A forest is more than its trees: Plea from park advocates

February 6, 2014 at 3:42 pm | In How to help, West Seattle news, West Seattle parks | 43 Comments

A plea for support – or, a change of habits, if you are part of the problem – from Denise Dahn and Trileigh Tucker, who co-chair the Alliance for Seattle Park Nature:

Help! Schmitz Preserve is in trouble.

This rare old-growth remnant forest has become the go-to place for people who let their dogs run loose through the forest understory. The forest floor is being stripped bare throughout and it’s getting worse by the day. The forest floor is a delicate and essential part of the habitat — it cannot withstand this type of mis-use. Recently, 1500 new plants were planted and a large section of the forest was fenced off to prevent them from being trampled, but still the problem grows. Please help by writing the City Council, the Mayor, the Parks Department, or your local community association and ask them to do something to help preserve the Preserve.

Thank you,
Alliance for Seattle Park Nature

Read about Schmitz Preserve Park history by going here.

43 Comments

  1. I’m tellin’ ya, Animal Control could make a killing coming to this park and some of our local grass parks around. More than make up the officer’s salaries.

    Comment by jimmy — 3:50 pm February 6, 2014 #

  2. Its the ” doesnt apply to me” attitude thats rampent around here.

    Comment by sophista-tiki — 4:07 pm February 6, 2014 #

  3. “How dare you tell me to control my dog!”

    ~ every person who is part of the problem

    Comment by Gordon — 4:11 pm February 6, 2014 #

  4. Maybe the park should be closed to all foot traffic for a year or two, to allow some new growth to start and flourish.

    Comment by ScubaFrog — 4:19 pm February 6, 2014 #

  5. West Seattle REALLY needs another dog park. Not an excuse, but it would help these situations.

    Comment by Person — 4:23 pm February 6, 2014 #

  6. Sorry, our dogs are sacred.
    They are as gods and go where they will.

    I can’t be bothered with attempts to change my behavior.
    The dog god has me in it’s power.

    Comment by old timer — 4:42 pm February 6, 2014 #

  7. Schmitz Park has everything a secret dog park needs: Seclusion from nosey neighbors, squirrels, unwatched entrances/exits, and plenty of room for off-lease exercise. And pooping without scooping I am willing to bet.

    Comment by JayDee — 4:44 pm February 6, 2014 #

  8. amen, jimmy.

    just about any park in seattle could generate some serious $$ by simply having the laws enforced….

    .
    I love animals, but the borderline belligerent dog owners need to be aware of their selfishness. they seem to think that they or their pet are not only above reproach, but cause no harm and are being picked on. its gotten very old.

    Comment by flimflam — 4:44 pm February 6, 2014 #

  9. We’ve never let our dog run off a leash except in our fenced (no way out) backyard. We love her, she’s part of the family, & we would never take even the slightest risk of an injury or losing her … not to mention a possible dog fight with a dog off a leash.

    Speaking of dogs off a leash, from my observations over the years I’ve seldom seen owners pick up after their loose dogs … easier to look the other way & then call fido when he’s done.

    Comment by drahcir61 — 4:48 pm February 6, 2014 #

  10. Same problem exists at Fauntleroy Park. Sadly a lot of the offenders with their dogs off leash are those that live nearby. They love the natural break the park offers, yet don’t respect the delicacy of the natural environment. We live nearby but stopped using the park b/c off leash dogs kept coming up to ours (who were on leash and on the trail) with no owner in sight. Please be better neighbors and be more respectful of our delicate environment. We owe it to our planet to be better human beings.

    Comment by Res — 5:34 pm February 6, 2014 #

  11. I rarely see a dog on a leash in Schmitz Park. My guesstimate is that 90% of visitors allow their dogs to roam unleashed. I hate sign pollution, but perhaps a few more strategically placed signs that highlight the reasons for keeping dogs on a leash would help at least reduce the percentage to 60/40 or even 50/50. It would also lend support to people who might be inclined to remind dog owners about the park rules and reason for them.

