Seattle should not approve off-leash in natural parks

Did you know Seattle’s Off-Leash Policy is under review? Your favorite park could become open range for free-running dogs.

The Parks Department calls the concept “Variable Hours”, meaning some locations in some parks might allow off-leash at certain times of the day. It could apply to certain areas of parks, or possibly in some entire parks.

Off-Leash advocates have argued that other cities have more park acres for off-leash than Seattle. The Seattle Nature Alliance points out that Seattle has far fewer park acres than most large cities. And, what we do have tends to be smaller and fragmented. Other cities like Vancouver BC and Portland have thousands of acres of protected natural parkland. Seattle has only a fraction of what they have.




Off-Leash advocates call for our current system to be changed and opened up to off-leash. This is called Multi-Use: open to previously prohibited forms of high-impact recreation. The Parks Department is considering making more parks Multi-Use.

We believe that Passive-Use is the best policy for our natural parks. Passive uses are those that anyone and everyone can enjoy, and they are low-impact and compatible with other users as well as wildlife.

What can you do?

Please write to the Park Board, the Parks Department, the City Council, and the Mayor, and tell them you do NOT want our natural or scenic parklands open to Off-Leash or Multi-Use. Tell them that Passive-Use is the best way to ensure we ALL—people and wildlife—have access to clean, safe, and welcoming parks.


Our Letter to the Park Board:

(Sent on Feb 1 to the Park Board, cc’d to Parks officials and the City Council)

Dear Park Board Members,

First of all, a word of thanks to all of you for your dedicated service. We are pleased to have such a bright, committed group of citizens overseeing our precious parklands.

Please consider our thoughts about the discussion on January 28th about the Off-Leash Plan. We attended the meeting and are encouraged that you are willing to hear all sides of the issue.

We are concerned that Parks is considering allowing off-leash dogs in regular parks—in unfenced areas or at certain times of the day. This is a considerable departure from the traditional criteria for OLAs that were adopted when Seattle agreed to OLAs in the parks system in 1990.

The Seattle Nature Alliance is particularly concerned about our parks with natural habitat or scenic beauty, for example Lincoln, Seward, Discovery, Schmitz, Fauntleroy, and others in this category. Using parks such as these for variable-hours, unfenced Off Leash Areas would not be sustainable, equitable, or wise. We support OLAs in appropriate places only.

Off-Leash is an extremely high-impact form of recreation. It impacts other people—especially older, younger, and disabled people, and certain cultural groups. It impacts other dogs, wildlife, plants, soils, and water quality. Our parks are small, fragmented, and already highly impacted from heavy use. Even our largest park, Discovery, is only 534 acres. We don’t have Portland’s 5100-acre Forest Park, or Vancouver’s 2100-acre Pacific Spirit Regional Park and 1000-acre Stanley Park.

Additionally, we are concerned that the Off-leash advocates have based a good deal of their argument on what other cities have—but they are not making fair comparisons. For example, in the both the Focus Groups, the Park Board meeting, and in various Facebook Postings to their members, they have portrayed Vancouver BC as having off-leash opportunities on beaches and trails—something they say we should have also. But, the two cities are not comparable. Vancouver has much more parkland per city acre and more protected environmentally sensitive areas such as Puget Sound beaches and forests, including large spaces where dogs and the public are not allowed at all—a vital buffer for wildlife and mitigation for OLAs. See attached maps which show visually the great differences between Seattle and Vancouver.

Click on the image for more detail



Not Equitable
In the current boomtown-mode, Seattlites are expected to adopt a new, highly urbanized lifestyle. We’re being expected to give up a lot of things we’ve traditionally taken for granted: driving our cars, free parking, spacious backyards, and quiet single-family neighborhoods. Now, we’re expected to take transit, and live in smaller, more crowded spaces. Yet, why is high-impact dog-ownership still encouraged as though it were an assumed entitlement? The dog population—especially of large, sporting dogs—is growing at an alarming rate, and this is only going to increase with the next 120,000 people who are moving here.

Parks has accepted OLA as a form of legitimate recreation, and we agree that it is. And, as with all forms of high-impact recreation, it is limited by available space that can withstand such activity. But, the OLA advocates say that their dogs need places to run, and that it is up to the city to meet this need. Comparisons are often made with children, and playgrounds, etc. But even though we love them, dogs are not children. Our collective future depends on children—not dogs. And even though Off-Leash is a recreation that we should provide to the extent possible, it is not a societal duty that must be fulfilled at all all costs.

Less than one-quarter of Seattlites own dogs, but nationally, pet-care is a 330-billion dollar industry. Last year, Americans spent over 300-million dollars on dog Halloween costumes. Pet care—including required daily exercise—can and should be a personal responsibility, not a societal one.

When OLAs were first proposed to Seattlites, the advocates claimed that this would relieve the scofflaw problem in other parts of the city. Yet today, virtually every park—and park visitor—suffers from constant, daily, and growing illegal off-leash impact. It is particularly bad in natural area parks, where the impact is the greatest to wildlife and habitat. DSC04539bThe single greatest complaint to the Parks Department is illegal off-leash dogs.
offleash in LP 1
Yet, now, the Parks is putting a relaxation of the leash law on the table for discussion. This is counter to the public interest. If the “hours” model of OLA is adopted in unfenced parks, it will only increase dog owners’ sense of entitlement to let their dogs run free, particularly in the choicest, most beautiful natural areas and beaches.

In conclusion
We encourage the use of alternative locations outside the park system for OLAs. We think that the City and OLA advocates should do more to encourage their members to choose smaller, non-sporting breeds. They should also do more to encourage people to follow the leash laws, and to educate them about the damages to habitats and wildlife that dogs cause.

Thank you,

Seattle Nature Alliance

Directors: Denise Dahn, Mark Ahlness, and Rebecca Watson
Requisite Disclosures:

I am a dog-person, having grown up in Seattle with dogs. My last dog was a beautiful golden retriever that was my constant companion for her entire life until she died at age 12. I have no dog today, because I realized in the 1990s that having a large sporting breed was not a good idea in the city. If I lived in the country, I would have at least one dog.
– Denise

When I lived in town as a child, my family had a miniature Daschund – and a yard. When I moved as an adult to live on 60 acres in Enumclaw, we adopted a beautiful Gordon Setter from a couple living in Seattle who realized they could not possibly give the dog they loved what he needed to be happy. Skye lived the final 10 years of his life with us in bliss. I would love to have a dog again someday. Maybe when we move back to the country.
– Mark

Although we had a collie before I was born, my dad, having grown up in the country with hunting dogs, realized that big dogs (the kind that I especially wanted) need places to run. Although I brought home many a stray dog to care for as a child, we never had a dog for long, because my dad could not be persuaded, reminding me – ‘it’s not fair for the dog not to have a place to run’. Thus, not living in an area large enough to accommodate a dog, I have compensated by enjoying the company of many a cat. I dream of the day when I can live in a place in which I can own dogs and cats, and chickens, and goats, and…

3 thoughts on “Seattle should not approve off-leash in natural parks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s