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Detection dogs help sniff out and identify invasive plants

Detection dogs have been trained to sniff out explosives, drugs, and even cancer in human blood samples. Now, a new crew of detection dogs are helping weed out invasive Scotch broom plants in New York state parks. 

Conservationists have been using detection dogs since the mid 1990s, according to the Associated Press, and dogs have tracked endangered species through their scat and helped find illegally trafficked ivory. 

The non-profit organization Working Dogs for Conservation specializes in training dogs to detect invasive species. 

Working Dogs for Conservation has aided in finding invasive plants and animals worldwide including Yellow star thistle in Colorado, invasive zebra mussels on boats in several Western states, and brown tree snakes in Guam.  

“Our field in the last 15 years has just exploded,” Pete Coppolillo, executive director of Working Dogs for Conservation, told the Associated Press. “We’ve trained over 200 dog and handler teams to help in global wildlife trafficking, and now we’re doing a lot of invasive species work. 

In New York’s Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks, a labrador called Dia has been hard at work helping to uproot invasive Scotch broom. 

Dia can spot the elusive weeds through scent alone, which gives her an advantage over park staff and volunteers who use the plant’s yellow flowers to find it. 

Scotch broom is widespread throughout the Pacific Northwest but has only begun to spread across New York state. 

“If we had to find all these plants ourselves, combing the grass for every tiny plant, it would take so much longer — and we’d still miss a lot,” Joshua Beese, Dia’s Handler, told the Associated Press. 

Dia was able to find hundreds of plants that were missed by volunteers before, proving how useful a conservation detection dog can be. 

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer 

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