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Coils of barbed wire removed from the Valley Floor fence lines lies along the bike path. The removal of barbed wire is spelled out in the Valley Floor management plan. Monday, the Open Space Commission directed town staff to removed any remaining sheep fencing and replace it with single strand wire. (Photo by Suzanne Cheavens/Telluride Daily Planet)

In response to increased complaints about dogs encroaching on off-limits portions of the Valley Floor, members of the Open Space Commission discussed tactics for addressing the issue at its Monday meeting.

The Valley Floor’s management plan allows for dogs on Boomerang Road and on the River Trail on town property and U.S. Forest Service land from Mahoney Drive to about a mile west of Boomerang Road. Dogs need not be leashed, but must be under voice command.

Telluride’s project manager Lance McDonald prefaced the discussion by telling commission members that some dog owners are willfully ignoring posted signs.

“My guess is that most people know the rules,” he said. “Most violators are locals.”

Jessie Rae Arguelles, Telluride Town Council’s representative to the commission, expressed concern about the notion of potentially letting dogs onto the acreage, which is home to elk, waterfowl and numerous other species, and is protected by a conservation easement and accompanying management plan.

“I’m concerned we’re even entertaining the idea of letting dogs on the Valley Floor,” she said. “People don’t even pick up poop.”

There was general agreement from other members of the commission.

“We should be careful about opening up the Valley Floor to dogs,” said commissioner member Robin Hope. “It’s not a good fit.”

The San Miguel Conservation Foundation’s Chris Hazen also weighed in.

“It’s hard to see how dogs on the Valley Floor will not impact conservation values,” he said. “(Any change in current policy) cannot be based on a few people’s desires and emotional needs.”

Commission member Jerry Greene said he felt little need for the discussion at all, but to simply direct town staff to ramp up enforcement.

“I see no reason to open this can of dog food,” Greene said.

McDonald, who has been on the receiving end of the uptick in complaints from the public, reminded the commission that the discussion was not to consider changing the existing policy, but to brainstorm ways to increase education and enforcement in order to curtail the presence of dogs on land that has been protected by a conservation easement. Commission chair Angela Dye noted that was a relief to the commission’s members.

“The Open Space Commission has no appetite for changing the policy,” she said.

Now focused on enforcement, commission members expressed a need for more stringent patrol from the Telluride Marshal’s Department code enforcement team, but also wanted to ramp up educational opportunities for dog owners.

“Let’s improve the info on existing signage,” said member Nancy Craft. “I’m for better education before increased enforcement.”

But the commission’s Jonathan Greenspan honed in on enforcement, or lack thereof, from the marshal’s department.

“I used to see code enforcement out there (on bikes), but I haven’t seen them out there in years,” Greenspan said. “There is zero presence from the marshal’s department. The only way to get people to respect it is if a couple of big tickets come down.”

Arguelles agreed.

“It’s enforcement we need,” she said.

San Miguel Board of County Commissioners Chair Hilary Cooper said dog complaints have been ratcheting up in other parts of the area where dogs are not permitted.

“The county is getting complaints about dogs in the Keystone Gorge and Lawson Hill,” she told the commission.

The commission ultimately recommended that town staff look into the potential hire of new enforcement position, paid for by funds from open space coffers, as well as posting the marshal’s department phone number on new signage, and preparing an informational guide for dog owners registering their dogs in Telluride.

The commission then turned toward the issue of fencing on the Valley Floor, an agenda item precipitated by a letter accompanied by photographs, from Soleil and Ramona Gaylord.

“This fencing acts like a deadly snare for ungulates across the Western landscape, and much of the remaining fence on the Valley Floor is composed of this type of wildlife-ensnaring fencing,” the Gaylords wrote. “We are writing to ask that remnants of this fence be removed from the Valley Floor, in particular the sheep fence.”

The photos were of an elk carcass with its rear legs entangled in sheep fencing on the south part of the Valley Floor in the Mill Creek drainage. Sheep, or pig, fencing is low wire fencing in a series of squares.

McDonald explained that per the Valley Floor management plan barbed wire is being removed, leaving what he referred to as “pig wire.” Fencing deemed historic will remain. Entire lengths of fencing have been removed on the west end of the Valley Floor along the north side and, in total, McDonald said that to facilitate movement of the elk herd, there are 37 breaks in the north side fencing, which runs from the Pearl property, all the way out to the Society Turn roundabout.

Hazen praised the town’s efforts in removing some of the fencing, but acknowledged that some fencing is a “necessary evil.” He cited examples of tourists crossing fencing to get closer to the elk herd and some members of the commission noted that defining the acreage’s boundaries had some value.

The Gaylord’s letter offered suggestions based on Colorado Parks & Wildlife findings.

“While the best fence for wildlife is no fence at all, fences are sometimes necessary,” they wrote. “However, in Telluride’s case we can find no reason to justify their existence. If the justification for fences is to demarcate a boundary, a line of trees, shrubs and other vegetation can be used to mark a boundary, screen for privacy, beautify the landscape, and provide additional food and cover for wildlife. The areas that wildlife choose as travel corridors are often the same places that you would want to preserve in a natural state to retain both the scenic amenities and aesthetic value of the property. Marking property boundaries with signs, flexible fiberglass or plastic boundary posts, or fence posts spaced at intervals without cross-wires could also be considered.”

The commission directed McDonald to remove any remaining sheep fencing and replace it with loosely strung, single strand smooth wires.