In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Arden from the New York New Jersey Trail Conference about her work helping build coalitions and use detection dogs to mitigate invasive insect and plant infestations.
Science Highlight: Detection dogs in nature conservation: A database on their world-wide deployment with a review on breeds used and their performance compared to other methods
- Megan – How did you get land managers on board?
- Bronwen – What’s the best way to collect and store insect samples? Are there special considerations about decay?
- Megan – What unique challenges are there to working with insect targets for detection dogs?
- Ashley – Aside from identifying and removing invasives, what is NYNJTC doing to prevent their spread?
Links Mentioned in the Episode: Insert the Doug video
Where to find Arden: Website | Instagram
You can support the K9 Conservationists Podcast by joining our Patreon at patreon.com/k9conservationists.K9 Conservationists
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Kayla Fratt (KF) 0:10
Hello and welcome to the canine conservationists podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, dog behavior and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt. And I run canine conservationists where I trained dogs to detect data for researchers, agencies and NGOs. Today I have the joy of talking to Arden from the New York New Jersey trail conference about her work helping build coalitions and use detection dogs to mitigate invasive insect and plant infestations. So Arden Blumenthal joined the trail conference as a volunteer for the conservation dog program in spring 2019. And after volunteering for over 400 hours, she was hired as a program assistant. She’s now the program coordinator and handler of her black lab Pete and she graduated with a BS in biochemistry from Virginia Tech where she worked with various species of wildlife including the elusive Eastern Hellbender. She Arden went on to earn an MS degree from Purdue University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. And Arden is passionate about using her experiences in ecology and animal behavior to find innovative holistic and practical solutions to socio environmental and conservation problems. And in her free time, she enjoys all outdoor activities, trying new breweries, playing board games, and reading. So welcome to the podcast started.
Arden Blumenthal 1:24
Hi, thanks so much for having me.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:27
Yeah, we’re excited to have you. So before we get to this interview, I’m going to read you our science highlight. And if you have anything to say about it, that’s great. If not, that’s fine, too. So this week, we are highlighting the paper titled detection dogs in nature conservation a database on their worldwide deployment in a view on breeds used and their performance compared to other methods. This was published in methods and ecology and evolution by Annegret, Grimm, Seyfarth and a couple others. And their goal was to look at the breeds used in different countries for various targets as well as their overall performance compared to other methods. And what they found is that since 1930, reports exist for 60 to two countries, and 408, animal 42, plant 26 fungi, and six bacterial species being detected with conservation dogs. Altogether, there was 108, FCI, classified and 20 non FCI classified breeds that have been used as conservation detection dogs. So if my math is right, that’s 128 different breeds listed just in the published scientific lit. And we can imagine that there may be some some individuals that were never published in the scientific literature. Overall, these conservation detection dogs usually worked more effectively than other monitoring methods. And for each species group, regardless of breed detection dogs were better than other methods and 88.71% of all published cases, and only worse and point nine 8% cases. So it was only for arthropods, that pinchers and Schnauzers performed worse than other breeds. Which is interesting. So they did have one case where there are a couple of dogs that did worse than other breeds. And this is a lit review. So I don’t know. If they only had one pincher and one schnauzer in one lab, and then, you know, they say pinchers, and dancers performed worse, I’m not sure what that says about the breed. And also, of course, there is always the chance that there are times where the dogs performed worse than other methods that just ended up never being published. And those studies are just sitting in someone’s file cabinet somewhere. That said, the most diploid breeds of all scientific cases were Labrador Retrievers, which is 9.2% of the published cases, undetermined pointing dogs, which is about 8%. So I assume that includes like our Brussels pointing Grafana, or German shorthaired pointers, or wirehaired pointers, Border Collies at 5.9% and German Shepherds at 5.6%. The next was common breed English Springer Spaniel was only mentioned in 2.6% of the cases. They also noted that in 42.2% of the papers published the breed was not mentioned. So we just can’t necessarily say anything at all about breed in a lot of published papers. So I think the reason I wanted to kind of bring this paper up as our discussion not specifically for today, this would have fit really well with our discussion with Lindsay were about using non traditional breeds, is just to highlight that even the most commonly used breed Labrador Retrievers, it’s only 9% of the time. And 120 Dogs 128 different dog breeds have succeeded in this line of work. So when people come to us asking about breed while it’s a useful place to start, I think this paper really highlights that breed is not the only factor for success in conservation dogs
Arden Blumenthal 4:48
is that nine point whatever percent of all the literature or nine point whatever percent of the literature where breed is listed.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 4:58
I assume that’s of Where burrito was listed? I don’t have that noted down in my little. My little blurb for myself. Yeah, cuz
Arden Blumenthal 5:07
I mean if it was had similarly whatever percent of like all of the studies and that would that would make sense because I feel like labs are pretty popular but like have studies published, if only, you know, a little bit more than half even have a breed listed then there are plenty of other Yeah, other dogs out there working wanna see,
Kayla Fratt (KF) 5:29
I can see too I mean this focused specifically on the conservation world but like I did some literature reviews for the IBC on COVID sniffing dogs. And there, it seemed like labs and Belgian Malinois ‘s were really, really over represented because I think those are the dogs that you can kind of pull out of breeding programs and throw into really emergent task very, very quickly. So almost all of the literature review cases I found on COVID Were using dogs that they pulled out of bomb or drug sniffing programs that were state sponsored. So obviously, they didn’t have or maybe not obviously, but seems predictable to me. They didn’t have any like Nova Scotia duck tolling, retrievers, or like Border Collies, because like, nobody in their right mind is maybe not no one in the right mind. I shouldn’t say this about my favorite breed. But nobody’s breeding like kennels and kennels of Border Collies to do bomb detection work. Like that’s just they’re not the breed that’s typically used there. So if you did the same study for COVID dogs, you would end up pretty easily concluding that only Belgian Malinois was and Labrador Retrievers can do this work, and I suspect it’s more of like a supply issue.
