DeKALB – DeKalb County Forest Preserve officials are reminding residents to keep their dogs on leashes in area forest preserves during the grassland bird and waterfowl nesting season.
The forest preserve has three off-leash areas for dogs – at Afton Forest Preserve South Prairie, Merritt Prairie and Potawatomi Woods – but from April 1 to July 15, dogs must be leashed in all areas to protect nesting birds.
“Over the years, the amount of dog-walking has increased, so we’ve been getting more complaints and more problems,” said Terry Hannan, DeKalb County Forest Preserve superintendent.
Although Hannan said more people have been bitten in DeKalb County’s forest preserves during the past few years, Greg Maurice, director of health protection at the DeKalb County Health Department, said he hasn’t received many reports. Maurice supervises DeKalb County Animal Control, which documents and follows cases of dog bites.
The health department has written a couple of off-leash tickets to people at the county’s 17 forest preserves during the past few years, but no verified dog bites at county forest preserves have ever come into the health department’s office, Maurice said.
Health department officials patrol forest preserves once or twice a week looking for possible violations, Maurice said. The few citations they’ve written have been for people letting their dogs roam off-leash.
“If they are saying they’ve been bit, they’re not reporting it,” Maurice said. “We don’t have any records of that.”
Letting a dog run off-leash poses a risk for the dog to run into another dog or person they may not get along with, Maurice said.
Off-leash dogs can disrupt birds even without having direct contact, Hannan said. A dog’s scent causes defensive reactions in wildlife, draining the wild animal’s energy and putting it at risk for malnutrition and being attacked by predators.
Afton Forest Preserve has more than 170 species of birds, such as meadowlarks, bobolinks, song sparrows and woodpeckers.
Bald eagles have also been seen in DeKalb County, and the rare grassland short-eared owl was seen in Afton Forest Preserve this spring, Hannan said.
Overall, Hannan wants to make sure all visitors at forest preserves are protected.
“We’re just trying to protect the park visitors and protect wildlife,” he said.