County Laws Require Leashes in National Forests When it comes to dogs and leashes on National Forest land, county laws trump National Forest Service regulations every time.
National Forest regulations do permit dogs to run off-leash in remote areas and on trails...if the dogs are not menacing other animals or hikers. But if local county ordinances say dogs have to be on leashes, then those dogs absolutely must be on leashes.
The Michial Emery Trailhead here in High Desert is a case in point. The trailhead is owned by High Desert and is open to the public. At the trailhead parking lot within the fence, dog owners are subject to Albuquerque city ordinances that require dogs be on leashes at all times.
When hikers (and their dogs) leave the trailhead and walk east, they remain on High Desert property and within the city limits, subject to city ordinances that require leashes for all pets with no exceptions until they reach the gate and fence line that marks the city limit and the start of federal land. (See map below.)
At that boundary, a hiker will cross onto Cibola National Forest property. If any part of Cibola National Forest is located within a county that allows unleashed pets (and Cibola National Forest stretches into parts of Oklahoma) then owners can pocket their leashes and the dogs can run free.
But not here in Bernalillo County. Bernalillo County Ordinance Sec. 6-45(c) states that every person must keep their animals on their own premises, or on a leash not more than six feet long. Hikers and their dogs will have to trek many miles over the crest of the Sandias and down the other side before leaving Bernalillo County. Remote area or not, dogs must be leashed, according to Bernalillo County ordinances and Sandia Ranger District officials.
Why all the concern? There has been some recent confusion regarding the legality of dogs being allowed to run without a leash on or off the trails at the Emery Trailhead and the adjacent Cibola National Forest.
Recently a woman and her three leashed dogs had an encounter with three unleashed dogs and their owner near the Michial Emery Trailhead. A scuffle among the animals ensued, followed by a spirited exchange between the owners. Was a leash required or not? After all, the unleashed dogs had been running on Cibola National Forest land. A handmade paper sign at the Trailhead bulletin board indicated that unleashed dogs were permitted on National Forest land. However, that sign was not posted by forest rangers and was subsequently removed.
There isn’t any gray area, say rangers at the Sandia Ranger District. If you have a dog on Forest Service property, and if that land is located within Bernalillo County, clip your pet to a leash.