Weed-sniffing dogs take their noses around the world for conservation efforts

Aug 1, 2013

Lily plays with her toy after finding the invasive weed Dyer's Woad. She's one of 8 Working Dogs for Conservation, a Missoula based non profit organization.
Credit Katrin Frye

Weed-sniffing dogs are being used as part of the state’s fight on noxious, invasive plants. Dogs and their trainers from the Missoula-based “Working Dogs for Conservation” are being drafted for various conservation-related services across the country, and the world.               

In a recent demonstration near Kalispell Director Aimee Hurt brought a dog named Lily to sniff out Dyer’s Woad. Hurt said the Woad is the second plant Lily has been trained to find, she’s also knows grizzly scat, black bear scat, and that of Cross Water Gorilla’s. She said the dogs have been brought in to work on conservation projects in 18 states and 10 countries.

“Since in order to do conservation, you have to be able to find the invasive, or the endangered animal, and as people we only have our eyes to do that. When we work with dogs we bring scent to the picture, and their noses,” Hurt said.

They’re working with Montana’s Cooperative Dyers Woad Project to eliminate the weed on the six sites left in the state. Statewide Coordinator Amber Burch with the project said the problem with Dyer’s Woad is typical of other invasive weeds; it spreads quickly, and takes over an area. Burch said for a site to be truly clear of the weed it has to go eight years without any seeding plants. The Project started working with the dogs three years ago. Burch said the dogs are good PR in that they pique people’s curiosity and help get the word out about the Project, and they catch what people miss.

“Mainly in the Missoula site; the site’s very steep, very brushy lots of trees that you can have a Woad on one side and if you’re walking on the other, you won’t see it. So the dogs have the ability to, I guess catch the scent, and be able to identify those plants on the other side of the tree,” Burch said.

Working Dogs for Conservation is a non-profit organization based in Missoula. It has two upcoming fundraisers; one on August 7th at the Kettlehouse and the other at Tamarack Brewing on August 13th, both of Missoula.