towns who use Falmouth trails, saying that would be “a huge enforcement issue.”

Councilor Caleb Hemphill said the two committees have proposed a very reasoned response, calling it “something that’s needed.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.