On May 30th, the District of Saanich announced its new People, Pets and Parks Strategy was headed into its last phase of public engagement.
The goal of the new strategy is to protect certain native species in delicate habitats by specifying some parks as leash-optional and making others on-leash parks. In doing this, the strategy was aiming to accommodate every kind of park-user, dog or no dog.
Prior to this Strategy, bylaws allow for animals to be off-leash in any park, provided they are being controlled by their owners. Although convenient for dog owners, this has been detrimental to several at-risk ecosystems within Saanich.
Since the announcement, many dog-owning residents of Saanich have become livid with the district over how much is being taken away from them.
Happy Dogs in Saanich Parks is an Facebook advocacy group whose aim is to ensure Saanich makes evidence-based decisions regarding who uses its parks, when they use them, why they’re used and how. They have been the main players in the backlash against the district’s decisions following the announcement.
The District of Saanich has 171 parks with nearly 820 hectares of land and are in the process of designating 57 of those parks as potentially accommodating leash-optional/under control areas either with no-fencing, full-fencing or trails.
The concerned dog owners are saying that 30 to 45% of Saanich residents visit these parks with their dogs; however, the district is offering to still allow dogs off leash in some capacity in 33% of their parks.
The district is also considering 12 of those 57 parks to be fully and completely off leash with no holds barred — including Cordova Bay Beach.
Beaches are especially risky for dogs to be at because many are used by malting sea lions who are frequently disturbed by off-leash dogs.
“Saanich parks are for everyone,” said Kelsie McLeod, a spokesperson for the District of Saanich.
“The goal of the People, Pets and Parks Strategy is to help achieve a balanced approach for sharing Saanich’s 171 parks, but we know there are varying perspectives in the community.”
Saanich hired Lees and Associates as a consultant who aided them in a massive 16-month community engagement which only ended this past Sunday. McLeod says they used the information and the parks at their disposal to find a way to appease all residents’ needs as well as the needs of the at-risk ecosystems of endangered native species.
“We are also aware that some misinformation has been circulating in the community about this initiative and we encourage those who might be seeking more information to visit our website,” McLeod told Victoria Buzz.
More information on the People, Pets and Parks Strategy feedback Saanich received can be found online.
The District of Saanich council will be going over the summary of community feedback and the final strategy on June 26th.