The Airing of Grievances
by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator
I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. I hope you enjoy!
Seinfeld was and continues to be one of the greatest comedies to be broadcast on TV. One of the iconic episodes features a made-up holiday called “Festivus.” The main attribute for Festivus was the airing of grievances in which you told others how they disappointed you this year. In the spirit of Festivus, this Nine Minute Naturalist will feature my grievance toward a subset of hikers, those that leave their bag of dog poop on the side of the trail.
The commonly observed Leave No Trace hiker ethic is to take out whatever you bring into the woods. This applies to trash or in this case your dog’s poop. The primary reason to pick up domestic animal poop is to keep it out of the way of other trail hikers. Nobody likes stepping in a new pile of dog poo as soon as you enter the woods. Another reason the process of bagging your dog’s poop started was to decrease the contaminants introduced to the ecosystem. Whether that is bacteria contaminating water sources or worms (hookworm, roundworm, whipworm) being spread to other dogs, trail side poop from domestic dogs is less than ideal. Bagging your dog’s poop and taking to your car and disposing it in many of our easily found dumpsters at Wintergreen is a fine ethic to continue. If you are one of the many who has forgotten where you left your trailside baggy or left a bag and decided to go back to your vehicle on another trail, this airing of grievance is directed at you!
The time has come to analyze the idea of plastic doggy bags. The idea of carrying plastic doggy bags, full of your dog’s most recent offering, across miles of terrain may just be a flawed idea. Let us begin with the idea that dog waste in the Wintergreen environment is detrimental. Wintergreen is by no means a sacred, undefiled ecosystem. We have large houses and condos scattered across thousands of acres with miles of sewers and a scattering of septic tanks. Our environment is already bombarded by wild animal scat and the occasional sewer or septic issues throughout our community. On top of our waste occasionally finding its way into the ecosystem, every home with a dog is introducing excrement to their local environment. The façade that dog waste will cause a drastic affect to our ecosystem seems a bit flawed. This takes the call for plastic doggy bags from an environmental answer to a social solution. Your dog’s poop on a trail at Wintergreen worsens the experience for every hiker in the same way a brightly colored bag of dog waste does.
I suggest a new mantra on how to handle dog waste on the Wintergreen trails. Dogs seem the most eager to deposit their waste shortly after entering the woods. By decree, every dog owner should bag and transport the bag of waste to their car when within 200 yards of the trail head. If you are within two football fields of your car, the poop is taken out of the woods. As you travel further into the back country, the decree changes. By decree, every dog owner should nudge, flick, shovel or somehow move the dog poop off the trail when over 200 yards from the car. Consider hiking with a plastic hand shovel instead of plastic bags. Best practices once 200 yards from the trailhead should be to bury the poop 6 inches into the soil and cover the hole with leaves. Leave no trace can be accomplished with a bit of proper effort and planning. I as arbiter of this grievance have spoken.
Grievances of all shapes and sizes are coming this Festivus season. I have no ability to solve family squabbles or disputes with loved ones. We as a community do have the ability to end the nuisance that is a plastic bag full of poop laid aside our precious trails. I have decreed it. Let it be so.