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Dogs, ducks and dubious decisions

By Paul Costigan - 13 January 2016 20

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The Dickson Wetlands have been a success both as a water-engineering project (providing water for the nearby sports grounds) and as attractive open space parkland.

From the day it was opened, people have been going there from the surrounding suburbs to enjoy the amenities – mainly just to walk. In addition to the care-free meanderers, there has been a significant influx of people who use the space to walk their dogs.

Just before Christmas, on the 22nd December, the ACT Government sent out notifications that several areas including the Dickson Wetlands are to continue to be designated as being off-leash for dogs. This contentious issue had been the subject of some government communications over the last year in relation to several public spaces around Canberra.

While the general announcement contained much information regarding broader policy, it was this statement pertaining to Dickson that I wish to address:

“For the three wetland sites – Dickson and Lyneham wetlands and the Flemington Road ponds – it has been determined there is insufficient evidence to support the presence of roaming (off-leash) dogs having a detrimental impact on birdlife in those areas. As such, the designation will remain off-leash for the time being. The ACT Government will continue to monitor these sites to ensure the designation is meeting the needs of all users.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. I wonder what evidence the government used for this decision.

Based on my very frequent visits to the Dickson Wetlands, being normally several times a week in the evenings, it is a common occurrence that dogs are already allowed to race about off leash. This is having a detrimental impact on other visitors, on young children, on other dogs, on the vegetation and most importantly on the birds, namely the ducks and their habitats.

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For people who go to the wetlands to relax, with or without dogs, the requirement now is to be constantly on the look-out for badly behaved dogs.

This gets very nasty when the light is very low and it is difficult to see them approaching – for instance one evening we were accosted by a very large dog (about 3 feet tall) that suddenly appeared from the reeds we were passing. I suspect it did not see us approaching and was taken aback by our arrival as much as we were of it!

One event that stays with me is: A woman, who was busy on the phone, and was accompanied by three aggressive looking small pit bull dogs, was about to cross our path ahead of us. The three dogs were not large but were off leash. Another couple were approaching from the other direction with their baby in a stroller. As the two groups neared each other, the latter couple became very unsettled. They stopped and took their baby out of the stroller and held the child high and close until the dogs had passed by. The owner of the dogs did not react, as she stayed on the phone and just kept on walking. The other couple remained very distressed and after putting the child back down, spent a moment or two watching the dogs depart the scene.

I have seen other parents take their children and hold onto them when dangerous looking dogs approach.

I have also observed others with dogs on leash hold their own dogs close when approached by a menacing looking dog that has been allowed to roam freely.

I know of people who no longer walk their dog around the wetlands as they are concerned about the dogs on the loose and that they may revert to form and attack the more defensive pet dog.

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A frequent occurrence is that people allow and encourage their dogs to run through the waterside plants and to bathe in the ponds. This is having a detrimental effect on the plants on the sides of the ponds and then there are the ducks that need to scurry away given the sudden arrival of the dogs into their water.

One unbelievable behavior is that owners take their dogs out onto the peninsula and make their way through the plants towards the duck island. When the water is low, as it is right now, some venture further onto the island – with their dogs. I can only imagine the effect this is having on the plants and the bird life.

I do not blame the dogs, as they do what they are allowed to do.

It is the dog owners that cause the problems.

It must be very annoying for the many dog owners who actually love their animals, respect the lives of other people, and have done the right things by training their pets to behave in public places – and keep them on-leash.

This is not an anti-dog thing. I have been known to take friends’ dogs for a walk (on leash).

The problem here is the behaviour and lack of responsibility of some domestic dog owners in public places and that the government has knowingly decided to ignore this issue to the detriment of the amenities offered by the Dickson Wetlands.

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Then there is this information from the ACT Government: “Both you and your dog have the right to use public land without fear of attack or harassment by other dogs.’ By designating the parklands as off-leash the government has negated this former statement.

We now have the situation whereby the desire to allow dogs off-leash in a public space has over-ridden the rights of others not to be harassed, not to have their own safety compromised and has shifted the responsibility to others to confront irresponsible owners.

Unfortunately for some, they now choose to stay away from the parklands.

By all means I encourage the government to establish dog parks for people to have their dogs off-leash. But the Dickson Wetlands is a wonderful open green space that should be enjoyed by all — not just the off-leash dog owners.

Is there anyone left within the ACT Government who knows about governance, about transparent community engagement and the need to place the highest priority on the environment and the well being of residents?

I suspect that sometime in the near future that the adoption of the recommendation for off-leash in this popular area will lead to a serious claim against the government – the basis being willful ignorance.

I suggest the clock is ticking on this dubious and non-evidence based decision.

What’s Your opinion?


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20 Responses to
Dogs, ducks and dubious decisions
HenryBG 2:17 pm 14 Jan 16

superdupertys said :

Its called nature. For millions of years they have been getting used to this.

Cool, it’s Nature.

