Dog days are over at South Shore
Dog Beach will be dog-free this summer.
For years, regulations have existed prohibiting dogs at the U.S. Forest Service’s Visitors Center Beach. However, the rules haven’t been enforced in recent years, and many now refer to it as Dog Beach.
The Forest Service now wants to enforce the rules.
“We’ve just been getting so many complaints from the general public. They see the signs saying ‘No dogs on the beach,’ and they go down and there are dogs everywhere,” said Mike St. Michel, visitors center director for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
Earlier in the 1990s, when the Lake Tahoe Basin was victim to years of drought, there were vast areas of beaches where residents and visitors walked their dogs. Then the Forest Service had no problems, St. Michel said. There was little need to enforce the rules.
In recent years, however, the lake level has been high. Beaches have shrunken or disappeared. Dogs have increased at the Visitors Center Beach, making it necessary to start enforcing the existing ordinance.
The Visitors Center area, located near Taylor Creek, welcomes 350,000 to 400,000 visitors from Memorial Day to October. With that many people, St. Michel said, numerous beach visitors are bothered by barking dogs, running dogs, fighting dogs and dog excrement on the sand. Dogs can disturb a nearby wildlife sanctuary, too.
“It’s going to upset some dog owners, but I think in the long run more people will come,” St. Michel said.
On the Rainbow Trail and other hiking areas near the beach, dogs are permitted. They have to be on leashes, which is an El Dorado County law. Leashed dogs also are allowed from Kiva Point to Valhalla, commonly called Kiva Beach. Dog owners can unleash their dogs and allow them to run in the water. Once they get out, owners must leash them up again.
Kiva Beach, however, isn’t much of a beach any more because of the lake’s high level.
Bill Johnson, law enforcement officer for the Forest Service, said officials have frequented the beach this spring, issuing warnings and citations to visitors with dogs. So far, the Forest Service has only issued citations for not having dogs on leashes. Enforcing the ordinance – which warrants a steeper fine – likely will start in June. Right now the focus is on informing visitors.
“We’ll start enforcing the closure probably the end of this month,” Johnson said. “We’re still enforcing it now, but we’ll start giving citations.”
The minimum fine for having unleashed dogs is $35, Johnson said. The minimum fine for having dogs in the closed area is $50; the minimum fine for dogs disturbing wildlife is $270.
Johnson said that Forest Service rules don’t allow dogs on beaches that are designated as swimming areas, which include Baldwin and Pope beaches, Camp Richardson and Meeks Bay. In designated recreation areas on Forest Service land, such as campgrounds or picnic areas, leashed dogs are allowed.
On part of Nevada Beach, leashed dogs are permitted, Johnson said. There is a beach north of Baldwin where dogs are allowed, but people need a boat to get there.
“It basically comes down to, if it’s a congested area, you can’t let your dog run amok,” Johnson said.
The closure is in effect from March 15 through Oct. 1. Dogs are allowed at the Visitors Center Beach in the off-season. Still, complying with El Dorado County law, they must be leashed.
Outside of Forest Service property, leashes are not required in Douglas County. However, there is an “at-large” law requiring dogs to be near their owners at all times.
“You have to have enough voice control over your dog to keep it at your side at all times,” said Janet Risko, Douglas County animal control officer. “If you don’t have enough control over your dog, then it should be on a leash.”
State Parks in Nevada does not allow dogs at Sand Harbor. At Hidden Beach south of Incline Village, dogs are permitted by the parks department.
California State Parks does not allow dogs on its beaches, which include Emerald Bay, Sugar Pine Point and D.L. Bliss state parks.
“People lose sight of the fact that dogs are domesticated predators,” said Ken Featherstone, State Parks ranger. “Not only do they make a mess when they poop near the water, but they also impact the wildlife.”
Like the Forest Service, deterring dog owners is a major concern for State Parks, too.
“That’s our biggest problem, believe it or not,” Featherstone said. “Everyone just wants a place to run their dogs. It makes for hard (public relations). We try to explain to them the rationale and the reason behind it, but some people don’t want to understand.”
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