The Stevensville Ranger District is advising hikers with dogs to keep their pets leashed when hiking the Kootenai Creek trail west of Stevensville. Or better yet, keep the dogs away altogether. Four dogs are believed to have been poisoned, possibly on the trail or at the trailhead. All four dogs died.
According to Stevensville District Ranger Jeanne Higgins, a Forest Service employee discovered a note at the trailhead Sept. 6 stating that dogs were being poisoned somewhere in the area and warning hikers to keep their dogs on a leash. Shortly thereafter a Stevensville-area veterinarian called the ranger district to report that four dogs had died, probably from ingesting some kind of poison.
Higgins says no one is sure where, precisely, the dogs were when they were poisoned. “We don’t know if it was on national forest or on private land.” The Forest Service has not received any reports of dead wildlife on the Kootenai Creek trail, nor any reports of poisoned pets anywhere else on the Bitterroot National Forest.
“The big thing is whether we can find the source of the material,” says Higgins. “Until we can find the source, it’s difficult to speculate.”
One possible culprit that can likely be ruled out is herbicide. Three years ago the Forest Service adopted a more aggressive approach to eliminating weeds from the national forest by hand-spraying herbicide at trailheads and up the trails into the forest as far as weeds could be detected. Frank Guzman, the Bitterroot National Forest’s range management specialist, has been heading the project. This year, he says, the contract herbicide applicator did spray the Kootenai Creek trail area, but only minimally. The applicator began spraying Tordon in mid-June, though Guzman says it would have dissipated by now.
“We sprayed up there in (June), very, very little because there’s not that much weeds anymore,” says Guzman. “The plants have already taken it in by now.”
Dr. Helen Myers is one of about 25 vets staffing an American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals poison hotline in Urbana, Ill. She’s taken two calls about the Kootenai Creek poisonings in the past few days, one from the local vet and another from one of the owners of the poisoned dogs. She says the poison can’t be known unless the vomitus is analyzed by a toxicology lab. But she’s suspicious that it may be a deliberate act because the Forest Service doesn’t bait predators here, and because herbicides tend to dissipate quickly. “It’s got to be something pretty potent,” Myers says. “It sounds almost malicious.” Myers warned hikers to take their dog to a vet immediately if they notice the dog vomiting or acting intoxicated. The ASPCA hotline is 1-800-548-2423.