GET OUT: The Dirty Truth

By on January 26, 2016

Have dog owners cleaned up their acts near the valley’s cherished recreation areas?

Beware of what hides just below the surface... (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

Beware of what hides just below the surface… (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

Jackson, WY – Some like to get out by finding new places of existence; others search to gain a new perspective. This week, I decided to contemplate Jackson’s accessible exercise spots while considering the excrement of the beloved creatures that people know as dogs. Many love these four-legged beasts. The responsible owner loves her pet so much she follows him around with plastic bags in hopes to pick up after her creature.

I do not know of any other beings on the planet that choose to own something they must feed for the entirety of its life in addition to collecting every bit of hard waste the animal produces and disposing of it in a bin. I’m assuming then that dogs must be pretty special to deserve such careful thought and care devoted to every orifice of their being.

There are many wonderful dog owners but society tends to take note of the unsavory ones. The actions of these humans do not affect the dogs per se, but can impact the entire ecosystem the said dog disposes in. A recent study from the University of Colorado found that dog fecal matter presented a major source of winter airborne bacteria in urban areas. The myth of poop freezing and bacteria dying along with it in the frigid air is just that, simply a myth. High levels of airborne bacteria can trigger both asthma- and allergy-type reactions.

In fact, dog fecal bacteria is one of the leading causes of water pollution in the United States. Each gram of dog poop contains more than 23 million units of fecal bacteria. So what? One could argue there is bacteria in everything. While this is true to a degree, dog waste harbors Giardia, Salmonella and E. Coli, all of which are harmful to other animals and humans. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, dog poop can be just as toxic to an ecosystem as chemical and oil spills.

Wild Wyomingites might sometimes view dog poop in nature as natural, even, possibly, a right, as this place has a lot of open spaces. Thus there should be plenty of places for dogs to poop freely, right? While dog poop does eventually decompose, the average ecosystem can handle about two dogs per square mile – a drastically different world than the town we live in. Unless one has her own square mile of land for her dog to poop freely, the doodie simply doesn’t belong in popular areas of recreation.

On prolific powder days, it’s hard to imagine that the beautiful white blanket is momentarily making our world look good again. Come spring, that brown stuff will be out, about and abundant. Last March, Cache Creek was closed for a week to awaken irresponsible dog owners. The Forest Service seemed to recognize the importance of addressing this issue, so I wondered if things had gotten any better.

Using my eyes and nose along the Cache Creek corridor, the poop was evident but it seemed like people were picking up after their own dog’s poop along with forgotten turds from previous travelers. Yes, people  have really stepped up their game around that area. I then made my way to a closed Snow King on a Monday, discovering only a couple instances of the contaminant.

My next stop, however, was shocking, for it showed the current truth of where the poop was coming from. Good old Teton Pass was like poo central station. From the bottom of the Glory boot pack to the sign, steamers abounded despite the strategically placed trashcan a mere 10 feet away. I put my head down and began my walk up the boot pack. For the first hundred yards, each step morphed into a sort of brown remnant etched in the mountain with the insole of a ski boot. I made every attempt not to plant my poles along the sides of the trail for fear of spearing the gooey brown stuff on the upward trench.

The stench eventually wore off after I was a little over half way, but the utter disgust stuck with me for a while. Teton Pass, a beautiful area for backcountry enthusiasts was also the grand winner of largest and most bountiful amount of dog feces. Sure, storms will eventually cover this stuff up and everyone will continue on their merry way. Spring will roll in and the mountains will supply us with great runoff to surf the wave or float the river. But this little discovery will make me think twice about taking my boots off inside of my own home. Though that’s the least of my worries because the snow hasn’t melted yet. PJH

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