Sandpoint council OKs off-leash dogs — with a permit — at City Beach to ward off geese

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

After years of discussion, the city of Sandpoint is going to allow off-leash dogs at City Beach with the express purpose of harassing — and hopefully frightening off — the population of Canada geese that congregate in the park.

Meanwhile, the city also approved allowing dogs on-leash on the pathways through Travers, Centennial and Great Northern parks year-round, rather than only during specific months.

Sandpoint Community Planning and Development Director Jason Welker presented the amendments to existing code regulating leash laws and dogs in public parks, which city councilors unanimously approved at their regular June 5 meeting.

“We’ve worked out what we think is a pretty good proposal to take care of some geese mitigation,” Welker said.

A couple walks through Sandpoint City Beach surrounded by Canada Geese. Photo by Jane Fritz.

The previous statute made exceptions for service dogs “under the constant control” of their owner or handler and “dogs utilized by the city for the purpose of controlling waterfowl.” 

The new code allows dogs to be off leash “for waterfowl control as part of city-sanctioned groups,” and further stipulates that, “Handlers must have an off-leash permit applied for and in possession and ensure dogs are under voice control at all times.”

In addition, the amendment states that handlers must carry a leash and be prepared to restrain their dog if necessary, while, “All waste must be promptly removed by the handlers.”

Other “specific conditions” — including “times, locations, and any additional rules and regulations” — will be posted by the city. 

Welker emphasized that the new ordinance did not give dog owners “carte blanche” to bring their dogs to City Beach and would rely on a permitting process to vet dogs to ensure their safe behavior, and require them to wear a special vest to indicate that they’re permitted and performing work.

The off-leash permit application included in the council’s agenda packet specifies that it is to be given for “waterfowl mitigation at City Beach” and asks for information about dogs including a license number and vaccination records. Welker said that the city has a dog licensing program but compliance is very low; however, participants in the City Beach off-leash program will have to secure a license for their dog before obtaining a permit.

Details of the permit include whether it is to be issued for an individual or group — including relevant names and contact information — as well as the time period during which it will be active, ranging from single event to annual permits.

Applying for the permit will be free of charge, and other than managing the permitting would not be a city effort — rather, the idea came from a group of citizens including Matt Lome, who spoke about the concept before the council earlier in the spring. In the meantime, he said the group has connected with local businesses and organizations such as Shakapaw Pet Market and the Better Together Animal Alliance to help set up the program.

Lome characterized the permitted off-leash concept as resting “somewhere smack in the middle” of goose mitigation efforts, which have ranged from using predator decoys to capture and release, capture and euthanasia, and controlled hunts.

“It’s up to Sandpoint — how do you want to be known?” he said, later adding, “We’re not going to be able to please everybody, but we’ve got to meet halfway.”

Allowing dogs to roam off-leash at City Beach has long been considered by some to be a viable response to what the city described as the “health hazards, beach contamination and maintenance costs associated with waterfowl waste.”

As the city noted in its agenda packet materials, other attempts to clear the geese from City Beach “have proven to be either insufficient or overly invasive.” Those efforts have even included hiring professionals to bring dogs to the beach during certain times to haze the geese. However, as Welker pointed out, that method didn’t work because hazing would take place early in the morning and, almost immediately after the dogs left, the geese would return.

Under the new program, permitted dogs would be allowed off-leash at random times throughout the day.

“The vision here is to have: A., more dogs; B., it’s not going to cost the city any money; and C., it’s going to be random,” he said. 

The city launched a survey in summer 2020 that drew 655 responses from more than 800 visitors — described at the time as the most heavily trafficked survey ever run by the city — which showed that 56% of respondents favored allowing dogs at City Beach “with restrictions” while 18% expressed unqualified support for the idea.

Amelia Boyd, who has volunteered with parks and recreation and planning and zoning, said that based on her past experience with the goose issue at City Beach, “I’m all for this program because I’m all for dogs,” however, she added, “not everyone loves dogs and there’s a lot of people — and children — that are afraid of dogs. … The reason we didn’t recommend that to council at the time was because of that.”

She referred to the 2020 survey suggested to councilors that not enough public outreach had been undertaken prior to considering the permitted off-leash program.

“If it works, I think it would be great, but I think you’re going to get a lot of backlash and you’re going to get a lot of complainers,” she said before encouraging more public input before a decision.

Longtime vocal goose advocate Jane Fritz thanked the mayor and council for allowing the off-leash idea to be presented on the agenda — something that she said had been resisted by officials over the past five years.

Ultimately, she said that previous plans ignored wildlife biology and were unscientific, and, “the geese problem started when we banned dogs in the city parks and that was now about 30 years ago.”

However, Fritz added, dogs are only one part of the solution, which should include non-lethal deterrent technology as well as landscaping like boulders, flower boxes and changes to the habitat at City Beach.

Finally, the rule change regarding dogs at the Sports Complex was relatively minor in scope, stating that dogs could be on-leash on the pathways — though prohibited outside those areas — anytime throughout the year, rather than just from Sept. 15-April 15, as had been in the prior code.

Again, Welker underscored that the change did not mean residents can bring their dogs into the park areas — just the pathways.

“This has been a very regular request from residents,” he said.

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