In an effort to reduce the number of encounters that hikers and bicyclists on the Colorado Trail have with sheep guard dogs, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has created an online map showing where encounters could occur.
“There were two or three incidents in August involving guard dogs and people on the Colorado Trail,” said Shannon Borders, a spokeswoman in the BLM’s Tres Rios field office in Dolores.
The downloadable map also has information on trail etiquette when it comes to encounters with sheep guard dogs. Further information is available at the Silverton Public Lands Center, 1428 Greene St.
Borders didn’t have details because the incidents occurred on land overseen by the U.S. Forest Service.
One incident was the subject of an Aug. 22 letter to the editor in The Durango Herald. Dave and Michele Harris of Durango wrote about being on the Colorado Trail above Maggie’s Gulch when a lone woman hiker came up to them in tears.
“She told us that 10 minutes earlier, three herding dogs attacked her and she sustained puncture wounds,” the Harrises wrote. “In between sobs, the visibly shaken woman explained she had hiked the Colorado Trail from Denver over the past month. Although she encountered bears, moose and lightning, nothing was remotely as frightening as the dog attack that she sustained in our own backyard.”
Similar incidents two years ago prompted a public forum at the La Plata County Fairgrounds that included hikers, sheep ranchers, Forest Service rangers and Bureau of Land Management personnel.
Borders said about 10 sheep owners hold permits to graze sheep on national lands in the region.
“If you meet an aggressive sheep dog, it’s important to remain calm,” Borders said. “Stand still and speak in a firm voice. Say ‘Go back’ or ‘Go back to the sheep.’”
Bicycle riders should dismount and keep the bike between them and the dog, Borders said. Then they can walk the bike well beyond the sheep.
Hikers with dogs should keep them on a leash, Borders said.
Guard dogs usually run the perimeter of a grazing flock, Borders said. The shepherd is around but may not be within earshot of a confrontation with trail users, she said.
The BLM also is working with grazing permittees to provide herders with global positioning devices to locate where sheep are on a daily basis. Once the herders start using the devices, the public can access the data on the BLM website.
The project is expected to take effect in spring 2015.
Grazing is scheduled to occur until Sept. 12.