    Comment by onion — 5:47 pm February 6, 2014 #

  12. Oh my god. What is wrong with you people. Its ferns and undergrowth. Is this really a thing? The type of stuff you are whining about grows back in a year. Let it go. Christ.

    Comment by A. — 5:55 pm February 6, 2014 #

  13. no way man. I train my dog to not destroy underbrush. he is the best.

    …end sarcasm…

    Comment by smokeycretin9 — 5:59 pm February 6, 2014 #

  14. I hope the scary looking people [not dogs] that I saw a few years ago at that park are not still hanging around there but they were pretty messy. As for the [act like they own everything]kind of dog walker, [ticket - community service - park clean up and restoration crew] sounds good.

    Comment by cj — 6:08 pm February 6, 2014 #

  15. I agree West Seattle needs another dog park. But I don’t understand the reluctance on the part of some to use the one we’ve already got, which is right down the street from me. I’ve heard some complain it’s too far away. Too far? It’s four miles from the Junction! In what universe is that far?

    Comment by datamuse — 6:12 pm February 6, 2014 #

  16. As the Alliance advised, let’s take action. Here’s some contact info. And let’s be sure to tactfully request a real response, not some boilerplate.
    For the mayor: http://www.seattle.gov/mayor/contact-the-mayor
    You might also suggest that the mayor hire a permanent superintendent for parks and recreation, rather than the acting superintendent (and, I believe, a former supporter of the Go Ape zipline – ugh!) Christopher Williams.

    For city council:
    council@seattle.gov

    •Parks, Seattle Center, Libraries and Gender Pay Equity Committee

    Chair: Jean Godden
    Vice-Chair: Bruce A. Harrell
    Member: Tom Rasmussen
    Alternate: Kshama Sawant

    For the Park Commissioners, a volunteer advisory board:
    rachel.acosta@seattle.gov
    For the parks dept. requests and feedback:
    PKS_Info@seattle.gov
    For parks dept. administration, here’s a list. Only the higher-ups include email addresses. Strange in this day of e-communication!
    http://www.seattle.gov/parks/administration.htm

    Oh, and the city utilities is looking for “tree ambassadors”: http://atyourservice.seattle.gov/2014/02/06/tree-ambassadors-wanted/

    Comment by Jeannie — 6:16 pm February 6, 2014 #

  17. Why not get the volunteer group who regularly meets and does volunteer work in Schmitz Park as well as neighborhood groups both Genesee and Alki and create sandwhich boards cautioning folks about the problem put the signs on entrances to the park aswell as within I have sandwich boards and may know a sign painter who would be happy to do them. Interest?

    Comment by NW — 6:22 pm February 6, 2014 #

  18. A.- If the undergrowth was gonna grow back in a year, why didn’t it? It is clear from the pix that seven years elapsed, yet nothing grew back.
    -

    People will walk on the path, but a four-legged dog has no problem with the side-slope and would “naturally” want to smell the undergrowth. Enough dogs and then voila, no undergrowth except that just beyond the current path.
    -
    Perhaps you have a blind spot and should volunteer to help with the replanting committee. I think you would agree this is a “thing” then.

    Comment by JayDee — 7:23 pm February 6, 2014 #

  19. Thanks to those whose stewardship of this ecosystem brings the matter to our attention.
    The best suggestions for dealing with problem have already been stated earlier: laws exist regarding off-leash pets and picking up after them—enforce them, enforce them, enforce them!
    The fines are hefty, and I’d think enough so that repeat offenders would rapidly dissipate.
    As a law-abiding dog owner, I’m dismayed by the number of other dog owners who routinely flout the law(s) in their self-entitled, arrogant ways, the few spoiling it for the many.

    Comment by pupsarebest — 7:30 pm February 6, 2014 #

  20. I live near a park with an off leash area. I call it Kickapoo Park. I stopped walking my dog there because I got tired of dodging land mines and keeping my dogs nose out of that stuff.

