People who break rules in Parks, NWRs, etc

Hi all,

This past weekend while at a National Wildlife Refuge, there was a large no pets sign with a dog crossed out. While walking the trail back to my car, I ran into about three dogs and their owners on three separate occasions.

I didn’t say anything to them mainly because I didn’t understand exactly why no dogs were allowed on the trail at the time and thus wasn’t able to formulate something appropriate to say. I researched later the concerns of dog scent, delicate habitats, nesting, waste, etc, which gives me some idea of what to say to these folks in a future time.

When encountering individuals who break the rules at parks, reserves, or otherwise, what do you find yourself saying to them if you feel inclined to do so? Does this help enforce the rules in a reasonable way? Would people be open to changing their behavior after talking or does the place where such behavior originate from prevent the change of the behavior despite “legitimate” concerns? Do you report incidents to local rangers/authorities to talk about issues for the habitat?

Thanks for any input!


If I’d need to do it I would spend the whole day saying people it’s wrong to do some stuff, but will they listen? Sure they won’t. Maybe if it would be something too much I couldn’t stay calm about it. But you won’t run after every man on ATV or motorbike saying “it’s not accepted”. How can you report it to anyone? They guard the unaccesible part, and I only saw them once near where I usually walk, again, because nesting sites are close and they check for hunters probably. I can’t say that they don’t work, but big part of the system doesn’t.


One reason why we don’t want dogs where they are not allowed is because they spread disease to urban caracal. Which is another reason why dog owners need to be responsible for ‘cowpats’ where dog walking IS allowed in Cape Town’s National Park areas.

We were hiking on Signal Hill, on a narrow track barely wide enough for 2 people, when 2 mountain bikers came thundering along behind us. I said not allowed. He blustered yes we are, just not straight up Lion’s Head

As we were at the sign for the intersection, I could show him see the pictures? No bikes! To my amazement he agreed, turned his bike around, and they continued on the tarred road below us.


my experience is that if there’s no fine, confiscation, ejection, or imprisonment associated with the admonishment, saying something to a rule breaker is just wasted breath 50% of the time if you’re officially associated with the park and 90% of the time if you’re not. just for example, a local park that i go to often has a rule that you’re not supposed to run in the park (because it scares and annoys the wildlife). i’ve seen staff flag down runners and ask them to stop, and probably 25% of the time, the runners just keep going and pretend not to notice, and another 25% of the time runners will walk until they get out of range and go right back to running. it doesn’t matter if the staff ask nicely or not. that said, even if most of the people ignore what you have to say, there is the minority who will listen.

once i went on a night hike at a local park, and i saw a truck pulled up on the trail past where cars are allowed, and i heard a chainsaw going and children running around the truck. i thought someone was trying to harvest a Christmas tree. so i went over to stop it. it turned out to be a guy trying to take logs from some felled trees that had been temporarily gathered in a spot en route to a compost operation further down the path. i shined my light on the guy and told him that he shouldn’t be operating a chainsaw in the dark and that the trees weren’t for the public to harvest. he gathered his kids and went away. would i have confronted a guy with a chainsaw at night if i hadn’t seen he had his kids there? probably not. later that night, i saw a police car parked at the trailhead and mentioned the earlier situation to the officer. she indicated to me that she probably would not have stopped the guy. she said if the park folks wanted to stop people from harvesting the wood, they should have put a fence around it…


We have a lagoon and beach where dotterel nest, and it is clearly marked no dogs or vehicles during nesting season. There are three types of people that take dogs into the area during nesting season… Those that aren’t aware of either the rule or the seriousness of it (they will change behaviour if challenged)… Those that just don’t care about the rules (it would take a negative consequence to change their behaviour)… And then there is the local “doggy daycare” that take several dogs there daily to let them run around and exercise, despite being challenged, and I believe they are in the process of being dealt with in the courts.


I think that whether you say something or not depends in large part on how you are feeling that particular day. Sometimes I say something, and sometimes I don’t.

I think it is important to be friendly, to avoid “talking down” to people, and always to assume good faith.

