Minnesota DNR using dogs to detect zebra mussels
They’ve already been searching for guns, explosives, bodies, suspects, illegal fruit and even toxic mercury. Now, add zebra mussels to the list of targets law enforcement dogs are being trained to detect.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday it has added three new K-9 officers to its law enforcement staff, all trained to sniff out zebra mussels that might be hiding aboard boats, trailers or other outdoors equipment that has recently been in the water.
It’s the first time dogs have been used in Minnesota’s battle against aquatic invasive species, which sees the DNR cracking down on the movement of aquatic invasive species from infested lakes and rivers into uninfested waters.
Dogs previously have been used in California. DNR officer Travis Muyres, who handles and trains the department’s K-9s, traveled to that state to watch its dogs in action and found they can sniff out zebra mussels much faster than human officers can spot them with their eyes.
“They figured it was five to 15 times faster” to use dogs, Muyres told Minnesota Public Radio.
During a demonstration Tuesday at Fort Snelling State Park, two of the dogs took turns circling the boat and sat down when they picked up the zebra mussels’ scent. They were then rewarded with a ball.
Muyres trained each of the DNR’s dogs for five weeks before they earned their stripes to go on active duty.
“It’s very difficult to find a qualified prospective detector dog, but each of the dogs selected from the shelter was healthy, sociable and had a strong search drive,” Muyres said.
Muyres’ K-9 mussel team partner, Laina, is a Belgium Malinois purchased from a domestic breeder. The other teams include water resource enforcement officers Lt. Julie Siems and her K-9 partner, Brady, and Lt. Larry Hanson and his K-9 partner, Digger. Siems’ and Hanson’s dogs are Labrador retrievers provided by animal shelters and animal rescue organizations.
The dogs are trained to sit down when they sniff the mussels. They will be used heavily near large, popular lakes already infested with the invasive species.
The mussel-detecting K-9s also will be trained in tracking, evidence recovery, firearms detection and wildlife detection. The DNR has been using dogs on duty since 1995.
“The use of K-9s is a progressive enforcement tool that will complement and support our invasive species prevention efforts,” DNR Enforcement Director Col. Jim Konrad said.
The DNR will see how the dogs perform this year and decide whether to expand the program, according to MPR.
Natives of Eurasia, zebra mussels can multiply out of control and dramatically change the ecosystem of a body of water. They often are transported from lake to lake by boaters. The mussels are about the size of a fingernail, and their larvae are microscopic, making them tough to find. They have been expanding their range across the state.
The DNR also will have more than 125 human watercraft inspectors stationed around the state at various lakes this summer. Boaters are required by law to remove aquatic plants, zebra mussels and other prohibited species from boats, trailers and equipment before transporting from any water access. They also must drain all water from bilges, live wells, motors, ballast tanks and portable bait containers before leaving water accesses or shoreline property.
Duluth News Tribune