    Comment by howdy — 7:43 pm February 6, 2014 #

  21. Hello,
    I’m Denise from the Alliance for Seattle Park Nature- those are my photos and post from our Facebook page. (please visit and Like!). Jeannie, thanks for the links! It would really help if people wrote in and made their views known. NW, I’m a professional interpretive sign designer, and I’ve offered to donate my services for some signage to help educate people about forest ecology in the park. I’ve contacted the Parks Dept and the Friends Group, but have not heard back yet. Some encouragement from you all would help a lot, just to get some momentum going. I really think that if people understood what we stand to lose, they would realize that action is needed. West Seattle is going to be getting a huge influx of residents soon, and if people think that Schmitz Park is the place to let your dog run, the problem is going to escalate rapidly. Finally, dog-owners…it isn’t personal. Most of your dogs are fine and do no damage – there are only a few really destructive ones. But, when those people see you with your dog off-leash, they think it is OK for them too. Please help the forest by leashing, and staying on the trail. We all stand to benefit by making sure the forest stays intact for future generations. Thank you!

    Comment by Denise — 7:57 pm February 6, 2014 #

  22. I think it would be interesting to see the two photos actually taken from the same spot

    Comment by PDieter — 8:21 pm February 6, 2014 #

  23. Where is the evidence that this erosion is caused by dogs?

    Just because you see people with unleashed dogs does not equate to the reason for the erosion. I thought Seattle was an educated city.

    Comment by Brian — 8:49 pm February 6, 2014 #

  24. 1) the pictures are not from the same location. The 2006 photo is taken from 10-15 yards away from where the current photo is taken.
    .
    2) Is the park needing proper maintenance of trails, yes. Is it getting that from the parks dept., no.
    .
    3) Why do you think dogs are the issue, they are hardly the issue. I’ve never seen a dog loose that has actually deviated from the path, it’s actually abnormal for a dog to decide to run down the slope that steep. I have seen kids and parents do it.
    .
    4) The main cause of trail destruction is excessive use and lack of maintenance which when heavy rain comes in it washes away sections of the trail along the slope side since there is a lack of adequate vegetation to hold the ground. No plants = nature taking course and slides happen. This happens in the back country too, I’ve been 40 miles from the trail head in the Okanogan back country and come to a section of trail that has disappeared due to heavy rain or a new stream has shown up and washed it away, it’s not uncommon.
    .
    5) We have a trailhead that is preceded by pavement above, that’s excessive water runoff when rains are heavy, guess where it goes?
    .
    6) As much as I love Schmitz, it’s not it’s original habitat state. If you think massive metal pipes to divert water are normally buried in forests, wow. We don’t even have a true old growth tree left there. I say stop complaining about dogs and look at the humans that have destroyed it. You want the trail to not wash away, you need to put in proper vegetation and setup to prevent it. That will mean more pipes to divert water, more unnatural looking logs and railroad ties to help hold the path together.

    Comment by Mike — 9:20 pm February 6, 2014 #

  25. I agree, PDieter. You cannot see the the spot that is bare now. It could very well be just as bare in 2006, but hidden by the ferns in the foreground.

    That being said, I do not like dogs running around tearing stuff up. Dogs should be leashed unless they are in a designated area.

    Comment by VBD — 9:23 pm February 6, 2014 #

  26. @Mike, great points, I have to agree with you.

    Comment by Katy — 10:24 pm February 6, 2014 #

  27. I’m not really seeing any clear A to B dog connection in these photos. How do you know its not from increased non-porous surfaces (cement) causing more rain runoff and leading to more erosion or from more human use? One can clearly see a difference in parallax between the two trees in each image, which indicates that the first image was taken closer to the ferns and thus makes them look closer to the trail. There’s also a bending of light that occurs when images frame the same region but are taken from different distances with different amounts of zoom (e.g. expansion and retraction) that seems to be affecting the objectivity of the images. What is the exact location?