Arden Blumenthal 6:44
Yep. Yeah, definitely. And then, you know, there’s the other factor of the large number of breeds not listed in the conservation studies. Probably always, also has to do with the people who are doing those studies be mostly, I mean, let’s assume focused on what the study objective was. Yeah. And not necessarily thinking that even caring what the the breed of dog working is. Not giving that enough. Yeah. Including that. Yeah, whereas, you know, probably working dog organizations like doing those studies and, and paying super close attention to where their dogs are coming from.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 7:32
Yeah, well, and I think again, especially when you’ve got like five dogs that all come from the same kennel, it’s pretty easy to say, you know, we had five, nine month old Labrador Retrievers, we recruited from this breeding program, you know, versus like, a lot of times we’re working with. Yeah, the same, the same dog or, you know, one or two dogs, and they’re kind of a subcontractor being hired by the researcher. I also wonder, and again, I don’t have this in my notes. I read the paper. Gosh, like a month ago, when I was first outlining this article, or this episode, I’m, like, controlled? I did, it was so good. I can’t remember if they controlled for the fact that like, there might be 13 papers that all use the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, but that was all Dr. Karen DiMaggio is dog train. So I don’t know like, yeah, I don’t remember in their methods if they controlled for that.
Arden Blumenthal 8:32
Yeah, yeah, that she did. That the methods for these things can get quite complicated. So it’s like that’s a whole other. It seems. Really? Yeah. Yeah, I was involved in like a systematic review. While I was in grad school, and that was pretty complicated. But yeah, I listened to her talk. And I actually had thoughts that I wanted to send her because she actually talked a little bit about plants. I think, like, some of the unsuccessful like studies that she had mentioned that were under review. Were plants were plant projects. And yeah, and I just, I kind of wanted to dig into that with her a little bit. Because I think that there Well, I was actually really surprised to see the stats that she had that most of the the majority of the studies had dogs detection dogs come out as you know, when the better of the methodologies I was actually I was actually surprised about that. I guess I shouldn’t be I was surprised. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think maybe it’s a exactly what you were talking about people filtering out positive results from the that are actually being published versus some negative results or like non significant results, just not being published. But I think that plants in particular, it’s, it’s, it’s actually lovely to see negative or negative results published. Yeah, just for more information out there, but I think plants in particular is interesting to hear, because I do think that it’s very context dependent when dogs can be successful with plant projects.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 10:48
Yeah, that’s gonna be what we’re talking about. Yeah.
Arden Blumenthal 10:54
Yeah, I guess we can go into that later.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 10:57
Yeah, yeah. Well, no. And I, like anecdotally, just from, you know, discussions around the break room when I was at working dogs for conservation. There were a lot of a lot of projects that didn’t quite go anywhere, or pilot studies that didn’t quite go anywhere that I know, for a fact weren’t published. And also, a lot of times the experienced handlers in the room would kind of be like, Yeah, I wonder if we had done it a different time of year or, you know, yeah, like both for plants and insects. In particular, it’s so seasonally dependent. And then even I know they were talking about a couple of reptile projects, where if the reptiles are way deep in burrows and torpor, that that is likely to affect whether or not the dog can find their odor. So, anyway, let’s get to your interview. Now, tell us a little bit about the New York, New Jersey trail conference, working structure. So like, when I was on the website, it looks like the dog program is kind of a small part of this overall organization. Is that right?
