High-country encounters prompt public sheep-dog demonstration

Event to take place Tuesday at the fairgrounds

High-country recreationists who want to avoid tense encounters with sheep guard dogs – as has occurred in past summers – can pick up some pointers before flocks return to the mountains next month.

To prevent stressful encounters, the La Plata County Living with Wildlife Advisory Board, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have scheduled two informational events, including a demonstration of a guard dog at work.

The wildlife advisory board will have an information booth at the Durango Farmers Market on Saturday.

Matt Janowiak, the ranger and field manager for the U.S. Forest Service’s Columbine District, will be on hand to answer questions.

On Tuesday, the advisory board and the two federal agencies are sponsoring a free demonstration of how livestock guard dogs work from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the La Plata County Fairgrounds pavilion. Connie Clementson, manager of the BLM Tres Rios field office, will there.

A panel discussion will follow from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Janowiak will be joined by Ted Compton of Trails 2000, who will discuss past encounters of hikers and bikers with sheep guard dogs; Kiley Whited from the BLM Tres Rios field office will talk about the number of grazing permits and where sheep will be this summer in the high country; sheepman Ernie Etchart will discuss how he trains and “socializes” his Turkish sheep dogs and how the dogs view strangers.

Etchart also will have sheep and a guard dog to demonstrate their interaction.

The public is requested not to bring dogs to the sessions.

In past years, bicyclists and hikers have reported threatening run-ins with sheep dogs that zealously look out for their charges.

Ranchers who use guard dogs and federal officials say the dogs, which bond with their flock, are simply doing their job. The dogs may see hikers or fast-moving bikers as a threat.

The dogs that triggered tales of intimidation last summer from users of the Colorado Trail in the Little Molas Lake area were Akbash, a Turkish breed trained for centuries to protect sheep.

No one was bitten last summer.

Maureen Keilty, chairwoman of the wildlife advisory board, said dogs provide a nonlethal method to protect livestock that saves taxpayers money because it’s paid for by the ranchers.

The alternative is to have livestock-killing predators eliminated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. In that case, the hunters’ salaries and expenses are covered by taxpayers.

daler@durangoherald.com

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