Monday, October 22, 2012

Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to eliminate or restrict horseback riding at the North Track in Laurel

The Fish and Wildlife Surface is seeking public comments on three alternative proposals that will affect riding at North Track for the next fifteen years.  One alternative would eliminate horseback riding at North Track in Laurel (near Fort Meade).  The other would require use of a horse diaper or dismounting and removing manure from the trail.  It also prohibits trotting and cantering.

Fish and Wildlife is seeking public input.  
Two public meetings are scheduled for this Monday and Tuesday.  

TONIGHT, Oct. 22nd @ 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
National Wildlife Visitor Center
10901 Scarlet Tanger Loop 
Laurel, MD 20708
TOMORROW, Oct. 23rd @ 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Chesapeake Bay Field Office
177 Admiral Cochrane Drive
Annapolis, MD 21401
It is important that trail riders attend in numbers to present a unified point of view.  I do not believe that Fish and Wildlife is anti-horse.  I do believe they do not understand the burden of these requirements nor the miniscule benefits to be obtained.

Comments can be sent (until November 26) to:

Bill Perry, Natural Resource Planner
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  |  300 Westgate Center Drive  |  Hadley, MA 0103
(write "Patuxent CCP" in the subject line)
For details on the alternative plans, visit the following links:

Chapter 3 page 97
Appendix C pages 48-56
Here are the comments submitted by MHC:
Bill Perry
Natural Resource Planner
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, MA 01035

Re: Patuxent CCP 

Dear Mr. Perry:
I am the Vice President of the Maryland Horse Council, which is the trade association representing Maryland's equestrian farms, businesses, interest associations and enthusiasts. Together, our membership represents over 30,000 Marylanders, many of whom ride at North Track on the Patuxent Research Refuge.

In the just released draft Patuxent Comprehensive Conservation Plan, FWS makes numerous findings that the North Track trails are well-suited to horseback riding, that the use of the trails by horses has had no significant negative effect and, in fact, advances the purposes and priorities of the Refuge. Yet, inexplicably, the Service recommends new restrictions on horseback riding that are impracticable, potentially unsafe, and will have the effect of severely curtailing the availability of these trails for use by horses.

For example, there is a recommendation that horses should not be permitted to travel faster than a normal walking gait. [App. C, p.55] It is hard to see why such a requirement should be necessary. The trails were originally constructed to support heavy military equipment and there is no documented evidence of erosion or damage from equestrian use. [App. C, pp. 50, 52] There is sufficient viewing distance for riders to detect the approach of other users and accommodate them. [App. C, p. 50] There have been few documented complaints from other members of the public. [App. C, p. 51] There have been no speed restrictions imposed on hikers, bikers or cross- country skiers. It is difficult to understand why horseback riders are being singled out.

Particularly onerous is the requirement horse manure be cleaned up from trails and roads, and packed out. [App, C, p. 55] A requirement that manure be removed from parking lots and the grounds adjacent to the check-in station is reasonable and we would support that. However, the requirement that manure be removed from the trail and packed out is difficult and potentially dangerous. Dismounting on the trail places an undue burden on trail riders, many of whom cannot remount without use of a mounting block. Moreover, horses are much more controllable from the saddle in the event they are startled or spooked. Requiring riders to dismount increases the chance that a horse could get away from a rider and become loose on the trail, while the rider is engaged in collecting and bagging manure and attempting to remount while managing this bag of manure. Furthermore, the requirement may be difficult to enforce as a practical matter. Experienced trail horses often drop manure while walking without any indication to the rider.

Chapter 3 page 97 suggests the use of horse diapers. Although horse diapers are used in urban settings by commercial licensed carriage drivers, they are not generally available to the public at horse tack shops or most online tack suppliers. They are difficult and time consuming to put on and remove. It takes significant time and training for horses to accept a bag suspended beneath their tail. Requiring use of diapers would have the effect of eliminating horseback riding from the refuge.

The Maryland Horse Council strongly urges the FWS to adopt Alternative A, which makes no changes to the current policy for use by horseback riders. As the Service itself points out, horseback riders have been using these trails since 1991 with no ill effect. There is no justification for imposing a more onerous policy now.

Respectfully submitted, 
Jane Seigler
Vice President 

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