The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 15, 2005


No-dogs policy at wildlife refuges begins this summer

Responding to concerns for public safety, conflicts between visitor uses, and the need to enhance protection of wildlife resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last month that beginning July 1, 2005, dogs would no longer be allowed at three area refuges administered by the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex. "We are implementing this new policy in order to achieve objectives outlined in our Comprehensive Conservation Plans, which call for the elimination of dog walking at Great Meadows and Oxbow National Wildlife Refuges" said Elizabeth Herland, refuge manager of the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Unlike state and town parks, National Wildlife Refuges are set aside specifically for wildlife. "As an organization dedicated to wildlife conservation, it is hard to manage a refuge system that will be all things to all people," said Herland, echoing sentiments expressed this past May by Bill Hartwig, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, when he testified before the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans on the issue of public access within the refuge system.

Six public uses were identified by the Refuge Improvement Act as the priorities for receiving enhanced consideration on refuges. Dog walking is not one of the six priority public uses, nor are dogs (except hunting, seeing, or hearing dogs) necessary to support the safe, practical, and effective conduct of the priority public use programs we would be implementing on the refuge.

Implementation of the dog policy will primarily affect Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) which borders eight towns — Billerica, Bedford, Carlisle, Concord, Framingham, Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland, and the Oxbow NWR located in the towns of Ayer, Harvard, Lancaster, and Shirley. The Assabet River NWR located in the towns of Hudson, Maynard, Stow, and Sudbury recently opened to public access this year. Its no-dog policy will remain in effect.

The decision and reasons to eliminate dog walking were outlined in the comprehensive conservation plans written for each refuge and approved in January 2005. During development of the plans, public hearings, formal public comment periods, and public workshops were held to solicit public input. After reviewing all of the public comments that we received, the current and projected recreational use of the refuges was evaluated along with the need to provide for public safety and wildlife resource protection. The final plans mandated elimination of dog walking by 2005.

Several reasons prompted the elimination of this activity on area refuges:

• Wildlife can't distinguish between leashed and unleashed dogs. Often in the presence of a dog, species will abandon their nests or young, leaving them vulnerable to predators, or to die from starvation or exposure.

• Dogs can intimidate other refuge visitors, and deprive them of the peace that the refuge provides.

• Dogs, even when leashed, can conflict with our ability to provide wildlife dependent recreational opportunitiesfor visitors, such as school groups engaged in environmental education and people observing wildlife or taking nature photographs.

• Many dog owners have not complied with past policies that require dogs to be leashed and under the owner's control. This has been a consistent problem.

• Dog waste left on trails or in bushes impacts water quality and is an unsightly nuisance.

We realize that many people will not be happy with this decision. Nevertheless, we firmly believe that the overall adverse impacts from dog walking on wildlife and other visitors engaged in wildlife-dependent public use justify this prohibition. Our decision is also consistent with land managers throughout the state who manage lands specifically for wildlife. Massachusetts Audubon Society and State of Massachusetts wildlife sanctuary lands also do not allow pets.

Visit our web site for additional information about this policy:

Send comments to:, or contact us at:

Elizabeth A. Herland, Refuge Manager
Eastern Massachusetts NWR Complex
Tel.: 1-978-443 -4661, Extension 11

Michael S. Dixon
Visitor Services Manager
Eastern Massachusetts NWR Complex
Tel.: 1-978-443 -4661, Extension 34

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito