Minnesota DNR conservation officers using dogs to detect zebra mussels
St. Paul — The Minnesota DNR will be using three zebra mussel-sniffing K-9 teams for the first time this year to help combat the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS).
Minnesota is the second state in the country to use trained dogs to prevent the spread of AIS. They will be used throughout the state during the open water season.
“The use of K-9s is a progressive enforcement tool that will complement and support our invasive species prevention efforts,” said Col. Jim Konrad, DNR Enforcement director. “However, they should not overshadow the fact that preventing the spread of AIS is still everyone’s personal responsibility.”
Earlier this year, conservation officers Todd Kanieski and Travis Muyres traveled to California to learn about the country’s first program successfully utilizing mussel trained K-9s to prevent the spread of AIS.
“A K-9 can find a mussel on a boat much faster than a human inspector,” said Kanieski.
The Minnesota mussel dogs were trained in-house for five weeks by Muyres, an experienced K-9 handler and certified K-9 unit trainer.
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.
“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,” said Muyres. “That search drive will prove to be invaluable in detecting AIS.”
The mussel detecting K-9s will also be trained in tracking, evidence recovery, firearms detection, and wildlife detection.
“Combining mussel detecting with these additional skills will add muscle to the DNR’s capabilities and efficiency in protecting the state’s natural resources,” said Kanieski.
The DNR Enforcement Division has utilized K-9s to assist in protecting our natural resources since 1995. The DNR’s two current K-9 units are not trained in mussel detection.
According to the DNR, zebra mussels can multiply out of control and dramatically change the ecosystem of a body of water. They are often transported from lake to lake by boaters. The mussels are only about the size of a finger nail, and their larvae microscopic, making them tough to find. They have been discovered on various lakes across the state.
The DNR will also have between 126 and 146 human watercraft inspectors stationed around the state at various lakes this summer.
Boaters and anglers need to continue to take extra precautions when using Minnesota waters to avoid spreading AIS to new waters.
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.
- Drain all water from bilges, livewells, motors, ballast tanks and portable bait containers before leaving water accesses or shoreline property.
- Remove the drain plug, open water draining devices, and drain bilges and livewells; the drain plug must be removed or open when transporting a boat on public roads.