Correspondence between Tom & James Foote of the BLM

In January, Tom filled in a form on the BLM website asking why all the trails in Palm Desert were now off-limits to off-leash dogs.  This is the correspondence that resulted.

Date:  1/11/12
From:  Jim Foote, Manager of Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, BLM
Dear Mr. Rasmussen,

Dogs are allowed on leash between Homme-Adams and Cahuilla Hills Parks utilizing the Homestead, Hopalong Cassidy, and Gabby Hayes Trails. The kiosk maps at the trailheads depict the trails and trail segments where dogs on leash are allowed.

The upper reaches of the Homestead Trail, and the segment of the Hopalong Cassidy Trail between the Homestead and Gabby Hayes Trails are located on public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Except where dogs are specifically prohibited to protect Peninsular Ranges bighorn sheep, which is the majority of BLM-administered lands in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, dogs are required to be on leash. This restriction was established July 28, 2005, upon publication of a notice in the Federal Register (Vol. 70, No. 144, pages 43712-43713).

The lower reaches of the Homestead Trail and the entire Gabby Hayes Trail occur on lands owned by the City of Palm Desert. In July 2010 pursuant to action taken by the City Council, certain ordinances were revised to align with trail management provisions of the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan. Title 11 (Parks), Chapter 11.01 (General Provisions), Section 11.01.120 (Duty to care for animals), states: “Dogs or cats must be led by a cord or chain not more than six feet long or properly confined within the interior of a vehicle,” with exceptions as described in the ordinance. The leash requirement is permanent, not seasonal. I have attached a copy of the applicable City ordinances and invite you to contact the City should you have questions about them.

If you have additional questions about the management of BLM lands in the National Monument, I would be glad to answer them.

Thank you.

Jim Foote, Monument Manager
Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
1201 Bird Center Drive
Palm Springs, CA 92262
(760) 833-7136
Fax (760) 833-7199
Cell (760) 861-5771

Date:  1/12/12
From:  Tom Rasmussen
Thank you.  My specific question is why did the posted policy drastically change over the past months.   The kiosk maps were changed from showing trails that were “off leash” to now they are all “on leash only”.  It is virtually impossible to walk on those relatively steep and narrow trails with a larger dog on leash.   Hundreds of local people take their dogs on these trails every day, in order to exercise themselves and their pet.   They keep the trails clean and they do not bother anyone, including any sheep.     My question is why did this all change, if the restrictions go back to 2005?     Is there someone we can talk to about being reasonable on the subject?     Is there a “season” when the BLM views the bighorn issue as less important.   Is there anything that can be done to accommodate the dog owners?

Tom Rasmussen

Date:  1/13/12
From:  Jim Foote, Manager of Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, BLM
Dear Mr. Rasmussen,
Thank you for your response.

You questioned why the leash policy drastically changed over recent months, particularly if the BLM restrictions go back to 2005. Sometimes it takes a while for on-the-ground posting of information to catch up with changes in management direction, which generally results from the rendering of a new decision. For a variety of reasons, it can take some time for new maps to be printed and installed in kiosks, or for new signs to be produced and installed. Prior to the city’s adoption of an ordinance in 2010 allowing only leashed dogs on city sections of the Homestead and Gabby Hayes Trails, there was a sign located on the Homestead Trail where it transitions from city lands to BLM-managed lands–the sign indicated that dogs must be on a leash beyond that point. While it was in place for quite some time, it ultimately fell victim to vandalism. Nonetheless, the leash requirement for BLM lands has been in effect since 2005, whether the sign was there or not.

Before July 2010, the city allowed dogs to be off-leash up to the city/BLM boundary on the Homestead Trail, as well as on the Gabby Hayes Trail. But managing trails with different rules on different segments is confusing to trail users and invites noncompliance. Once someone starts up a trail with a dog off leash, the likelihood of an individual putting their dog on a leash upon encountering a leash requirement sign is low. Anecdotal evidence suggests that compliance was extremely low.

