Editor’s Note: In this new monthly outdoors advice column, our newsroom mascot, Ranger Rialto, will find answers to any of your outdoors questions. Shoot us your questions either in the form below or via outdoors@seattletimes.com and we’ll find the best experts to answer them and print their responses.

Reader questions have been edited for clarity and concision.


Start a fire? Pay up

Q: Hi! In light of the recent fires, I was wondering what the penalties are for accidentally starting a forest fire (assuming it can definitely be attributed to you).

— Lauren

A: Hi, Lauren! Excellent question. (And just in case you were thinking of starting a forest fire, don’t! We’ve had enough smoke this year!) I brought your question to the attention of Janet Pearce, communications manager for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), who said that while the fires you describe “can have severe consequences … the penalties can vary.”

“Depending upon the circumstances, if a wildfire is started, the person can be responsible for suppression costs,” she said. “These costs can be extremely high.”

According to DNR’s website on the subject, about 85% of wildfires in Washington are caused by humans, and 52% are started “negligently or intentionally.” When a fire occurs, DNR determines the cause, and if it’s found to be caused by human negligence or intent, “the responsible individual(s) will be notified by DNR of our intent to recover the suppression costs of the fire from them, as required by law.”

This requires litigation, and DNR may pursue criminal charges against individuals found to have started forest fires. DNR’s advice? “The simplest way to avoid having to pay any wildfire suppression cost recoveries is to ‘burn smart’ when you have to burn, and ensure your legal fire is completely extinguished prior to leaving it unattended.”

Do you have a burning outdoors-related question you’ve always wanted to know the answer to? Ask Ranger Rialto by filling in the form below or emailing outdoors@seattletimes.com (Emily Eng / The Seattle Times)
More from #AskRangerRialto


Dog-free (and loving it)

Q: My sincere request is to find out and confirm outdoor trails, parks, river walks, beaches — where dogs are NOT ALLOWED AT ALL. Not the ones where they have to be on leash but places where they are not allowed at all.

— Anonymous

A: According to Anna Roth of the Washington Trails Association, dogs are not allowed on most trails in national parks, and on WTA’s Hiking Guide, you can actually search specifically for other trails that don’t allow dogs.

The WTA also has an excellent online guide that, though geared toward dog owners, breaks down the rules about what trails allow dogs and under what circumstances. Case in point: Dogs are generally allowed on U.S. Forest Service lands, but they’re not permitted in the Enchantments or Ingalls Lake Trail — “home to heavy hiker use and fragile ecosystems” — so, have at it!

That said, Anonymous, given how pet-crazy the Northwest is, you probably will run into dogs at some point while hiking. If that happens, be kind.

And if you own a dog, follow the rules. “We recommend hikers keep their dogs on leash while on trail, and always clean up after their dogs,” said Roth. “That means picking up their poop, and packing it out, not leaving it trailside to pick up later.”


Ranger Rialto, international mammal of mystery

Q: Please give us some information on Ranger Rialto? What kind of animal is he? Who is his creator? He’s adorable but let’s get to know him if you want to appeal to kids and the kids in all of us!

— K.L.

Q: I have one question about Ranger Rialto. Is he a bear? I assume so but his nose looks like an eagle’s beak to me. I can’t figure it out, even when I squint. 😉 I really like the idea of a cute bear mascot but he appears wounded in the nose!

— Jill

A: You’re not alone, K.L. and Jill! Many of our readers wanted to know more about this column’s namesake. Ranger Rialto’s nose is just fine, Jill (thanks for asking), but he isn’t a bear — he’s an otter! Rialto is named after both a real-life otter and a plushie that used to sit in a place of pride in the newsroom before COVID-19 transformed The Seattle Times into a (largely) remote operation.

When we launched this column, we shared Rialto’s origin story. You can find that installment here.

The straight poop

Q: More on the dog feces vs. horse manure removal question — dog feces have a negative environmental impact, whereas horse manure does not. While it may be inconvenient for folks to navigate around the manure, it is biodegradable (70-80% liquid and solids break down in the first six days), an excellent fertilizer and has no toxic effects on humans (horses don’t carry viruses and pathogens that create risk for humans). Hope this info helps clarify why we are not required to clean up after horses on trails.

— Patricia

Q: Just a note in addition to your answer about having to clean up horse poop on the trail — horses are vegetarian and dogs are not. Therefore,
there are pathogens in dog poop that are not in horse poop.



Q: I think the difference between dog and horse deposits is that horses eat a lot of hay and grass — so, as horse droppings age, they eventually become hay or grass again — unlike dog poop!

— Peter

A: Who knew that the dog poop vs. horse poop debate from our last column would lead to such a far-reaching conversation? Thanks to Liz, Peter and Patricia for sharing their thoughts about this complicated issue. And remember: As we discovered last time we investigated this potentially stinky question, we found out that equestrians who ride in state parks ARE required to pick up horse poop in parking lots, at trailheads and in some other communal areas.

The best route for kids and dogs

Q: Hi, my name is Madigan and my family, two dogs, and I would love to go hiking. Do you recommend any beginner trails?

— Madigan

A: Hi, Madigan! We get this question a lot, and I’d say my favorite family-friendly hike is the easy out-and-back Denny Creek Trail (turn around at the natural waterslide). Be aware: This trail is typically pretty crowded, so if you and your family are concerned about crowding right now, I would recommend going early, OR seeking out a hike closer to where you live. Whether that’s Ravenna Park in Seattle or Bridle Trails in Kirkland, most areas in the general Seattle area have hike-like treks accessible without a long drive. Good luck! (And keep your dogs on their leashes!)