BLM making it more difficult to hike with a public-lands pup

My dog is the best dog in the world. Now, he hasn’t always been that way. He’s a springer spaniel/Labrador or a “Springador,” and he was the puppy from hell. He chewed three pairs of reading glasses and the top off of one of my cowboy boots. He didn’t do too well in puppy kindergarten, either. He flunked.

But then my expectations were different from what the instructor had in mind. She wanted to teach dogs to sit, roll over, heel and be continually obedient. That’s not what mattered to me. I wanted a hiker dog, and that’s what I got.

I wanted a canine companion to walk with me on the West’s public lands, from national forest mountain peaks to BLM canyons, from national park vistas to Colorado Parks and Wildlife game preserves. I sought a dog to camp with, hike with, backpack with, a dog who wouldn’t wander or chase game, though he could flush grouse.

That’s what Finn became — the best public land pup I’ve ever had. We can go for hours and I never need to call his name. No leash. There he is out front, running, sniffing, barreling on ahead. But he always comes back to check on me.

Sometimes he gets too exuberant. He bent a brand new hiking pole when he charged past me to the top of a trail in the South San Juans Wilderness. He’s beaten me to 14,000-foot Handies Peak near Lake City, and he’s climbed at least half of the 12,000 foot La Plata Mountains.

There’s nothing better than to be out on public lands such Bangs Canyon near Grand Junction and to have your dog leading the way, on trail, on point. When I want him back, I get down on one knee. He comes running because he knows I’ve got treats in my pocket.

One benefit of being outdoors is exploring with dogs, which can smell 1,000 times better than humans. With Finn’s keen nose and acute hearing, he senses mule deer well before I see them. He loves cross country skiing, especially on frozen rivers where he dives and leaps into the snow and skids to a stop on thin ice. When it starts to crack, he rapidly reverses.

I’ve told my wife I’ll never go anywhere, like climb a scree-clad peak or descend a canyon on a dangerous trail, unless my springador can get there, too. But what she doesn’t know is that he has four-paw drive. He’ll go anywhere, and he has. And he’s made me a safer climber, too.

On one steep canyon wall, I tried to inch up to the next-higher ledge using a wooden log as a ladder, but it was clear I’d have 10 to 12 feet of exposure. Finn did not like the odds.

He ran off to the side and tiptoed toward me on the perpendicular on a knife-edge ledge. He dared me to go up. As I ascended the log he came closer and I knew he was going to fall. That was his bluff. Finn backed me down and we found another route.

That’s why I hike with my dog, but I am limited on pristine national park lands to having him on a leash or in my car or tent. On national forest land, including wilderness areas, we can go most anywhere. That’s long been the case on BLM lands, but lately that’s changed. The BLM in Utah now excludes dogs from archaeological sites. Amazing! The BLM, the multiple use folks — with oil and gas impacts, ATVs running amok, mining pollution and invasive plants — wants to control canines. Doggone it!

The rules have rational reasons, but which species, besides humans, has done the most damage to archaeological sites? Bovines. They’ve knocked down 800-year-old walls, demolished middens, pissed on petroglyphs and left calling cards on most of the archaeological sites in Utah.

According to archaeologists with the s to prove it, on Comb Ridge in San Juan County, cows have recently toppled historic wooden Navajo sweatlodges that will never be re-built.

I believe in protecting archaeological sites. Cultural resources on the Colorado Plateau are irreplaceable. But I also believe in animal equity. If dogs should be excluded from these sites, so should cows. Anasazi and Fremont Indians raised dogs, not Herefords.

In sensitive areas I’ll use Finn’s leash more often. Some sites we’ll never again visit as a team. Mark Twain said it best when he wrote, “If dogs can’t go to heaven, I don’t want to go, either.”

Andrew Gulliford is a professor of history and environmental studies at Fort Lewis College. He writes a public lands column for The Daily Sentinel. Email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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