To facilitate consistent management of trails in this area, the city enacted the leash requirement for the trails emanating from Homme-Adams and Cahuilla Hills Parks upon which dogs are allowed (Homestead and Gabby Hayes Trails, respectively). At the same time, the city maintained the off-leash opportunity on the flat land portion of Homme-Adams Park. This modification to the leash rules created consistency for BLM and city segments of the Homestead-Hopalong Cassidy-Gabby Hayes Trail loop.

In response to your comment about the difficulty in walking larger dogs while on leash, we also had to consider the use of these trails by other users who either choose not to walk their dogs on these trails or do not own dogs. Many dogs do not stay close to their owners when off-leash–I’ve seen this many times. Some dogs will venture off the trail altogether while some remain on the trail. While hiking the Hopalong Cassidy Trail, I once encountered a German Shepard off leash and completely out of sight of its owner who was some distance behind it and around a corner. These kinds of encounters are rather disconcerting, not knowing the temperament of the dog. This is one of the reasons the leash requirement is in place.

You suggest that bighorn sheep are not affected by people and their dogs on trails. I have attached an information sheet (prepared about a year or so ago) describing the impacts of dogs on bighorn sheep–these effects are often not readily apparent.

You suggest that the leash restriction is unreasonable. While you and others may believe this to be the case, it is not a universally held opinion. Other dog walkers as well as many non-dog walkers believe the leash restriction to be reasonable. Certain dog owners keep their dogs leashed for the protection of the dog, whether from terrain-related hazards or poisonous snakes, as well as confrontations with other dogs. And as indicated above, many hikers do not wish to be confronted by dogs that are not under the immediate control of their owners.

In light of the impacts to bighorn sheep from dogs (as substantiated by the scientific community) in conjunction with our legal obligation to provide for the recovery of this endangered population of bighorn sheep, we believe that dog walkers have been reasonably accommodated by allowing leashed dogs on the Homestead Trail, Gabby Hayes Trail , and Hopalong Cassidy Trail segment that connects them.

Please feel free to follow up with additional questions should you have them. I truly appreciate your efforts to understand the situation.

Jim Foote

Date:  1/27/12
From:  Tom Rasmussen
First, thank you sincerely for the thorough response.  Taking the time to explain the background and steps taken by the Monument and other agencies is helpful, and I have shared it with a large group of dog owners and hikers.

As you can well imagine, they are not pleased, and question much of the rational, research, and conclusions.   We all know sheep are regularly seen on golf courses such as PGA West & Silverock, and near Hwy 111 in Rancho Mirage.   They do tend to stand still and are watchful, but obviously have adjusted to people, dogs, golf carts, traffic, etc., and they regularly return.   The Monument includes over a quarter million acres, and it should be shared between the various public and animal interests.   The single trail to the Cross, involving perhaps 80 acres (0.0003% of the Monument) between a dog park and a golf course, was the only remaining trail  for dog owners to get serious exercise.   Your groups decision has taken that away, disappointing a significant segment of the community, including seasonal visitors and tourists.  In many cases you have ruined an important personal activity.  The Homme-Adams park is a valued asset, but it is flat, featureless, and provides little cardiovascular exercise.

I hike to the Cross every other day with my trained and friendly golden retriever.  So do (did) hundreds of dog owners with real personal stories regarding this activity.  For some this is the only outlet to exercise both themselves and their dog.   Over several years, and at least a 100 hikes on the trail, I have never witnessed even a modest problem between a dog and another hiker.   There a dozens of trail options available to non-dog hikers.   There WAS only one remaining for us.   A large percentage of the hikers have dogs, and most other hikers enjoy the dogs, often greeting them by name and petting as they pass.   There is a real camaraderie between dog owners, and certainly a social outlet for dogs.   Bullet, Bronco, Cinder, Charlie, Shadow, Hershey, Pepper, Nellie, Cowboy, Dublin, Riley, Ranger, Lulu….., meet every day on the trail and around the watering stops to visit, sniff, and socialize.  That’s just the dogs.   Larry, Paul, Kathy, Tom, Jeff, Tracy, Stacy, Bill, Chuck, Nancy, Allison, Charleen, Aletha, …… are there too.