    Comment by R2D2 — 10:40 pm February 6, 2014 #

  28. To the comments who don’t think loosing a few plants is all that big of a deal. These plants are what hold the soils in place, filter the water that runs off our lawns before entering streams, and provides vital habitat to other flora and fauna that was here way before any of us stepped foot in the Puget Sound region.

    Schmitz Park is a gift, while not in it’s original state, it still reminds all of us about what this place use to be like and that we can all respectfully use it and help keep it maintained, even when parks can not. Parks are the first thing cut from budgets, Politicians don’t win an election because they build parks, but our community wins if we take ownership of them.

    I’m sure you enjoy the clean air and relatively clean water in our area, those plants help to make the difference in that quality. Sure, it’s not much, but it’s a start and more than most communities have.

    Last, and certainly not least, it’s not the dogs that are the problem, its their owners.

    Comment by TLB — 11:03 pm February 6, 2014 #

  29. I blame the coyotes..

    Comment by Seahawk Momma — 6:47 am February 7, 2014 #

  30. As much as I despise leash-law villains, I see at least as much evidence of humans wrecking Schmitz Park as dogs.
    .
    People ride through on trail bikes, leave beer cans and graffiti, and obviously bushwhack their way up and down steep, fragile areas while drunk in the park.
    .
    I would like to see the city fence of the entire park and close all of the “unofficial” entrances, where criminals come in at night to do their illegal drinking and bushwhacking

    Comment by JoAnne — 7:59 am February 7, 2014 #

  31. It is hard to show the extent of this damage in photos. I have hundreds of photos of the park over the last ten+ years, plus a lot of video too, so I’ll try putting together some more together if that will help convince the skeptics.

    Better yet, go to the park and see for yourself. Visit often, and note the changes over time. Look closely at the forest floor. See bare spots? The vast majority of those are caused by feet and paws…the forest floor was mostly carpeted with (largely) native forest plants until fairly recently. Notice where the trampled-trails go. Many of them (including the location of the photos) have visible toenail markings – these are not caused by people or water. Many go under or between brush, places where people don’t go – at least until a path has been cleared for them. This is how user-trails work. Animals first, people second, increasing in size and number over time.

    This spring, notice where the green plants come up — and where they don’t.

    If you still don’t believe, talk to the Parks Dept, or the volunteers who spend huge amounts of their time and plenty of our money restoring these places. They’ve seen firsthand the damage, and are understandably frustrated.

    People also need to stay on the trail, and that should be part of all of our efforts to preserve the preserve. But, the immediate problem is the few careless people who are letting their dogs race through the underbrush- because their feet quickly tear things up. Would they let their dogs run through their own gardens like that?

    Thanks to everyone for their considered attention!

    Comment by Denise — 9:09 am February 7, 2014 #

  32. Well put, TLB.

    .

    Mike

    Comment by miws — 9:11 am February 7, 2014 #

  33. I love Schmidt Park, and walk there often. And I’m certainly aware of and applaud the replanting efforts noted above. While the photo is representative of one defoliated area, I think the biggest restoration efforts incurred in the area adjacent to the creek on the frontage trail upstream of the “rock steps” crossing. I have no problem with people requesting (dog) rules be followed, but it seems somewhat myopic to assign blame solely on our four legged friends. In passing these areas often, during and after restoration efforts, I can honestly say that I’ve seen far more people (kids, youth, and adults) tromping around in those sensitive, restored (and sometimes “closed”) areas than I have dogs. Keep out should mean keep out, and not be selective to one species.

    Comment by Jon — 10:56 am February 7, 2014 #

  34. I agree, why is it always the dogs that get blamed? Humans can be MORE destructive than a dog, what if that area of denuded underbrush is because a homeless person regularly sets up campt there at the end of the day? There is a serious coyote problem in West Seattle that no one seems to care about or blame, ugh frustrated sometimes

    Comment by Greystreet — 11:40 am February 7, 2014 #

  35. The way the trails are constructed is the issue, not the dogs. While you may see evidence of paw prints, animals tend to have low to no impact on the plants as they step around over them. People on the other hand will plow through everything. The trails are improperly designed from a sustainability standpoint in that they don’t shed water well–either channeling to one location or holding it. There’s a lot of organic material on and in the trail tread and this material when wet leads people to create companion trails to circumvent the trouble spot(s). This is how the understory gets destroyed. Focus on fixing the trails as Mike points out rather than a perceived evil that is an offleash dog.

