Sportsman's Corner

Dog regulations proposed by MassWildlife Management Areas

The Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board met Wednesday at the Richard Cronin Field Headquarters in Westborough. Included on the agenda was a presentation on proposed regulations for the use of wildlife management areas by dogs.

MassWildlife is proposing leash and waste disposal regulations for dogs on Wildlife Management Areas (WMA). A public hearing has been scheduled for February 6 at 7 p.m. at the MassWildlife Field Headquarters at 1 Rabbit Hill Road in Westborough.

The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) has a long tradition of welcoming dogs on WMAs and dogs are still welcome on WMAs under this proposal.

MassWildlife proposes to take this action due to repeated complaints from WMA users about negative and unsafe encounters with unleashed dogs and issues with dog waste. MassWildlife protects and manages these areas to sustain wildlife abundance and diversity and provide wildlife-related recreation, including hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching, while at the same time providing a safe and enjoyable outdoor experience for all visitors.

The major changes include two categories:

1. The proposed regulations require leashing dogs and other domestic animals on WMAs. Dogs may be off-leash only when hunting or hunt-training with licensed hunters under existing regulations, or if they are participating in retriever or bird dog trial events that have been permitted by MassWildlife. Leashing dogs decreases conflicts with both people and other dogs, resulting in a safer and more positive experience for everyone.

2. The proposal also requires dog owners to pick up dog waste and dispose of it offsite. Removing dog waste reduces nuisance and protects the safety and health of dogs and other pets, people and wildlife.

Information on the public hearing, public comment process and proposed regulatory language is posted on MassWildlife’s website at Mass.gov/masswildlife-public-hearings. Information on the proposed changes has already been disseminated using informational postings at Wildlife Management Areas and press releases to Massachusetts news outlets. Sportsmen need to be made aware that the regulations specifically exempt hunting dogs who are using the areas for hunting, training, or sanctioned field trials. The issues that have been a catalyst for the proposed regulations are widespread and include unleashed dogs harassing and attacking people, dogs and livestock on adjacent properties as well as harassment of wildlife, particularly during sensitive nesting seasons.

The agency has made it very clear that dogs are, as always, welcome on WMAs providing they are on a leash and the owner is responsible for the animal at all times. This matter has been under review for several years and a review of both regulations in other states and on Massachusetts properties owned by conservation organizations was considered during the review process.

At the Board meeting, Director Jack Buckley announced the recently-concluded Massachusetts deer season would be an all-time harvest record. Although data and reports are still being analyzed, a total of over 13,000 deer was reported by hunters at check stations and via on-line reporting. Certainly, the snow during late December was a boon but the harvest reflects a healthy and robust deer population across Massachusetts. The breakdown by seasons will be interesting. The percentage of deer taken during the archery and black powder seasons, both of which were instituted as recreational seasons with limited impact on management, will be very interesting.

Like most area residents, the news of the closing of the Athol/Orange Elks lodge was a shock. The club has been the location for so many events, ranging from weddings to Ducks Unlimited Dinners. The largest event held at the club every year is the North Worcester County Quabbin Anglers Family Social. That evening is a special one for the region as sportsmen gather each year in anticipation of the upcoming fishing season at Gate 31 of the Quabbin Reservoir.

Every five years, MassWildlife conducts a winter waterfowl survey of sites where people feed wild ducks and geese. While the feeding of wildlife is discouraged, there is no state law or regulation that prohibits feeding (though some municipalities do restrict or prohibit feeding). MassWildlife is asking the public’s assistance in reporting current waterfowl feeding locations for biologists to identify and count these birds.

The survey will be conducted statewide throughout this month and includes sites in urban, suburban and rural areas near fresh, brackish and salt water. Feeding sites range from municipal parks, where many visitors come to feed the ducks, to ducks in backyards feeding on spilled bird seed or handouts thrown out someone’s back door.

MassWildlife biologists will visit historic feeding sites from January 8 – 26. Because these locations can change over the course of five years, public input is needed. If you know of a spot where waterfowl are being fed, please let us know by phone at 508-389-6321 or by e-mail at h.heusmann@state.ma.us. Please include the town and specific location where you’ve seen waterfowl being fed this January. If you are able, please also include the number of ducks and/or geese (preferably by species) that you see at a feeding site at one time. We are especially interested in detailed reports from Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

Mallards are by far the most common duck at feeding sites, but other ducks may be observed as well. American black ducks are common and wood ducks, pintails, gadwalls, American wigeon and hooded mergansers are seen on occasion. Canada geese are common at many feeding sites.

MassWildlife’s survey started 45 years ago and documented the increase of mallards at feeding sites reaching peak numbers of over 20,000 mallards at 218 sites during the 1993 survey and declining thereafter. This decline can be attributed to more Canada geese utilizing the sites resulting in many areas being posted as “No Feeding” because of the mess geese made. The last survey showed that the number of mallards was down to 9,700 at 139 sites along with nearly 1,600 geese (down from over 5,300 geese recorded during the 1998 survey).

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