It is important for those responsible for these decisions to know they have a very real, dramatic, and substantial impact on many people and dogs lives.  We are not suggesting the decisions were made lightly, but rather from narrow viewpoints, limited onsite research, and little thought towards the impact on a microcosm of the desert community.    It certainly appears you took the easy route; “if some places are leash only now, why not make everything leash only and eliminate confusion”.    It also eliminated an important activity from many peoples lives!   As information, leashes are hazardous on the narrow trails, particularly walking downhill and with larger dogs.

We would of course like to see the entire trail from Homme-Adams park to the Cross reopened to off leash.   Some would be pleased just to see the trail to Engstrom Point Palapa opened up so they can get a little exercise, view the valley, and not be trapped on the flat land.

We deserve your reconsideration to open ONE trail for our enjoyment.

Attached are just three pages of over 100 signatures to this letter, clearly indicating the level of interest.   I would be happy to arrange a meeting some morning around 9:00 at Homme-Adams Park to review and discuss our request.  I’ll bring coffee…

Tom Rasmussen & Many others………..

Date:  2/8/12
From:  Jim Foote

Dear Mr. Rasmussen,

Thank you for your response of January 27th. I apologize for not getting back to you sooner.

I appreciate your offer to arrange a meeting at Homme-Adams Park (and especially offering to bring coffee—it’s a part of my everyday morning routine). I would like to take advantage of this offer, but first need to follow through on a few items so I can accurately reflect upon recent discussions and courses of action being considered among various agencies. In other words, the issues you raise have been on our front burners and garnered considerable attention. These issues, just so we have a common understanding, are (1) the prohibition of dogs on the segment of the Hopalong Cassidy Trail that provides access to the cross, and (2) the leash requirement for dogs on the trails where they are allowed. At this time, it’s inappropriate to publically address internal discussions that have been occurring with respect to these matters.

I anticipate being in a position to meet with you and other hikers no sooner than about four weeks from now. This will give me sufficient opportunity to work through various aspects of the issues we’re addressing while concurrently dealing with the many other aspects of my job, such as preparing for public scoping meetings regarding BLM’s proposed land exchange with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (which should occur during the first full week in March), continuing to address various lawsuit matters, preparing for our annual Wildflower Festival on March 3rd, and so on.

Would a meeting during the week of March 12th be too late? If you identify a date that works for you during that week, I’ll commit to it. And just to be clear, we will not discuss controversies surrounding the closed segment of the Bump and Grind Trail as it is a matter for the California Department of Fish and Game to resolve. Issues pertaining to dogs on the trail to the cross and leashed dogs is fundamentally a matter for BLM and the City of Palm Desert.

I look forward to hearing from you.  Thank you.

Jim Foote

Date:  2/9/12
From:  Tom Rasmussen
Thanks again for responding and considering our request.  I was at Homme-Adams this morning and talked to at least a dozen dog owners/hikers.    They are please to have a response and suggest meeting Wednesday March 14th at about 8:30 or 9:00 AM if that time and date are feasible.   My understanding is there is some kind of planned dog event on the prior Tuesday.

We would plan to have you meet some of the folks and dogs, then separate from the dogs for a discussion with owners/hikers.   As mentioned we will have coffee at the lower Palapa and could talk there.  Following a discussion we might walk the short distance up to the second Palapa at Engstrom Point with a few of the folks who gather there each morning.    You could get a feel for how the dogs interact, walk with their owners, etc.   We will try to keep a lid on this thing, and we will manage the meeting, but it will attract many interested dog owners.

Let me know if the 14th works.

Sincerely,
Tom Rasmussen

To which Jim Foote agreed.  So we are meeting on 3/14 at 9 am!

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