Brookings Wildlife Federation to hear how dogs help with moose studies

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BROOKINGS — The Brookings Wildlife Federation will host SDSU graduate student Anna Weesies who will talk about Minnesota moose studies and how her CK9 (conservation canine or trained dog) is helping with the field research.

The infolunch will be at the Brookings County Outdoor Adventure Center, 2810 22nd Ave., at noon on Dec. 1.

The Conservation Canine program enlists scent-trained dogs to find moose calves, and the trained dogs can even help wildlife biologists learn about moose behavior and genetics by finding their droppings (scat).

Wildlife biologists can estimate population density through non-invasive genetic testing by collecting fecal samples of the wildlife species under investigation. This is where conservation canines participate. This program trains dogs to work off-leash in the field, and alert researchers when they find moose scat.

Conservation Canines are dogs from animal shelters and pet owners who can no longer take care of their dogs.

Trainers look for dogs that want to please the handler, are excited to work, exhibit high energy and stamina, but most importantly, have an obsessive fixation on a ball. When these behaviors are present, the next step is training with a scat-scented ball. The dogs’ training lasts anywhere from weeks to months, and individuals can learn up to a dozen different scents.

The dogs are brought to survey sites and are allowed to run off-leash along the survey lines until they find a target (moose scat). They sit at the spot and the handler meets the dog to collect samples and other data.

Weesies’ faculty adviser is William Severud, who is a BWF member and who spoke to the federation about his moose research at its December 2022 infolunch. Severud is studying the moose of Voyageurs Park, and how stressors (parasites, disease, heat) can weaken the animal and make it more susceptible to predation or malnutrition. The most vulnerable life-stage is the calf.

SDSU wildlife researchers have a tradition of using innovative research methods, such as the use of scent dogs. In 2004, Ken Higgins (a BWF member) and his student Sara Reindel, used scent dogs to determine the presence of black-footed ferrets that were reintroduced into the prairie dog colonies at Badlands National Park.

The BWF is affiliated with the South Dakota Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation. The BWF is in its 43th year of supplying conservation information and activities to the Brookings community.

The December infolunch concludes another year of interesting presentations at the federation’s monthly, First-Friday meeting. The group has heard from legislators, GFP staff, academics, historians, book authors and sportsmen who have recounted their hunting and fishing stories.

For more information, contact BWF President Bob Kurtz at 605-695-1361.