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I love bringing my pup, Waffle, to the crag. It’s wonderful sharing my favorite pastime with my favorite four-legged friend—though she does complicate my climbing time. When Waffle is there, I am not only thinking about beta, checking knots, and providing belays, but also keeping her off ropes, out of the way, and as quiet as possible.
There are also environmental considerations. She sometimes gets very excited about digging up roots at the base of climbs and loves to explore off trail, both of which are habits that increase erosion and negatively impact local flora. And then there’s the poop. Like all living creatures, Waffle poops, and as a dog owner and lover of the outdoors it is my responsibility to make sure that all of her poop is properly picked up and packed out of the crag.
I know what some of you are thinking: “But isn’t dog poop natural? Can’t I just leave it outdoors, where it’ll just break down and return to the soil? Maybe even provide fertilizer?” Quite simply, the answer is no. Like human waste, dog poop does not belong in the environment and can cause harm when left outdoors.
A common counterargument is that other animals leave their excrement to decay in the woods. This is true, however not relevant to your pooch’s poop because when a bear, beaver, cougar, or coyote poop outside they are contributing to a closed-loop system where the waste they produce comes from things found in that environment.
“Our dogs likely aren’t eating Oregon-grapes, chokecherry, or other native plants from the ecosystems they leave their waste in, but instead eat nutrient heavy pet-foods designed to give them a complete and healthy diet,” explains an article by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (LNT). “Unfortunately, these same pet foods result in excess nutrients in our outdoor spaces if pet waste isn’t picked up.”
A dog’s bodily functions may be natural, but their poop is in no way natural to the places where we climb. The specific ways that dog poop can harm ecosystems include:
Dog poop creates nutrient imbalances
Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen are great for pups but adding them to ecosystems can cause imbalances and big problems down the line. Too much of these nutrients make it easier for invasive weeds to grow and create the conditions for toxic algae blooms if they seep into water sources.
Dog poop introduces bacteria and parasites
Dog poop is filled with bacteria (up to several million distinct types) and parasites, which can include giardia and tapeworms, according to the Center for Disease Control. Waste left in the outdoors can seep into rivers and streams, depositing dangerous diseases into water systems which may eventually make their way into human homes and bodies.
Dogs poop a lot
Imagine if every dog owner left their dog’s poop at the crag. The shear volume of poop would be disgusting, even if it didn’t cause the negative environmental outcomes outlined above. This is important to remember—your dog is one of thousands of dogs pooping at our crags every day. That shit adds up. To put a number on it, “Dogs in the U.S. produce 10.6 million tons of poop each year,” says LNT.
Now that we’re clear on why dog poop should be packed out of the crag, here’s how to do it. The best method is to bag it as soon as it happens. If you are grossed out by the idea of putting dog poop in your climbing pack, pick a compartment in your bag that is only for poop and other trash—or tie it to the outside of your pack. Another great method is to double bag it in a bigger Ziplock bag.
If you are completely out of bags, you may dig a cathole for your dog’s poop like you might for your own. According to LNT, these holes must be 6-8 inches deep and at least 200 feet from a water source to be effective. This should be reserved as a last resort, because dug holes have their own impact.
A final point to consider: It is much easier to be responsible for your dog’s impact on an ecosystem when they are on a leash. As much as they might love running free, this is also when you’ll miss them leaving a big pile right next to a stream. Plus, a leashed crag dog is easier to handle than one that is wandering around, standing on ropes, and getting into it with other dogs while you’re runout in the middle of a crux move.