Arden Blumenthal 11:58
Yes, we are a small program. It’s myself as the coordinator, and Josh Bz, who’s my mentor, and he’s the trainer handler for the program. So the trail conference was actually established over 100 years ago, in 1920, if you’ll believe that it was originally designed as a volunteer powered nonprofit, to connect people with nature, basically, so is designed to help to organize volunteers to build and maintain trails outside of New York City. So getting people outside of the city to you know, connect with trails. But since then, it’s expanded quite a bit in their mission. Generally, our mission is to, is to connect people with nature still. So we believe that the, you know, the joys of nature belong to everyone I think is what actually is listed on the website. We think that conservation is our shared duty, and we still are a bounty volunteer powered organization. So we, I’m part of the ecological stewardship department. And our department in particular, um, were focused on building and conducting running programs and also informing policy in New York, mainly to improve its ecological integrity of our natural spaces, and then also inspire, you know, a shared sense of responsibility for environmental stewardship, so we’re also involving volunteers in our department. So that’s a big picture.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 13:58
That’s super helpful. And wow, I had no idea that it was that that oh,
Arden Blumenthal 14:02
yeah, it’s pretty incredible. So like I said, it started small organizing volunteers to build and maintain trails, but yeah, now now we do have a leg of the organization that is focused on conservation of public lands and that ecological stewardship component. So we really do believe that yeah, you know, the your experiences on those trails, your experiences as a recreator. Your experiences outdoors really depend heavily on the health of that ecosystem. No one likes to go on a hike with Japanese Barbary scratching their legs, every step. And more than that, you know, there are people get outside to do specific activities like birding, I know that you are a budding birder. Are and the, like there. There are, there are significant impacts to, you know, the birds, the the avian communities that you’re seeing based on the entire ecological structure of of what’s in your, in the surrounding area of your trail. So, yeah,
Kayla Fratt (KF) 15:24
that makes a ton of sense. And so what, what are some of the species that the dogs are currently focusing on?
Arden Blumenthal 15:30
So the I guess I’ll back up a little bit the program was founded in 20, technically 2019, but 2018 is when Josh BZ came to our former supervisor, the director of land stewardship, Linda row leader with the idea to volunteer his time to help find rare, endangered threatened native plants just as just to help out just as a volunteer. And Linda was somewhat of a visionary I guess and said, that is awesome. I’ve have been involved with with dogs since I was little, but hey, I have a better idea. How about you join our team to help us detect and manage the invasive species that we are already working on. And that was kind of the where the program was born. We got dia in 2019, she was 10 months old. And just a couple months later, they with the help of our mentors at working dogs for conservation, got dia trained on first species scotch broom. We chose scotch broom is the first species to work on for a couple of reasons. It it’s a it’s a shrub and it’s also evergreen. So you can you can see it year round, essentially. It’s pretty easily identifiable. So Josh had no experience in the environmental sector, so he was he was a teacher and he was well working search and rescue handler for New Jersey Task Force One at the time. But he didn’t know he didn’t know much about plants. So that was important to have his first species be something that he could be confident in identifying in the field. Yeah, uh huh. And then also we had years and years like pretty much a decade of working with scotch broom under our belts already so we knew where discrete populations were and they were easily accessible for for Josh. And so Scott three was the first species we learned but in 2019, we received a grant from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to help find and manage three invasive species per year so since then, dia our founding dog has learned three species each year sexually So Scott frame was the first but then she learned slugs sludge or false bro which is an invasive grass trying to go in order here might not actually be perfect spotted lantern fly which I’m sure we’ll talk about sticky sage which is super cool project and I hope we talked about that too. It’s there only two known populations in the whole United States I think and one of them is in our region. Oakwell which is actually invasive fungus that is deadly to oak trees. Kudzu which you know everyone knows is the vine that eat the south crested Lake some are meant oh gosh I’m forgetting I’m forgetting a couple here.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 19:29
The the crusted meant sounds delicious.
Arden Blumenthal 19:34
It’s that’s really funny because that’s in a it’s in. One, one location that we’re working in a region and it’s let’s just say it’s a highly trafficked Park. And you would not want to eat it. There’s most definitely dog pee on it. But yeah, essentially all the species that we initially learned were What we call tier two invasive species, which tier two species are what we like to call emerging invasive species in our region. So that means that they there are enough populations for us to consider them invasive. But not too many that they’re too far gone, we still feel like we have a decent chance at eradicating them from our region, or their species that are encouraging specifically on a conservation target or, or important habitat that we’re focused on. Removing from there. So currently, we work on spotted lantern fly, oak will, sticky sage, scotch broom, crusted late summer meant and kudzu, and yes, those, those are all invasive species. But we are hoping to expand to the program to include more, let’s say, like integrative and holistic programming, so we want to support our partners in our region. With these big conservation problems, and some of those problems are with managing invasives. But some of them are trying to monitor, you know, important, rare threatened or endangered native species. So yeah, this year, we’re really placing an impact on developing long term partnerships, new projects that are more holistic. And so we can essentially help our partners monitor these important native species so we can better target what our teammates are doing with invasive species removals, and habitat restoration efforts. So we don’t we don’t just want to be removing invasives anywhere in everywhere. We really want to focus our efforts, we want, we want the work to be quality, not quantity, I guess you could say, and focus on improving habitat where we already know these important conservation targets are. We can only do that if we know where they are.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 22:28
Yeah, yeah, that, gosh, that makes so much sense. And I just wanted to draw out and highlight the point that you made about these tier two invasives. And how, you know, generally speaking, like a conservation dog, and even honestly, in a lot of cases, any sort of mitigation effort for invasive species is done kind of at that level, or the and or the preventative level. Because, you know, and I get people occasionally, you know, over on Patreon, or people who reach out to me about mentorship, who are like, Oh, my gosh, I would love to work, you know, work with, I’ve got this dog, I’d love to volunteer, you know, I’m in this area, that’s totally overrun with like, purple loosestrife, or whatever it is. It’s like, well, if it is, as you say, totally overrun with purple loosestrife, that might not actually be, it might kind of be too late. Especially for like a single dog human team to be involved. Is that is that kind of your experience and understanding? Or am I oversimplifying there?
