CASPER, Wyo. — The Murie Audubon Society plans to add interpretive signage and offer educational opportunities for kids at the wetland complex near the North Platter River once a fencing project meant to keep dogs from disturbing marsh birds is complete.
The Casper City Council authorized fencing of a small section of the off-leash dog park Morad Park on Tuesday, September 7. The fencing project will close off 1.6 acres of the nearly 50-acre Morad Park. Fencing will also be installed on Wyoming Game and Fish–owned property as well as Murie Audubon Society–owned land.
Murie Audubon Society Board member and Audubon Rockies Community Science Coordinator Zach Hutchinson told the city council that the project will create an approximately nine-acre area that will be accessible to people for educational opportunities. The fencing project will not entirely close off the wetlands, but will leave the wetlands accessible on the west side, the side opposite the off-leash dog area.
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Hutchinson said that interpretive signage that will be added to the wetlands will include some information about how wetlands impact drinking water quality. He noted that some of the wetlands in the area were created to deal with drainage associated with the construction of the west-side Walmart.
Game and Fish Casper Region Habitat and Access Supervisor Matt Pollock said that the Casper Regional leadership team approves of the project.
Pollock said that fencing is something he is generally opposed to as it can create some obstacles for wildlife, but that in this case he thinks the value of protecting nesting bird habitat from the disturbance of dogs means the benefits outweigh the downsides.
He said that the fencing will consist of sheep fence on the bottom with smooth wire on the top. No barbwire fence will be installed and Game and Fish will also remove some barbwire fence on its property that was there before the department acquired the land.
The fence that will be installed will still allow deer to jump over, though Pollock said it would be restrictive to antelope. However, he said that he has never observed antelope in the area.
The fence will also allow birds to pass through. While some dogs could theoretically jump the fence, Pollock said the fence should keep most dogs out.
Since the Murie Audubon Society says it wants to install the fence because of dogs disturbing wildlife, Council member Kyle Gamroth asked whether there is a specific study that demonstrates the impact dogs are having at the wetlands complex.
Hutchinson said that no specific study has been done for this particular wetland complex but that a range of peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated that dogs have impacts on nesting wetland birds at other wetland areas.
Citizen Lauri Gobble said she had concerns that the fencing project would block access to the river on the west end of Morad Park where an animal trail allows passage without having to trek through mucky marsh areas. She said it could also block off a shaded area.
However, Hutchinson said that the fencing would not block off the shaded area she was referring to and that a dry path of access to the river would still be available. She said that while the maps of the project provided to the city may make it appear like that access would be cut off, this is because the maps are low resolution and looking at the specific GPS coordinates of the planned fence line shows that the area Gobble is concerned about would not be cut off.
Gamroth offered to meet Gobble, who frequents Morad Park, at the park for a walk-and-talk sometime to discuss the off-leash dog park. Gobble said that she thinks Morad Park is one of the best off-leash dog parks that exists. While it is smaller than some other quality off-leash dog parks in other cities, Gobble said the river access makes the park outstanding.
She said that she would like to see some fencing added at Morad to prevent dogs from running onto Wyoming Boulevard. That’s not on the side where the Murie Audubon fencing project will occur.
Scout Troop 1035 member Wyatt Warner, who is seeking the rank of Eagle Scout, will lead the fencing project with the help of fellow troop members and volunteers.