Whether it’s a weed or a weevil, there’s a dog ready to track it down. Working Dogs for Conservation trains dogs, many of them high-energy pups rescued from shelters, to sniff out invasive species ranging from yellow star thistle to emerald ash borer (EAB). Called “conservation detection” dogs, these canines are able to detect the presence of an invasive pest before it becomes unmanageable.
In Montana, four pups have been working to help locate emerging Isatis tinctoria (Dyer’s woad) around Mount Sentinel – the highly invasive plant had nearly taken over, exhausting the efforts of human scouts and volunteers.
More than a decade of weed-ID and weed-pulling efforts left the area still riddled with the yellow-blooming invader, primarily because the plants could only be removed once they emerged and spread seed. A single plant can disperse 10,000 viable seeds.
The first year the dogs got involved, they were able to locate more than 500 plants; 96 percent had already produced seed. By the second year, however, 95 percent of the plants were detected before they set seed, and within four years, the area experienced a whopping 99.8 percent reduction in Dyer’s woad presence.
Working Dogs for Conservation is the group that helped the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in its emerald ash borer detection program back in 2012.
Dogs were trained to detect the presence of EAB from egg through larvae to adult stages, contributing significantly to eradication efforts.