    Comment by Dawson — 12:33 pm February 7, 2014 #

  36. Who would like to help restore and maintain the trails in the park? Give me a call..

    Chukundi Salisbury
    206.684.4122
    trails@seattle.gov

    Comment by Chukundi Salisbury — 1:10 pm February 7, 2014 #

  37. You want to do something in your own neighborhood or backyard which can have an effect on Schmitz Park aswell as the many forested areas of West Seattle and beyond cut down those holly bushes or trees in your yard and the volunteer holly around your neighborhood and within your garden non-native species wreck havoc on our forests.

    Comment by NW — 5:22 pm February 7, 2014 #

  38. Yes, off leash dogs do cause damage. Allowing dogs to roam, and defecate without cleanup is irresponsible. There also wildlife that can be affected.
    Even if one doesn’t agree, best all ’round if laws are followed…keep your dog on a leash. It’s really okay to ask those who are breaking the law to please keep dogs on a leash, or report to the Animal shelter.

    Comment by M. — 5:42 pm February 7, 2014 #

  39. Denise, have you compared the nail marks to coyotes or raccoons? I hear coyotes in Schmitz at night and I have our friendly (not really) raccoons visit my yard nightly. I’ll gladly ask if they’ve left some nail marks in the park, although they typically just hiss at me and give me dirty looks when I throw sticks and stuff at them.
    .
    M, I totally agree with you that dogs should be leashed in areas they are (by law) required to be leashed. I actually have a dog and she’s always leashed when out and about unless in designated areas that she’s legally allowed to go of leash. Mostly because I don’t trust her to not run out in the road and although she’s friendly, some people just don’t want a muddy dog approaching them.
    .
    Great resource full of info on what actually happens to trails, why and how to fix/prevent issues http://www.wta.org/volunteer/volunteering/trail-maintenance-tool-and-technique-resources

    Comment by Mike — 10:10 pm February 7, 2014 #

  40. Oh for heavens sake. Why do humans think they have more right to roam the woods than a dog who is descended from wolves? When was the last time you saw wolves (and dogs as direct ancestors) ruining the ecosystem? Rambunctious children run down hillsides, frighten other animals, destroy plants (hey, lets make swords from these branches) and
    cause noise pollution much morev than a four foreclosed animal who naturally adapted to live in
    this environment. I don’t believe for one minute that dogs caused this damage but humans did just as we have ruined so many places on this earth

    Comment by Linda — 12:00 am February 8, 2014 #

  41. I completely agree with Linda. While I understand and respect that there can be many causes of the environmental damage to the parks, I highly doubt that it is the ‘wild running’ dogs that are solely responsible for the erosion and lack of undergrowth.

    Dogs (and their ancestors) are a natural part of the forest ecosystem, much more so than us, invasive, humans. Perhaps we should put all humans on a leash?

    Comment by Anon — 10:47 pm February 8, 2014 #

  42. Here’s a thought: instead of being passive-aggressive and complaining online, why not address the issues of loose dogs when you see them? Perhaps let them know where the dog park is where they can let their dogs off leash to their hearts content. Also, please call them out if they aren’t picking up after their pets.

    Comment by Jamma — 9:11 am February 9, 2014 #

  43. Here’s a thought: instead of being passive-aggressive and complaining online, why not address the issues of loose dogs when you see them?
    .
    Been there, done that. Response usually involves profanity.
    .
    Go ahead and try it yourself, you’ll see what I mean.

    Comment by datamuse — 9:20 pm February 19, 2014 #

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