Arden Blumenthal 23:29
Oh, no, yeah, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I mean, prevention is key prevention is the the first and the best strategy that we have to fight invasive species. That is why we’re targeting what we call tier two emerging invasive species. Because our efforts go such a much longer way when we direct them towards the species that aren’t fully established yet. And yeah, I mean, if sometimes you have to take a step back, right, like, we love what we do. Obviously, we don’t get paid much for it. So you kind of have to love it. Yep. But just because you enjoy your job doesn’t mean that that it’s the right methodology for every for every project out there. So like, what’s that saying? Like, when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail, right? And we don’t that’s not what we want to be the conservation dogs program. We don’t want to say that we are the magical fix to all of our invasive species and and conservation problems in our region because it’s just not true. And we work as part of a really close knit and interwoven team, I guess you could say. So projects that aren’t right for us. That, by us. I mean the conservation dogs program, you know, our colleagues, the terrestrial invasive species program are working on with their seasonal AmeriCorps crew, those huge projects where partners really need help removing a giant infestation because it’s an infringing on important habitat and the dogs aren’t going to be helpful with that. That’s important work and it needs to be done. But if it’s a massive infestation that’s obviously already notoriously Yeah, that’s an example of you know, a screw you don’t hammer that screw don’t do that.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 25:43
Yeah, absolutely. And, and yeah, and I know for like so working dogs for conservation has been working on this Dyer’s woad project over on mountain Sentinel in Missoula, that’s been incredibly successful. And they’re, what they’ve done a lot of is partnering the dogs with the volunteer crews. So they have volunteer crews who grow, go out and pull, you know, I think one year they pulled something ridiculous, like 10,000 plants. And then the next year, what they are, what they’re doing is the dogs are going through and kind of double checking the volunteers work or finding these little rosettes. The little, it’s a, I think it’s one of those plants that it’s not a die cut, what’s the word biannual? Where the first year it’s this teeny tiny little like, like a rosette that almost think like a like a dandelion before it blooms. That second year, it grows up into this big, this big tall thing that’s very easy to find. But at that point, it’s producing seeds potentially, and, you know, blah, blah, blah. So, you know, and there are ways that the dogs can be helpful even in these big infestations, but they’re just part of that solution. If you’re building a house, you probably want to hammer, but you probably don’t want to build a house with just a hammer.
Arden Blumenthal 26:54
Exactly. Yeah, and that’s a perfect example of, of how dogs can be useful in those. It’s called the longitudinal invasive species projects, we find that that as an example using the dogs to find remaining plants after the the majority of infestation has been removed by volunteers or staff, everything they can find the dogs come in afterwards and find the things that were left. And then we also found we also have found that using the docks to extend the boundaries of the infestation is is also one of the best uses. So we get stuck, especially with these longitudinal projects, we think that we know where the infestation is, after five years of searching, we, we know where it is, it’s here. But that’s not always the case. Especially you know, when you when you take into consideration how those seeding those seeds may be distributed, you sometimes you just don’t know and the dogs are unbiased searchers right there, they’re simply using their noses just because last year they found plants in area x doesn’t mean that when they come you come back in the next year that they’re not going to be searching area wide because that’s just where their nose is telling them to go right so that’s also helpful plus you cover you can cover more ground without you know doing the fire line the fire line setup and having to search you know, to more acres than then where your plants actually were found sometimes you’re just not looking anymore was it called the call it like search fatigue when you’ve been looking at the same you know the ground all looks the same after a while and it’s hard to see the plants anymore after you’ve been searching for two hours so
Kayla Fratt (KF) 28:58
yeah, or what I ran into on the dyers wood project is everything started looking like tires what I would do Richards bless bless her soul, I would, I’d be out on mountain saddle at like 6am and I’ve already been out for an hour and a half and I would be texting her pictures like every third plant being like this isn’t it is this dog says it’s not but like, I don’t know. Which is a great point that you made about you know, making sure with Scott broom, that was such a good project for Josh to start on. Because, Good gosh, especially when you’re trying to look for these little tiny baby plants. identification can be hard. And especially when you’ve got like the first couple of times I was out there fielding barley. And you know, it’s just his first couple days operationally searching for that target. You know, I was looking pretty hard to I wasn’t just relying on the dog because I knew it was his first day on the job.
Arden Blumenthal 29:53
Kayla Fratt (KF) 29:56
And it turns out nothing that I found was something that barley had a row Islamist turns out Harley was right. But yeah, so Okay, so I like the main reason I wanted to get you on this episode was to talk about like, just how cool the structure of the New York New Jersey trail conference is. Like, it’s so collaborative, it seems kind of unique. You said that basically what happened was Josh, did Josh previously have a relationship with them? Like, was he a volunteer already when he came to them with the dog idea?
