Skiers and snowboarders willing to hike for their turns at Whitefish Mountain Resort (WMR) have been enjoying a banner post-lift season, complete with crowd-free slopes, still-accumulating snowpack and a locals-only ambiance.
The springtime schussers have also been bringing their dogs to the mountain en masse, a tradition that’s longstanding with backcountry skiers—but totally taboo at resorts. And that’s where the law comes in.
Despite the fact that nearly all of WMR’s 3,000 ski-able acres are located on the publicly owned Flathead National Forest (FNF)—and even though national forests typically allow dogs to run free—skiers are going to have to keep their pets leashed, says Becky Smith-Powell, recreation resource assistant for the FNF.
“People tend to congregate up there, and when they bring lots of dogs and let them run loose, it’s trouble. One lady got nipped,” Smith-Powell says. “We might have 30 people up there with 50 dogs.”
Complaints from hikers and a “very unhappy” representative from the resort led to a “no loose dogs” rule in 2005, and Forest Service law enforcement officers hung signs last week reminding visitors that dogs must be leashed at all times.
While this sort of restriction is rare, it’s not unheard of. The FNF strictly enforces a leash law in the Jewel Basin Hiking Area, and the Lolo National Forest requires leashes on a popular stretch of the Rattlesnake Recreation Area near Missoula.
Smith-Powell points out that leashes are also required in developed campgrounds, as well as on WMR’s private property.
Crackdowns on free-roving dogs are taking place in a variety of non-wilderness areas as well, including in Missoula, where the Parks and Recreation department has announced an “enforcement blitz” on leash and pet waste laws April 28 to May 4. The city dog population could be as high as 35,000, parks officials say, or about one canine for every two people, and leash laws and “pick up the poop” laws help protect the environment and public health and safety. Violators can face fines of up to $500.
Back at WMR, skiers or hikers with dogs off-leash risk fines as high as $5,000. “But we don’t want to do that,” says Smith-Powell, herself an owner of four canines. “We just want people to be responsible, to step up to the plate and take care of their dogs themselves.”