As the partial government shutdown enters its third week, Glacier National Park has been going to the dogs — literally. Some visitors have been ignoring longstanding rules on walking dogs in the Park.
The Hungry Horse News has seen numerous people walking dogs in the Park since the shutdown. One party recently had six dogs total — three weren’t even on leashes.
Nearly all of Glacier’s trails are closed to dogs, leashed or not, all year long. Closed roads are considered trails in the winter months and they, too, are closed to dogs. Trails and roads closed to dogs are clearly marked.
The dog regulations have been on the books for decades to protect both wildlife and the public. Glacier has a host of predators in the park, including mountain lions, wolves and bears.
While most bears are hibernating, lion and wolf attacks are not unwarranted.
In 2011, at a private residence in the Park, a lion attacked a small dog at a home on the shores of Lake McDonald. The owner of the dog was able to chase the lion away before it killed the dog. In 2015, a park ranger shot and killed a lion that got into a fight with a dog in the Park employee housing compound. Also in 2015, park rangers shot a black bear that killed and ate a shih-tzu at another private residence in the Park.
In recent weeks, wolf tracks and mountain lion tracks have been commonly seen by the Hungry Horse News in the West Glacier and Apgar areas — the same places people have been walking their dogs.
Dogs can also disturb sensitive wildlife and bird species — Glacier is a sanctuary and protected area for a host of rare creatures. Under park regulations, humans are required to keep a minimum distance of 25 yards away from most wildlife and 100 yards from wolves and bears.
Despite the government shutdown, park rangers have been on patrol everyday, though they’re not being paid. Most of Glacier’s roads have closed for the winter. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is open to Lake McDonald Lodge. The Camas Road closed Jan. 1. Glacier has continued to plow and sand the Sun Road to the lodge.
The road to the visitor center is gated and the center is closed. The only open toilets are pit toilets at the Apgar picnic area, the horse corral at the Quarter Circle Bridge Road and at the Lake McDonald Lodge gate.
Montana Sen. Steve Daines, noting issues surrounding Yellowstone National Park during the shutdown, wrote a letter on Jan. 5 urging acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhart to release funding for parks as it’s becoming an emergency situation to keep facilities cleaned, maintained and patrolled.
Bernhart on Monday issued a directive to allow parks like Glacier and Yellowstone to use entrance fee monies to pay for services like plowing and law enforcement during the shutdown, so paychecks for rangers who have been working with no pay should be forthcoming.
In Yellowstone, concessionaires like Xanterra Parks and Resorts and others that rely on the park being open in the winter, have provided funds to the Park Service for maintenance and to plow roads.
Locally, the Glacier National Park Conservancy has offered support to Glacier if it needs it, but to date, the Park hasn’t requested any emergency funding, Executive Director Doug Mitchell said Monday. The Conservancy stands willing to help if need be, Mitchell noted. The non-profit arm of the Park funds a host of projects in Glacier annually totaling more than $2 million.
Perhaps most notably in winter, the Conservancy provides funds that allow schools to take field trips in Glacier, but with the government shutdown, no staff to lead those trips is available. Also, free Park Service-led snowshoe tours were supposed to start this weekend.
The Park Service also canceled a planned meeting on the Sperry Chalet in Kalispell due to the shutdown.
At the Forest Service, law enforcement is still working and timber sale contracts that were let before the shutdown are continuing, Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber said. The Forest Service is also still running its cabin rental program, as it utilizes funds outside of the scope of the shutdown order.