Calgary Herald

Ca­nines sniff out mussels

- DY­LAN ROBERT­SON drobert­son@cal­gary­her­ Twit­ter: @dcrHer­ald

Cross-bor­der boaters will soon be greeted by nosy dogs, as the prov­ince tries to sniff out in­va­sive mussels. The pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture passed its fi­nal vote last Thurs­day to add manda­tory in­spec­tions to the Al­berta Fish­eries Act. Snif­fer dogs are now on hand to help out when the bill gets royal as­sent, as soon as next week.

“Aquatic In­va­sive Species are one the largest threats fac­ing Al­berta’s wa­ter­ways and bio­di­ver­sity," En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Kyle Fawcett said in a news re­lease. The gov­ern­ment says the on­go­ing in­fes­ta­tion of ze­bra and quagga mussels risks clog­ging the prov­ince’s pipes, which would cost $75 mil­lion a year to fix.

Re­searchers have doc­u­mented both in­va­sive species spread­ing through­out the west­ern United States and Eastern Canada, mak­ing it as far west as Lake Win­nipeg in Man­i­toba. The mussels fil­ter through wa­ter, soak­ing up most of the nu­tri­ents that aquatic plants and an­i­mals de­pend on.

There’s no record of the non­na­tive mussels in Al­berta wa­ter­ways, but sev­eral in­fested boats have been in­ter­cepted in the past cou­ple of years. Both species can live out of wa­ter for 30 days, and have a ten­dency to cling to tucked­away boat parts like pro­pel­lers.

That’s where ca­nine de­tec­tives Wicket, Lily and Orbee come in. The three, pro­vided by the group Work­ing Dogs for Con­ser­va­tion, were part of a pi­lot in­spec­tion pro­gram last sum­mer. They’ll be con­tin­u­ing this boat­ing sea­son while the prov­ince sets up a per­ma­nent ca­nine team.

Ngaio Richards, who trained Wicket, told the Her­ald the black­lab mix is “ex­u­ber­ant” to be back on the job. “She sits by where she’s found the scent, and if one of asks ‘show me’ she will in­di­cate with her nose and gets a treat, which is a toy ball,” said Richards. “Some­times shel­ter dogs are the best kind of dog for sniff­ing out things.”

The in­spec­tions will take place at com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle weigh sta­tions through­out Al­berta, as well as at main points of en­try. They’ll be funded by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment and the Al­berta Ir­ri­ga­tion Projects As­so­ci­a­tion.

“We must all work to­gether to en­sure we pro­tect our vi­tal wa­ter en­vi­ron­ment and our econ­omy in south­ern Al­berta. Our part­ner­ship with the Gov­ern­ment to fund th­ese dogs and their han­dlers, to­gether with manda­tory boat in­spec­tions, will pro­tect the more than 4,000 kilo­me­tres of ir­ri­ga­tion pipe­lines in south­ern Al­berta,” said Ron McMullin the as­so­ci­a­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, in a news re­lease.

Once passed, the new amend­ments will also give law-en­force­ment of­fi­cers more pow­ers to stop con­tam­i­nated wa­ter­craft, and add a list of pro­hib­ited species list to the act.

The pro­vin­cial hot­line for in­for­ma­tion on Aquatic In­va­sive Species is 1-855-336-2628 (BOAT)

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