Here’s some more Nature that has been around for millions of years:
http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/schistosomiasis/gen_info/faqs.html

I suppose we need some of that in our wetlands as well?

I think we are perfectly entitled to be anti-dog in our urban environment – if you want to keep domestic animals, keep them on your own property. We don’t really need to see them in our public spaces, if it can be avoided.

localyokel 12:32 pm 14 Jan 16

Hi runtheredlight –
I understand what you’re saying as an individual dog-owner. You’re right, of course – if it were only you and your dog, walking once a day for 15 minutes or so – there wouldn’t be a problem.

But if you think about it from the point of view of your dog being only one of many who visit there, and that the birds and other users of the space are impacted not just once a day, but multiple times by multiple dogs, it’s a different story.

I walk round the wetlands every day, too. Every time I visit, I encounter an average of 6-10 dogs per circuit – and most of them are off-leash. If you extrapolate that out over a single day, that’s a lot of dogs and a lot of disturbance. Ducks need to be able to feed out on the grass and in the water without being harassed, or they may become weakened, making them more vulnerable to other predators like foxes and cats, or even slowly starve. The time they spend on guard and fleeing from predators is time they can’t be eating, growing and living as nature intended.

Imagine the same situation for your own dog – if 30 or 40 people an hour were rushing unannounced into your backyard, hassling it and removing its food bowl day after day – it wouldn’t be a great life for your pet, would it?

Most dog owners I know also very much care for and respect other animals – and I’m sure you’re the same. I think it might be the case here that a little bit of education and information could go a long way towards improving the situation.

london 11:24 am 14 Jan 16

The comment made by superdupertys is indicative of the irresponsible attitude of people and their dogs around Canberra. Appears to be quite feral and as lawless as many other aspects of the area.
Why should dogs be more important than the welfare of children and people in general.
Keep dogs under control and everyone can enjoy these areas. Need someone to do their job and issue a few penalties and maybe then dog owners may start to respect others.

runtheredlight 10:11 am 14 Jan 16

localyokel – “By all means I encourage the government to establish dog parks for people to have their dogs off-leash. But the Dickson Wetlands is a wonderful open green space that should be enjoyed by all — not just the off-leash dog owners.”

This was the part to which I was referring, especially the last phrase. I frequent the wetlands just as much as Paul and have yet to see dogs wrecking the joint. They run, they swim, I won’t deny that they can get in the way (see above comment about my own dog), but can I also point out that the loop around the wetlands is only about 600m worth of pavement? How much havoc can an off-leash dog wreak in 10-15 minutes of walking?

superdupertys 12:26 am 14 Jan 16

Where is the evidence off leash dogs are detrimental to the wetlands. Its a bunch of shrubs. As for the ducks. They have wings, they can fly away, quite easily. I used to go down there everyday, and never seen the ducks that worried. Its called nature. For millions of years they have been getting used to this.
I think you are anti-dog, and Personally I dont think you should be allowed at the wetlands off-leash. I could argue humans are more detrimental to that area than any dog could do in a thousand years. Theres plenty of places you can go besides the wetlands. It is one of the only places that the dogs can roam free, in a natural habitat.

rosscoact 10:40 pm 13 Jan 16

I attended a public meeting at the wetlands in 2014 on this very subject.
There was about 60 dog owners vehemently defending their right to have dogs off lead around the wetlands. There was also about 5 people just as vehemently pushing for dogs not to be allowed off lead around and in the wetlands. Off lead was allowed at the time and still is IIRC.

No actual evidence was put forward from either side to support their arguments that I saw. I walk my dog on a lead so I regard myself as neutral and have sympathy for both sides..

However, as you rightly point out, policy should be evidence based. This should apply in all cases, not just when it suits your point of view. The people wanting to change the policy need to put up both secondary and primary research. Otherwise nothing will happen except gum-flapping

localyokel 9:08 pm 13 Jan 16

I think you’ve missed the point, runtheredlight.

He’s not saying off-leash dog owners are the only ones enjoying the wetlands, he’s saying that once you allow dogs off-leash in public areas, then they tend to do what dogs do – dash around and impinge on the rights of everyone else to use and enjoy the space.

Including the wildlife.

Surely the smarter solution is to keep dogs on leads in those areas, and designate the off-leash areas to those places which aren’t so heavily populated by pedestrians and urban wildlife. Problem solved.

rommeldog56 8:34 pm 13 Jan 16

pink little birdie said :

This place has gotten very anti dog in the last few days.

Yeah – smokers, car drivers, dogs…….what next ?

bj_ACT 5:15 pm 13 Jan 16

Note that I think these wetlands are great and I think they need to be replicated for Lake Tuggeranong to help stop it being permanently unsafe for use and consistently smelly.

But as part of looking of looking at that issue, I found out this info about funding reallocation for the Dickson Lynham wetlands that might prove interesting for local residents…

I’ve just done a bit of digging on-line and saw there was millions of dollars in Federal Funds from 2008 to help fix Lake Tuggeranong. In 2011 Andrew Barr Re-directed most of the funds to the Dickson and Lyneham Wetlands and to convert Hawker enclosed oval to Synthetic grass.