Arden Blumenthal 30:28
No, he said that. He said that he the New York New Jersey trail Conference website was his go to to find to find trails. Uh huh. So he Yeah, he just reached Yeah, essentially, I
Kayla Fratt (KF) 30:42
call. Wow. Okay. Because my next question was, you know, do you have any advice for anyone who, you know, they’re like, oh, yeah, I love you know, the local, you know, whatever, the local friends of like those friends of Lolo National Forest, you know, do they need my help? And Josh, just kind of got, I don’t want to say got lucky. Maybe he wrote a really good cold email.
Arden Blumenthal 31:09
I think it’s a bit of both, most likely, I mean, I wasn’t there. So I can’t speak directly for him. But advice, I think that landing in the right home is is so important. Josh, I guess a bit of luck is that Josh just happened to contact our director of land stewardship at the time, Linda and, and it was an organization whose mission but aligned with what a conservation dog program would want to accomplish. And I guess, also, importantly, had the infrastructure to support the effort. So because the trail conference is a volunteer powered organization, and because the stewardship department is actually the, the host of The New York, lower Hudson prism, so prism is an acronym that means partnership for regional invasive species management. Linda at the time, was the was the director, and she essentially was the person who was organizing the, the over I think it was over 60 partners at the time that were part of the prism. So New York State has the Environmental Protection Fund. And that environmental protection fund or EPF, funds, the prisms so prism, like I mentioned is the stands for a partnership of four regional invasive species management. There are eight of them in New York State. And each of the prisms are basically coalition’s of non government organizations, schools, even private individuals who have basically are stakeholders in invasive species monitoring and management and also outreach and also regulation. So the trail conference as the host organization of the lower Hudson prison, which is our our region, me means that we are, you know, the the leaders of our region’s partners, so we we will, we’re wrangling them, I guess. In short term, so the infrastructure was there to not only support in the trail conference to support a new innovative program, but also had the connections with partners in our region, to be able to fight find projects that people needed help with and push our push education and outreach with the dogs and follow up our monitoring efforts with actions right so we’re not just finding plants with our dogs were we’re finding plants and removing them and I’m taking down the data that will, you know, be pushed into this machine to help us have better management strategies in the future. That was a whole lot.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 35:16
No, that is just fine. No, because I think again, like, I love how integrative this approaches. And I think it’s, again, it’s what I’m so excited about here. And there’s so much to it. But I think there’s so much value. And I hope that this is an opportunity that more conservation dog people get going down the line. And I think this makes a lot of sense as a model for more future projects versus you know, and not that there’s anything wrong with this, but the working dogs for conservation, rogue detection, conservation dogs collective canine conservationists model where, you know, we’re just kind of freelance dog handlers, and don’t necessarily have a home and we travel the country or even the world. And there are obviously things with that, that are exhausting as far as not having a home base and constantly pursuing contracts. And not that I know, you’re also in the thick of grant writing right now. So not that. Not that it’s inherently easier, but I love I just I love the idea of being able to have the dog team integrated into this larger long term management plan for a specific place. And once you’ve got the dog on board, you can keep thinking about okay, what does this landscape need next? What does it need now? Can we use the dog or are you know, in the next phase of, of this this land?
Unknown Speaker 36:43
Hi, Clint and Luca here, Luca is an Akita mix and I adopted from a shelter almost two years ago, from a very young age, Luca has struggled with some general fear and anxiety, especially out in the world, I randomly took a nosework class and noticed a massive difference in her behavior. She was lot more interested in exploring her environment and loved going on adventures. I love being a Patreon because selfishly, I get so much great information about nature and conservation that I would not have gotten otherwise, like books to read and articles to look at. I also get access to killers, great knowledge, I am new to Patreon. But I’m excited to have a group of people to help Luca and I move forward with combining our love of nature and her natural sensibility. I love that I’m able to support someone exploring two of my favorite things, conservation and dog behavior. And maybe one day with the support and knowledge from canine conservation. NIS I can get there myself.
Arden Blumenthal 37:37
Yeah, exactly. I mean, I wouldn’t say that we, you know, the our programs more secure than others, right. Like, always finding funding in our field in general is difficult and takes a certain amount of persuasion. But that is, I would say, what makes our program so unique is that we are we are focused on our home, we’re focused on our region with the needs of our region or with the conservation needs of our partners are, what problems are they having in monitoring and management that we can help with? And because, you know, we don’t, we don’t have to worry about, you know, traveling from spot to spot to pick up projects, we can really dig into those long term, longitudinal, just large scale projects, that that are really satisfying way because you can see tangible, tangible things happening year after year.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 38:44
Yeah, yeah, I know, my dad, my dad used to work for he’s retired now. But he was in the Land and Water Conservation Department for Ashland County, in Wisconsin. And, you know, he and I have had a couple of conversations over beers, where he’s been like, man, Kayla, I wish I wish you’d been in this line of work and doing this when I was still in charge of my department, because I think we probably could have found funding for you and brought you on, you know, full time within the county department. Um, rather than kind of having to do freelance stuff, and maybe that’ll be an option for me, you know, down the line. But, yeah, and I know another thing that Charles Federico and I have talked about is, you know, for example, he used to work at the Flathead Lake Biological Station, which is like an outpost of the University of Montana. And like, how cool would it be if some of these biological research stations just you know, as part of their staff team, a couple of the bigger ones had a dog around, and, you know, I would happily live there. And then every year like as part of what you can consider as you’re proposing studies, in the Flathead Lake Station, and especially more of these longitudinal studies, you may be able to recruit the dog handler team for your project, and that could be, you know, a perk and a moneymaker. Getting prospect for some of these research stations. So yeah, I think that listening is running one of those holler at us.