You may want to start by saying, “You may not know this, but such and such is not allowed here, in order to protect the wildlife.” It might help if you could add that there is another place (mention the name) not far away, where you can …"

I feel that now I am over 70 it is part of my job on Planet Earth to kindly and nicely point out to people when they are doing something unwise in public like this.


I suppose this isn’t wildlife related, but last time I was at Joshua Tree NP I saw a group of people literally climbing and standing on top of centuries-old petroglyphs to get their photos taken and I haven’t had the chance to rant about it yet.

I am usually too shy to say anything when I notice stuff like that, partly because it could just be a mistake/accident. Although I was definitely laughing when I saw people walking dogs into a canyon in Death Valley five minutes after I had passed a park ranger coming the other way - I’m sure that was a fun encounter for them.


I’ve been wondering if more informative signage might help discourage unwanted behavior such as bringing dogs on the trail. For example, when I was a teenager I would bring my dog to a beach at a wildlife refuge where dogs are not allowed. I did it because I liked that beach the best and I wanted to bring my dog to enjoy it. I figured it was “probably fine” and didn’t really believe signs were there for any reason beyond bureaucracy or ridiculous hypervigilance. In general I don’t think people tend to follow rules that tell them they can’t do something they enjoy doing without understanding why.

Now, however, I would never do it because I prioritize the protection of wildlife over my own ability to bring a dog on specific trails (there are plenty others that allow dogs!) and because I understand the possible consequences that dogs might have on wildlife at least somewhat better. I like to believe (maybe I’m wrong) that if someone had told me back then all of the ways that bringing a dog harms the wildlife I would have stopped immediately. Some of the ways that dogs interfere with wild animals, especially nesting birds, aren’t intuitive but have made me say “oh, that’s a great point”.

Has anyone seen implementation of signage that explains why dogs aren’t allowed in protected areas? And if so, did you notice a change in behavior at sites where these signs were placed? To use my favorite local refuge as an example, I was imagining something that incorporates this information into a friendly, attention-grabbing and easy-to-read infographic. Maybe I’m too optimistic?


The issue of dogs in urban settings with local city or county parks is a complicated issue. There are several “open spaces” designated as “nature preserves” (No dogs allowed; no bikes) and they are situated right next to or adjacent to - areas that are zones for dogs (dogs allowed) - and the signage is confusing (see images below). I think clear signage (that is - explicit language and symbology) helps, along with the reasons (clearly stated) for protected habitat does help - at least for 80% of the visitors.

I have approached people with dogs (off and on leash) in the protected areas and with diplomacy and care and I have mentioned to them that this area is protected and no dogs are allowed and usually 3 things happen: 1) A reply of ignorance and “did not know that”; 2) A response of “I do not care, I can go where I want.”; and 3) no response at all - just utter silence. My enjoyment of walking and to observe animals and plants (and post observations) gets tangled up with me wearing another “hat” as citizen enforcement agent - which I would rather not play that role…but I have to do something to serve as steward for land that is protected - by law.

It is my sense and thinking…that confrontation and on-the-spot lectures (complete with powerpoint slides on my iPhone) does not work…there is for some people, a sense of entitlement and privilege. I try my best to indicate that bike riders and dog owners have their areas and spaces to enjoy, and that these areas are for nature and visitors (no dogs/bikes)…but protected habitat seems to be vulnerable to a “tragedy of the commons” effect.


The number of people breaking rules has seemed to be on the increase. I saw a guy with a dog off leash on a beach where no dogs are allowed and he was throwing a ball that was landing at times in the tide pool area. The dog was trampling over any number of animals there. Anyway, I find that the more people there are who break rules, the more others feel entitled to do so also. I occasionally say something to people but in general I find that most people do not change their behavior. And at times, they can actually threaten you for calling them out. I wish there was more enforcement but I don’t think there are enough people to enforce the rules and they too can’t keep up with the rule breakers.


I’m curious about the pros and cons of documenting on iNaturalist–for example, here: I don’t know whether or not there are legal or ethical considerations that would apply–just throwing it out there.

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Here’s an example of a sign explaining why dogs are not allowed in a Nature Conservancy of Canada property.

