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Wildlife experts say dogs and wildlife don’t mix

Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Crane

Spring has sprung and the open spaces around Park City are home to nesting birds and sandhill cranes, and elk, deer and moose are exhausted from a long winter. Dogs that chase these animals are breaking the law. 

Walk along the Willow Creek trail in Kimball Junction that meanders around the Swaner Preserve and Osguthorpe Farm and you will hear the unique trumpeting sounds of the sandhill cranes and, if you’re lucky, see them too.

The cranes come to higher elevations in Utah every spring to breed and nest. They mate for life in pairs and when their eggs hatch the baby birds, which are called colts, can leave the nest almost immediately and go on foraging walks with their parents.

Dogs that are off leash have recently been chasing the cranes on the Willow Creek trail in Summit County. This can stress the birds out and make them sick, or cause them to fly away from their nests and not return.

According to Faith Heaton Jolley, spokesperson for The Utah Division of Wildlife, it’s illegal for to dogs chase or harass protected wildlife in Utah, and according to the law, dogs doing so can legally be hurt or even killed by eyewitnesses.

“So that's, you know, just a situation that we would like to avoid, avoid entirely right. We want people to be able to enjoy the outdoors with their pets. And we don't want their pets to, you know, endanger themselves or any wildlife.”

Jolley says that spring is a very hard time for wildlife, especially bigger animals such as elk, deer, and moose.

“It’s also just a really sensitive time of year for our wildlife. Some of our big game species in particular, they're coming off a winter where they've had kind of, obviously limited feed, and kind of specialized diets, and they're transitioning over to kind of their, their springtime summer diet. And they're just kind of in a really sensitive spot, and they're weak, you know, they haven't had a lot of feed this winter. And so we don't want them to have to use a lot of that energy that they need to survive right now to use that to run away from a dog that's chasing them.”

While there are areas in the community specified as off leash, if dogs chase protected wildlife in those areas, it’s still illegal. Jolley recommends leashing dogs in all areas where wildlife encounters could happen.

“But it can be, very dangerous, especially with a lot of our moose that are kind of up in the Park City area. They can tend to be really aggressive when there are dogs around, especially if their mother moose, and it was with baby calves. So it's just yeah, it's kind of in everyone's best interest to keep dogs leashed, you know, for their safety, for your safety and for the wildlife safety.”

For more information and tips on how to keep dogs safe around wildlife please visit wildlife.utah.gov