The ACT Government provided $14 million to create the Dickson and Lyneham wetlands (which I must say are very very nice and well deserved) but I can’t believe they canned the Tuggeranong project that would have helped solve the decade long pollution issues for Lake Tuggeranong.

With concerns that Andrew Barr likes to feather his own nest near where he lives in Dickson there is some very interesting reading from the proposed project and the follow up changes at:
https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/pages/06c91f9e-49ba-4862-ae64-a3fb9cd98be7/files/canberra-integrated-urban-waterways-project-final-report.pdf

http://www.cmd.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/340399/Documents_-_Termination_of_Part_B_Stage_1.pdf

You will see on page 20 of the waterways report that the ACT government had already cut $7 million from the Tuggeraong Grant in 2008 without touching the other projects and topped it off by basically using the left over money for Dickson/Lyneham in 2012.

How did this not create a storm at the time???

runtheredlight 3:50 pm 13 Jan 16

I’m confused by your latest comments.You don’t mind dodging motorised wheelchairs, walkers, joggers, cyclists, boarders, etc., but you have somehow concluded that off-leash dogs pose the most outrageous, egregious, unforgivable threat?

Still can’t see how off-leash dog owners are the only ones enjoying the wetlands…

pink little birdie 3:19 pm 13 Jan 16

This place has gotten very anti dog in the last few days.

Paul Costigan 2:54 pm 13 Jan 16

And another story – you have to laugh when stuff happens.

The Dickson Wetlands should be a place for taking a break, relaxing and walking or sitting about.

The other evening, we were walking and it seemed to be very busy – and we found ourselves weaving, stepping aside and having to adjust because of the others groups, dogs and children. All normal so far…

Then we realised there was the occasional bicycle and skate-boarder coming at you and you had to judge whether you moved or would they adjust for you.

And then there was the family who use the pathways around the wetlands for a bicycle exercise track and go around and around which means you encounter them ever few minutes as you try to relax and walk – and then……

We were suddenly confronted from behind by a guy in motorized wheel chair travelling very fast (for a wheel chair) as he took his dog for run (off-leash).

At that point we laughed and headed for the streets nearby where you can walk on the roads and be lucky to encounter a car let alone anyone else.

We had a good chuckle about it – such is life!! These wetlands have been a success.

Paul Costigan 2:47 pm 13 Jan 16

Dear rubaiyat

A quick response – as you can see – this Dickson Wetlands issue is more about not detracting from a very valuable amenity. It is not about no dogs (on-leash). It is about enhancing this space to be a true wetland – wild life and plants being left alone to do their thing – and we humans enjoying that without interfering.

Unfortunate the facts of life are that not all dogs-owners will do the right thing. In other public parks this is a nuisance and part of every day life (sadly). But in a space such as these wetlands – there are more layers of consequences from this bad behaviour.

About your suggestion for a dog park close by – there is a space just next door that could be fenced off and made to be off-leash. I know someone who uses this space now to walk their dog (on-leash) away from all the dogs on the loose in the wetlands – and I am sure they would give it up if the main wetlands were restored to on-leash.

There is evidence to be collected on the negative impacts such an off-leash decision can have. This one has some distance to travel.

Squeezle 10:49 am 13 Jan 16

Paul, just as you wonder what evidence the government is using to make their decisions, I wonder what evidence YOU are using, as you have not mentioned anything beyond your own “imagination” and observation in this piece. Have you done a duck head count? Have you established a decline in aquatic life within the pond? Have you found that the degradation of the banks of the pond are significantly contributing to, I don’t know, carbon pollution? What functions are being destroyed by the users of the wetlands?

Your story about the “three aggressive looking small pit bull dogs” is laughable – did the dogs even spare the baby a sideways glance? Start circling the parents, baying for the blood of their infant? Get a grip. The parents were in no way harassed.

I’m not even against making the wetlands on-leash only, as I personally walk my own dog in this area and occasionally have issues with off-leash dogs “just saying hello” to mine. However, I appreciate that this is not the fault of having off-leash areas. It’s the fault of owners who cannot or will not control their animals, and my responsibility to make sure my dog is properly socialised. I accept that risk when I take my dog to the wetlands. If you can also prove that dogs of the area are having a negative impact on the wetlands, I’ll happily agree that off-leash privileges should be revoked. Until then, I cannot see this piece as anything other than pointless hand-wringing NIMBYism.

rubaiyat 9:30 am 13 Jan 16

I’m glad you have raised this.

Wildlife can’t settle in an area where they are constantly harassed and possibly attacked. Let alone breed.

They will inevitably avoid it or simply be eliminated just as they have almost everywhere. We just can’t let them be and blame them for inconveniencing them when we have invaded their space that they need to survive.

A happy compromise, although not perfect, is to have the dogs on leash and have dedicated fenced dog play areas, away from the wildlife, which however I notice they rapidly trash.

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