Falmouth panels suggest tighter rules for pets on trails

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FALMOUTH — The two town committees working on recommendations for pets on public lands will present proposed restrictions at a June 27 public forum.

Ted Asherman, chairman of the Land Management and Acquisitions Committee, said the proposals are a response to what was heard in a January public forum. LMAC, along with the Parks and Community Programs Advisory Committee, met over the course of the spring to go over the input and responses they received.

“As a result, LMAC went back and has come up with some responses to the suggestions, and we want to present them back to the same forum, to the community to get their input,” Asherman said.

Lucky D’Ascanio, director of parks and community programs, said the June 27 forum will make the same assumptions as the first: that people need places to walk their dogs, that park users should feel safe, and that uncontrolled dogs can have negative impacts on the land and wildlife.

“The challenge is to find the sweet spot with pet owners, non-pet owners and wildlife,” D’Ascanio said.

Falmouth’s current ordinance requires dogs to be leashed during public activities and events. They may be off-leash on trails and other designated areas, as long as they are “within voice command.”

The ordinance says pets must not harass or disturb others on the trails or damage trail property, and requires pet owners to remove any feces left by their pets.

The committees are now suggesting better signs on trails and public land, and better communication. D’Ascanio said this would include posted notices, email notices, and notices when residents register their pets.

Another suggestion is hiring or recruiting volunteer rangers. D’Ascanio said the Police Department will be consulted on that proposal.

The committees are also proposing that pets must be kept on leashes within 300 feet of a trail head. D’Ascanio said this is because many negative interactions with pets happens in those areas.

The panels rejected proposing a limit on the number of pets a person can have on public land at any given time.

Asherman said the two committees will look for feedback after the second forum, which will be held at the Lunt Auditorium on Lunt Road at 6:30 p.m.

“After refining any suggestions we get via the input of this meeting, the next step would be to see if the Town Council wants to put it on their agenda at some point to adopt some ordinance changes,” Asherman said.

Asherman said if the council does decide to take up possible ordinance changes, there would be additional opportunities for public input.

A handful of surrounding towns – including Yarmouth, Cumberland and Scarborough – have their own ordinances, which generally are more restrictive. Cape Elizabeth is exploring policy changes for dogs on its Greenbelt Trail system, and Portland has a full-time park ranger to ensure people with pets follow the rules.

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.