Forsythe Refuge Updating Pet Walking Policy

Nov 21, 2018
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge is currently undergoing review of all uses, as required by the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, and is proposing to continue to allow pet-walking in areas open to the public. Pets are not allowed in Holgate because of its status as a wilderness area, but they are currently allowed, on leash, on the Cedar Bonnet Island trail, as well as at the Forsythe headquarters, in Galloway, and along the deCamp Trail, near Brick.

“Before a refuge can re-authorize a use, it must review its compatibility with refuge resources and management and provide an opportunity for public review of the document,” Refuge Manager Virginia Rettig explained. Although the public comment period for the pet-walking policy has ended, the document is available to peruse on the refuge’s website, People may request a copy via email, at, or by calling the refuge office at 609-652-1665.

Keena Graham, visitor services manager at the refuge, said the comments that have been submitted on the plan will be sent to the regional office for categorization. “For example,” he explained, “if there are many comments that have the same theme, they'll be put together. Those will be sent back to the refuge for review and Virginia will respond to the comments and questions. Once that happens, suggestions will be made for changes and another draft will be crafted.”

As the document states, “One of the priority public uses for national wildlife refuges – wildlife observation – can be enjoyed while walking pets on the refuge. Therefore, through wildlife observation, pet walking indirectly supports goals and objectives described in the refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan. … Because domestic animals can disturb wildlife and generate conflicts with other refuge visitors, pet owners will be required to leash their pets (10-foot or shorter leash) at all times.”

However, as the document also notes, “Holgate Beach is closed to all pets throughout the year due to concerns of impacts to sensitive wildlife and the habitat. When the public takes their pets to the beach, they generally allow them to run free. Shorebirds (especially) are located on Holgate throughout the year and pets would continue to be excluded from the site year-round to minimize harassment.”

According to the Forsythe website, the refuge “protects more than 47,000 acres of southern New Jersey coastal habitat, which is actively managed for migratory birds. … Forsythe is one of more than 555 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The National Wildlife Refuge System is a network of lands and waters managed specifically for the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat and represents the most comprehensive wildlife resource management program in the world.”

Forsythe NWR is open to the public from a half hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset. Pet walking is allowed during these regular refuge hours throughout the year in any areas open to public access and primarily on designated trails. —J.K.-H.

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