Arden Blumenthal 40:12
No, it’s okay. Yeah, I mean, I, I do see that to be where our field is going in the way long term, just from what I’ve seen, actually, like State Department’s reaching out for, for projects that they’ve been doing with just human only surveyors and not seeing the success that they want. And, you know, some state departments already do have their own dogs, and they’re being, you know, their, their time is being stretched in with other projects or asks from other departments or, or other states even to help out. And a lot of these projects that these biologists are working on are, these really long term projects of states are not just going to stop caring about certain species. In the next two years, most research projects that are most research that’s taking place you know, we’re looking at the health of the species as a long term, as a long term goal. Nothing happens quickly in the conservation world. And it’s just not feasible to hire a contractor to team up year after year after year after year, who asked to every year pickup and and travel across the country? So that’s just my personal opinion. You can cut that if you want.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 41:47
No, no, I think I think that’s spot on. And I think you know, the first thing that, yeah, the first thing that popped into my head, before we go on to our next question is, I think there will still always be places that are remote enough, or just low population density, where they will have to import dog teams, like I’m thinking of where I was stationed in Nebraska last year, and they had three dog teams there. And frankly, we were in a town of like, 450 people, they’re probably not going to get someone who’s Uber local, and especially not three people, a pole from that super local area. But you might be able to find a partner with someone from Omaha, which was three hours away. That’s a big enough city, there’s certainly someone there. And, and, you know, honestly, Nebraska is not the most remote place that conservation dogs have been used. So I think I think it’s always going to be a little bit of both, but I totally agree. And I, I think, you know, as this field continues to grow, having these dogs, dog teams integrated more, I mean, I know I’ve said this, like five times just seems like a very intelligent, efficient and exciting way for this field to keep going forward.
Arden Blumenthal 43:02
Yeah, completely agree. And you can keep using that word.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 43:07
Yeah. The title of this episode was just gonna be all caps integration. Okay, so now I’ve got a bunch of questions from people over on Patreon. So if you’re not a member on Patreon, yet, it’s three bucks a month, you get to ask questions, we have a book club, you get to join some training calls where we we review training videos for you and your dog working together. And we’ve got everything from like brand new super green shelter dogs and puppies up to dogs that are currently operational in the conservation overall. So quick Patreon blog onwards. Megan from Patreon asks, How do you get land managers on board? Does the trail conference own its own land like the Nature Conservancy does? Or do you partner with people? How does that work?
Arden Blumenthal 43:54
We Yeah, we’re not a Land Conservancy. We don’t own land. So getting land managers on board is not something we really have to do. Because going back to what, you know, our mission is we’re not trying to sell ourselves, per se or the idea of using the dogs we are pretty focused on reaching out to folks who have a specific problem monitoring, detection, etc problem that they think that we can help with. So we don’t we don’t have to really do much convincing it’s once they know that we have working detection dogs that are working with other species successfully. It’s it’s more of just proper communication about why we think the dogs in particular could be the the up potential solution or, you know, a methodology to augment their current efforts. Yeah. Okay.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 45:09
So and then next up Bronwyn, Bronwyn, gosh, I hope that I’m getting your name right Bronwyn from Patreon asks, what is the best way to collect and store insect samples? Are there special considerations about decay? Do you need to make sure you’ve got live samples? What are we thinking about when we’re working specifically with insects training samples?
