Curious Nature: Poop pollutes
Here in Colorado, we love our furry companions, but pet ownership comes with some responsibilities. Picking up after your dog is one of them. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 47% of households in Colorado had at least one dog as of December 2016. Assuming all of those households only have one dog puts Colorado among the top ten states for dog ownership with an estimated population of over 1 million dogs. Compare that to populations of some of our most abundant large wildlife species like deer (between 400,000 and 500,000) and elk (about 280,000) and you may get a sense of the impact dogs can have.
Pet waste is a pervasive and unpleasant problem in Eagle County. The “land mines” that emerge from the spring snow are not natural wildlife droppings. Dog waste is slower to biodegrade because of the preservatives in dog food and it can carry pathogens like cryptosporidium and E. coli.
There are many reasons to pick up after your pet. Cleaning up protects your dog and others from exposure to potentially harmful bacteria. It helps keep our trails, parks, and public lands clean for everyone to enjoy. It prevents you and others from stepping in something hiding in the tall grass. It can also protect wildlife, ecosystems and water quality. Every pet owner is responsible for cleaning up after their furry friends. In fact, it is against the law not to.
Gore Creek is among several sections of stream in Eagle County that are listed as “impaired” by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment due to non-point source pollution. Non-point source pollution comes from many places including roadways, landscaping chemicals, and untreated stormwater. Pet waste falls into this category as well and more and more evidence is emerging that dog waste is a significant contributing factor in declining river health in Colorado. It adds nutrients to waterways that cause excessive algae and weed growth, reducing the oxygen available to aquatic life.
A related issue is what to do with the poo. The simple answer is yes, you need to carry it with you until you find a trash can! Make sure you always have a bag with you to pick it up, and don’t leave it on the trail. Poo bags are an eyesore, and they’re easy to forget, so it’s common to pollute with plastic if left on the ground. Luckily, there are several varieties of waste pouches available online that you can use for odor control during your walks.
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Each of us plays a part in protecting water quality. At the top of the Rockies and the headwaters of the Colorado River Watershed our actions impact everyone downstream across seven states and portions of Mexico. Water inevitably flows downhill. It is up to all of us to make sure that water is as clean as it can be.
Pete Wadden is the Town of Vail Watershed Health Specialist and Vice President of the Eagle River Watershed Council board of directors. He can be reached at email@example.com or 970-479-2144.