City commission protests barbed-seed plants in Berkeley’s dog park

Alvin Wu/Staff

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After last week’s meeting, the Animal Care Commission submitted a letter Friday to the City Council stating its grievances regarding foxtails at Cesar Chavez Park.

Amid dog owners’ concerns about the grasslike weed with barbed seed heads, the letter requested that the council mow the foxtail grasses in the 17-acre off-leash dog roaming area at Cesar Chavez Park on a frequent schedule to maintain the safety of park visitors and their dogs.

Some of the 15 Berkeley residents and dog owners who attended the meeting Wednesday urged the commission to pressure City Council to mow the plants that are known to endanger dogs with infection, organ damage and even death.

According to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, the letter from the commission will be published in the agenda for the council’s July 8 meeting, though the council will not be able to take action on the communication items.

The issue stems back as far as 1997, when the city hired an environmental consultant to do a biological assessment of the environmental impacts that an off-leash area could pose for the park. The result: Mowing of the entire off-leash area should be prohibited, and the mowing of only two acres in May and August of each year should be allowed.

“The city has designated these 17 acres as an off-leash area and has signs directing people to the area,” said Anne Wagley, a former chair of the commission, in an email. “Leaving most of the designated area unmowed and covered in foxtails is like leaving rusty nails sticking out of a children’s play structure in a City park.”

The city follows the recommendations from the biological assessment that state foxtails provide vegetation cover for some wildlife, such as some bird species and gophers, and should thus have restrictions on how much they are mowed.

Claudia Kawczynska, editor-in-chief of the Bark magazine and former city waterfront commissioner, who was present at the meeting, has been a long-time supporter of community efforts to mow the area and called the matter an “emergency.” One of her dogs was recently injured by foxtails, and the surgery costs are estimated to be about $3,300.

Mowing foxtails before they have seeded can prevent them from spreading, Kawczynska noted. She added that the city tends to mow foxtails for popular events — including the kite festival and Fourth of July celebrations — often after the foxtails have already seeded.

“It doesn’t make humane sense,” Kawczynska said regarding the city’s management of the issue. “It doesn’t make sense to the 40 percent of the Berkeley people who have dogs.”

Contact Jean Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @missjeanlee.