Arden Blumenthal 45:30
Yeah, so I can only speak to my personal experience and the one insect we work with is spotted lantern fly. We trained DIA and other dog Fagin on spotted lantern fly in 2019. So I’m actually a Pennsylvania native. So I think it was still volunteering at the time actually, I organized you know, a trip for Josh and actually, Amy for at working dogs for conservation to come to Pennsylvania and train on spotted lantern fly where there was already an infestation, we didn’t have to worry about transporting, transporting the invasive species back to a non invaded area. And I will just say that training in situ, if you can, is is the way to go. But to talking specifically about handling and storing samples, we just simply did not physically touch the insect with our hands. We cleaned our equipment, put them in our storage containers, and froze them. So we keep frozen samples of the insect. But you know, there’s limited replay value, I guess you could call it there are only so many times you can defrost and re freeze that bug before it gets pretty funky. And it’s no longer you know, it’s no longer the same, the same thing. So thankfully, we don’t really have to worry about it too much. Because we have such easy access to lantern fly, pretty much all of New Jersey is invaded at this point. So, you know, finding samples isn’t a problem if we are no longer using. If we can, if we can no longer use a sample that we stored, you just have to make a trip to get another one. The egg masses, which is you know, they’re obviously their egg stage of the spotted lantern fly is, is a little bit more delicate, I guess you could say the spotted lantern fly egg masses are are covered in this putty like material. And we and sometimes they’re not covered at all. Sometimes they’re just exposed naked eggs, I guess you could call them, they’ll lay them on pretty much any surface. But that is a little bit of a different story. Not so much is like storing wise, we still obviously clean our storage containers and we freeze our samples. But because the egg masses can, you know, be either be covered or uncovered and it can be on different surfaces and they’re easy to crack crumble and sometimes just have the eggs bursts themselves, handling them in the way that you know aid with with an intention is important. So are you keeping the bark on or off? Are you training another? Are you going to train with just a piece of bark as to train them off of that? Are you going to intentionally squish them? So they’re they’re smellier. Yeah, I think that pretty much covers it. I don’t know about handling other insect species. So since we’ve only worked with spotted lantern fly, but I’d imagine it would be pretty similar. Just don’t. Don’t touch the insect with your hands. Unfortunately, spotted lantern fly our plant hoppers, so catching them can be a little bit tricky. But yeah, just don’t touch them with your bare hands and freeze them.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 49:35
Yeah, okay, that makes sense. Yeah, sounds somewhat similar to the other other targets that we may work with. I found plants were also tricky and I know it was kind of funny when again when I was out working in Oxford conservation working with Dara as well. It was so hard to get Dyer as well to grow for us in pots. I know. It’s horrific, invasive species
Arden Blumenthal 49:59
to grow Every time I claim to die, it’s like, Are you kidding me? You’re supposed to be indestructible?
Kayla Fratt (KF) 50:07
Yeah, yeah. So you know, and then of course plants, they get freezer burn so fast if you try to freeze them and, you know, it changes the odor profile and I think So Megan from Patreon asked whether there are unique challenges to working with insect targets for detection dogs. And I immediately was thinking of, you know, these life cycles of insects that we may be working with. And I think again, this this plays into our plants as well where at different times of the year different stages of life whether they’re seeding or growing or you know, whatever it is, both our plants and insects spelled differently. So what what do you have to say about these insect targets and challenges for the dogs their
Arden Blumenthal 50:50
insects are tricky. The challenge is, again, I’m going to speak to the spotted lantern fly because that’s where my experience is coming from. But obviously, the adult and nymph stages of the spotted lantern fly can move they have they fly, which seems obvious, but when you’re when you’re trying to find if you’re thinking about finding an individual, that is a problem. Just because your dog has indicated a certain spot and you don’t see anything doesn’t mean that that insect didn’t just hop away because they got a little bit too close. So that’s one thing. Another thing is that the I’m assuming the most insects do to some extent, but spotted lantern fly in particular is known to be a heavy feeder, and leaves are all around a lot of excrement. This is actually because they are lacking an enzyme to process what they are ingesting. So they need to adjust quite a bit in order to get the nutrients that they need to survive. So they leave behind what we call a honeydew which is essentially just like sugar water. And it promotes the growth of study mold, other fungus this is important. It creates, you know, a whole set of picture around infestation. And once again, going back to number one that I mentioned plant insects move. You there actually might not be an insect or your talk is indicating and but they are smelling the rest of the scent picture from what is left behind. Yeah, we think a lot about this. Well, we thought about a lot this when we were first we were initially trying the dogs because we had to think a lot about context in which we would actually be helping managers. Do we care if there’s a large enough infestation to leave behind? You know this? Detect detectable, you know, residue of honeydew and fungus? Are those the kind of infestations were helping them look for yes or no, we didn’t have all the answers when we started. So essentially, right now our dogs know how to detect all life stages. Spotted lantern fly, but we have found the most success I guess with the egg mass stage, so and that’s because they’re cryptic. Like I said they can lie on anything. Sometimes they’re covered sometimes they’re not they I don’t know if you have ever seen a Tree of Heaven. I’m assuming you have because they’re incredible. But that’s that’s spinal injury and Lion’s Mane host and it’s absolutely it’s like the power of evolution when you look at a tree of heaven because I swear to God the SAP drips that come out the Tree of Heaven sometimes and then dry on them. Look at the exact shade size shape everything as a spotted lantern fly aignasse. It is truly an evolution. It’s crazy. So yeah, those are pretty difficult. But then, you know the other issue is that sometimes a lot of the times I really think it’s 80% of the time lantern fly are laying their egg masses in trees at the top 20% of the tree.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 54:59
So Oh, well, that’s not helpful.
