A campaign was launched Wednesday to urge south Puget Sound dog owners to pick up after their pets to prevent waste from polluting shellfish beds.

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A campaign is under way to educate pet owners in the Henderson Inlet and Nisqually Reach watersheds on the importance of proper pet-waste disposal, an effort aimed at reducing bacterial pollution.

Picking up after pets is not a new message, said Aimee Christy, a research biologist for the Pacific Shellfish Institute, an Olympia-based research arm of the West Coast commercial shellfish industry.

What’s new is the approach taken in this fall program funded by Thurston County and aimed at keeping shellfish-growing areas open in the two South Sound marine areas.

Over the next month, teams of volunteers will pay 14 visits to parks and neighborhoods in the two watersheds, marking piles of poop with red-and-white flags before cleaning them up, talking to pet owners about the importance of cleaning up their pet waste and handing out raffle tickets to those they spot doing the right thing for a drawing for prizes at the end of October.

The campaign called Scoop to Win kicked off at the Hawks Prairie Off-Leash Park Wednesday afternoon. Most of the several dog owners exercising their dogs at the park were already equipped with plastic bags to retrieve their dogs’ poop.

“I was here yesterday and picked up about 20 piles,” said Lacey-area resident Charlotte LaBier. LaBier has just ordered a pet-waste composter to install at home to manage dog waste from her two young labradors, Bella and Harley.

Peter Lawless, who played fetch with his 4-year-old German shepherd, Sheamus, dutifully cleaned up after.

“It really is a must,” he said. “I just moved down here from Seattle, where the dog parks are really crowded.” Christy flagged 150 piles of dog poop – weighing 12 pounds – suggesting there’s plenty of work to do for the volunteer patrols.

“For the most part, people are good about cleaning up after their dogs,” she said.

She said many people find it hard to believe that animal waste contributes so much to pollution. But earlier DNA sampling of bacteria found in Henderson Inlet suggested non-human sources, including livestock, pets and wild birds and animals, are a major contributor, she said.

In 2011, the countywide Animal Services program licensed 12,260 dogs, but estimates of the overall dog population runs as high as 45,000.

The average dog generates roughly one-half pound of poop per day, which translates into about 11 tons of untreated waste daily, Christy said.

In addition, one gram of dog waste contains twice the amount of fecal coliform bacteria as a similar amount of human waste.

While pets aren’t to blame for all the bacteria pollution issues that have led to shellfish harvest closures off and on throughout the Puget Sound region, they represent a pollution source that is relatively simple and inexpensive to remedy, Christy said.

The Henderson Inlet and Nisqually Reach are targeted for action because they have a history of shellfish closures that led to creation of county shellfish-protection districts and annual action plans, including the $600 pet-waste campaign.

In 2010, some 240 acres of shellfish growing area in Henderson Inlet that had been closed to harvest for five days every time it rained one inch or more was upgraded to allow unrestricted harvest. A crackdown on failing septic systems, stormwater runoff and pet and livestock wastes contributed to the improved water quality, officials said.

Information from: The Olympian, http://www.theolympian.com