It’s the only such signage I’ve seen anywhere. I wish signage at other places actually explained the negative effects of the presence of dogs, and especially of off-leash dogs - it might influence at least a small percentage of dog owners.


Too much text though, most people aren’t going to read that. Probably better to develop a sign with some clear images illustrating the impacts of dogs with short bits of text explaining them.

I must say, I don’t think I’ve EVER been to a nature area where dogs were prohibited or had to be kept on a leash where I did not encounter at least one dog running around off the leash.


I agree, if people don’t want to listen to you tell them why they shouldn’t bring their dog they are unlikely to stop and read a wall of text about it. I think key points would need to be summarized into short phrases that are put into an eye-catching format with pictures and have the most important ideas in BIG RED TEXT that you end up reading without even trying, like this one.


I teach both Leave No Trace and Tread Lighty. We as a group constantly are working on this trying to see it work.
Generally, it does work with receptive people who really are interested in the outdoors and are willing to learn. Maybe 1 in 50 people.

Here is the link:


I think the difference between not listening to me or you telling them to follow the rules is along the lines of “what the hell do you know, and my dog isn’t doing any harm anyway (or so I’d like to believe), so I’ll do whatever I want”, whereas at least one sign in an area with an actual, informative accounting of the potential damage is educational and serves to bolster both the efforts of actual bylaw officers or wardens and of concerned nonofficials.

I think the same applies to other types of environmental law-breaking that are becoming more and more prevalent in parks, e.g. tearing up natural outcrops to stack rocks (but it’s oh-so “spiritual” to do so!) and build useless cairns and fake inukshuks everywhere. It used to be that material that explained both the points of interest and the rules was given out at national park entrances… but that’s a thing of the past in this area. With not enough wardens/bylaw officers to make a meaningful difference, this information about why these laws exist and what they intend to protect still needs to be disseminated somehow. An explanatory sign with meaningful information positioned at a trailhead would be one way.

Such information changes the narrative from one of “you people (that want to restrict my ability to let my dog be present or to run wild) just hate dogs!” or “you just don’t want anyone to have any fun (by tearing up outcrops)!”, to a defensible statement about conservation.


Thank you to everyone who contributed. It is helpful to see the values that others point out, how others care and what their actual experiences are like involving these situations. Perhaps some ideas will come out of this down the road.

I contacted the office that takes care of the habitat, I mentioned to see what additionally could be done, if anything comes out of that, I will share my results.


I find when in uniform its much easier to explain rules and why they matter than when Im not. Both in and out of uniform I take the “you must have missed the sign” type approach, even though I often see them stand in front of the sign and pause for a while before deciding to go ahead.

When in uniform, I get all sorts of excuses like

Its a small dog
Its a good dog
Its a older dog
Its never attacked anything before
Its on a leash
Its just one dog
Its too hot to leave it in the car
I came all this way I have to take my dog
I pay taxes I can do anything

Most people respond well, but offer some “excuse” usually the I didnt see the signs one (there is more than one). Out of uniform, sometimes the listen, but often they just blow me off.

About better signage, the main issues are people don’t read signs, and often when they do they will rationalise in thier minds why the sign dosent apply to them (often with one of the replies above). Or that they are entitled to make thier own rules for what ever reason. Possibly maximum and minimum penalties on signs could help (Like here " You can be fined up to $10,000 and be sentenced to a year in prison if you allow a dog to enter a national park or other controlled area where dogs are banned from entry." ) Spot fines and rangers empowered to give them could also curb. But for now the public generally knows they will get away with a warning.

I find the majority of Park goers are law abiding, and just there for positive experiences, and respond well to the education based approach. For those who arent or dont, signs are unlikely to help much.

If people are confident explaining rules to others I support it, and I see it often. But I wouldnt encourage anyone to risk personal harm over doing so.


Honestly, I am too scared of humans to say anything.


Some dog owners missed their puppy training classes. It’s not the dog’s fault.

We had a recent nasty incident with a mountain biker who swept past the entrance gate at Silvermine (Table Mountain National Park) without paying. Why didn’t he stop and pay, like other people do? So much venom on social media against the park rangers doing their job. So much justification for the celebrity cyclist who has since lawyered up.

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