A series of proposed changes to the "green tag" off-leash dog program for Boulder's open space areas moved forward Wednesday night.
The city's Open Space Board of Trustees met for the fourth time this year to discuss changes to the popular program in which Boulder's "dog guardians" can let their furry companions roam 144 miles -- about 60 percent -- of city trails without a leash as long as they stay in sight and obey their owner's voice commands.
Despite many comments from residents against the proposals, the board generally approved of them while making some specific amendments. One change would lower the number of convictions for dog-related offenses that would prompt the revocation of off-leash privileges from three to two.
Under the proposed new rules, one conviction for an aggressive animal or failure to protect wildlife would result in the loss of privileges, but two convictions for lesser charges -- including walking on a closed trail or failure to pick up dog poop -- could also lead to revocation.
Trustee Tom Isaacson suggested that rule be looked at again so that some lesser charges do not count against off-leash privileges.
Others supported the two-strike rule, noting that the likelihood of being caught for such offenses in open space is slim as it is.
"It gets their attention," Trustee Frances Hartogh said. "It makes them invest time, which is the most valuable commodity we have and may reduce those violations."
The board went through each of city staff's eight proposed changes to the program individually Wednesday, with each trustee discussing whether or not they supported the proposals as well as ways they could be amended. The board's discussion stretched until 11:20 p.m.
The green tag program was launched in 2006 and has not been changed significantly since, according to open space officials. The program issued 32,000 licenses in its first six years.
Open space officials began tinkering with changes to the tag program early this year, with board meetings in January, March and July as well as a pair of community open houses.
Staff members began evaluating ways to "enhance" the program in part because monitoring on the trails showed that compliance with the requirements was lower than standards set out in the city's visitor master plan. The City Council and Open Space Board members also asked the staff to look into ways to improve the program.
"It is possible to be a dog lover and see there are major compliance problems with the program," said Hartogh, who noted she has had problems with dogs chasing wildlife and acting aggressively on trails near her home. "I think we all bemoaned the way compliance went down a couple years after the program went into effect."
Monitoring showed that only about half of trail visitors with dogs could demonstrate that their dog would come immediately when called -- a requirement of the program. Monitoring further showed no decrease in the incidence of dog-related conflicts on trails since the program was instituted, according to a city staff memo.
Proposed changes include a requirement that participants and their dogs attend an information session, though a controversial requirement that the dogs must complete a skills test suggested earlier this year was dropped.
Other proposed rules include an increase in the fines for dogs found without tags on open space, starting at $100 on first offense.
The rules staff proposed Wednesday would also change the fees for tags to $15 for city residents, $20 for county residents and $30 for people from outside Boulder County. There would be required re-registration fees of $10, $15 or $20, each year under the new rules.
Program participants would also be charged $5 for an additional tag for another dog, as well as $5 for a different person from their household taking part in the program under the proposed changes, city staff said. The idea behind charging for additional people is that the new rules are meant to ramp up compliance with program standards, according to city staff, something that will require open space rangers to keep track of individual's records when it comes to dog-related offenses that might affect their eligibility for tags.
Board members on Wednesday grappled with the proposed fee changes, with a few trustees noting that the administrative cost of charging city residents a renewal fee might end up costing the city more than it would make from the program.
City Environmental Planner Stephen Armstead noted that even with increased fees, considering the educational and outreach programs that are being proposed as part of the changes, the tag program is not expected to pay for itself.
The 5-member board agreed to change the language of the staff recommendation to reflect that a new fee structure would be set up for the tag program, and the fee for non-city residents would be "significantly higher" than what locals will be asked to pay, but chose not to specify fee amounts in the updated rules.
Several members of the Boulder-based group Friends Interested in Dogs and Open Space, or FIDOS, were at the meeting. They draped dog leashes around their necks.
Many FIDOS representatives and other dog lovers opposed to the proposals questioned the validity of the city's research into the program and whether there is a real issue with dogs on trails at all.
"I think this study vastly underestimates the ability of people to control dogs off leash," Boulder resident Micheal Katz said.
Katz said his golden retriever has the equivalent of a doctoral degree from the Humane Society and understands his nuanced commands. Just because the dog does not come the first time it is called, Katz said, does not mean it is not listening. When he is using inflection to show he is serious, his dog will come.
Lori Fuller, a FIDOS board member, spoke out strongly against the proposal that the city require dog compliance testing for people whose tags have been revoked and are seeking to re-enter the program.
"FIDOS is very against dog testing," Fuller said. "Frankly, we don't feel the city staff has the skills or the objectivity to pull that off."
While a vast majority of those who commented at the meeting opposed increased restrictions on the tag program, there were some who spoke in favor of the restrictions and even the prospect of banning dogs from city open space.
Boulder resident Susan Douglass said the city's open space and mountain parks are becoming one large dog park.
"Thank you for your efforts that will lessen canine impacts in the future," she said. "Direct experiences with the land are essential."
The board will take part in a joint study session with the City Council on Nov. 13 but will likely make recommendations about tag program enhancements to council members before that.
City officials do not plan to implement any changes to the program before 2014.