Arden Blumenthal 55:02
There is only so much we can do. Which is why I was saying earlier about thinking really hard about context in which, you know, you think the dogs will be most helpful. But insect wise, I think you’re going to there probably are quite similar problems of insects, a lot of insects can fly and can crawl and will lay eggs beyond a detectable distance for dogs or humans. And then, you know, when we think about how to manage them, after we found an infestation, that is the is arguably the even larger problem. So even if we have found them thinking about how to contain and eradicate emerging insect infested invasions is, is honestly something we haven’t figured out yet. So that’s kind of a bummer, but it’s the truth. Multiple times
Kayla Fratt (KF) 56:12
three, one hour podcast. So I guess we didn’t expect you to have all of the solutions to all of our ecological problems.
Arden Blumenthal 56:21
That takes a little pressure off.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 56:24
Yeah, yeah. Take a take a deep breath. Yeah, it’s a it’s a free podcast. What do you want? Okay, so last question that I have written down is from Ashley from Patreon. And I think we’ve already touched on this, but we can kind of draw it out specifically, aside from identifying and removing invasives. What is the New York New Jersey troll conference doing to prevent their spread?
Arden Blumenthal 56:49
Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m happy. This person asked that because prevention is the number one way to stop the spread of invasive species. So we are involved with legislative efforts. In New York State, there’s regulation, part 575. That was adopted in July 2014. And it prohibits or regulates the possession, importation sale, etc, of select invasive species, and are my colleague is involved in a working group, our Laura Hudson prison working group that lobbies to have certain species put in that regulation. So that’s an important part. The second is outreach and education. And we are currently bringing someone on our team right now to that is their main focus. I know many of the other prisms have dedicated education and outreach coordinators. In invasive species are so are so hard to, to communicate. People don’t understand what invasive species are, they don’t know why they should care. They, you know, I’ve gotten the line before. We’re an invasive species, I have no right to, to kill, to regulate any other species. And that’s incredibly frustrating. And, yeah, education and outrageous is definitely an avenue where we know that dogs can be helpful. I, I believe that that dogs are just incredible ambassadors, they’re so charismatic, the people don’t have to care about plants, to care about dogs sniffing plants. It’s just cool. So, yeah, those are just a few of the things that we’re doing besides, you know, active management. But I’d also say that habitat restoration is becoming more also more of a priority for our team. And it’s something that follows closely behind management. But when you if you just remove an invasive species, it’s likely that it’s going to be re invaded by another invasive species, if not the invasive species you just removed. So having the bigger picture about what that what that habitat was supposed to look like, how is it supposed to function what species should be there? That that’s an extra step that needs to be taken to make sure that you know our management efforts are our AR not just, you know, removing the bases but returning, returning that habitat to what it was, you know, meant to be. It’s healthy You state?
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:00:01
Yeah, absolutely. No. And I know exactly what you mean, as far as the invasives. I’ve had actually a very dear friend of mine. We were, we were doing some kind of, we were in high school, and it was some sort of volunteer work that we had. It was like compulsory volunteer work for our high school or the National Honor Society or something. And he was just like, I just don’t get it. Like how is an invasive species different than survival of the fittest? You know, he’s just like, This species is clearly doing better than everything else. Like, isn’t that evolution? And you know, my dad, yeah, ration biologist. I like, I was like, No, that’s definitely wrong, but also when I was 16, I didn’t know how to explain that better.
Arden Blumenthal 1:00:43
Yeah, yeah. It’s it is hard to communicate. But um, I’m just gonna plug Doug Tallamy right now. He’s got some amazing, an amazing YouTube video in particular that I’m thinking about where he, where he breaks it down. And just an amazing, amazing speaker. For anyone who’s interested in in really understanding why this is PCs are actually a problem. Yeah, plug for Doug Tallamy.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:01:15
Okay, yeah, we’ll make sure to link to him in the show notes. And on that note, do you have anything else that we didn’t talk about? Or that you wanted to bring back up before we wrap up here?
Arden Blumenthal 1:01:25
Yeah, I guess I guess I want to just say something like, to people. I know, there was a question about, you know, that was geared towards how to break into the field or whatever. And I just want to, like do a personal like story. I, I guess I would consider myself a biologist. But I certainly would never have considered myself a dog trainer. I’m sort of a jack of all trades, master of none. kind of person. And when I look back at my experience, and where I am now, a lot of it is pure. Good timing, a little bit of perseverance. Definitely a lot of hard work. And then a lot of being willing to work for free.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:02:28
And yeah, I mean, 100 hours.
Arden Blumenthal 1:02:31
Yeah, I would like that to not be the case for everyone. Because I think everyone deserves to be paid for their work and valued for their contributions, I am definitely not advocating for or giving expertise for free in perpetuity. I just want to make sure people out there looking at me and where I am now, as the coordinator of this program and a dog handler as like an unattainable, you know, spot. I’m very close to being like everyone else. I’m like one step away from being like everyone else who’s listening to this podcast right now. And a lot of it has to do with finding the right mentor and being just extremely open to any and all learning experiences. And so yeah, I just wanted to say, words of hope. And I guess that’s a little dramatic. But no, yeah, there are a lot of people trying to break into the field. And it’s, it’s definitely not easy. But like we’re all as I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, we’re all just kind of making it up as we go along. So
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:03:45
yeah, yeah, exactly. No, and I think you know, yeah, so many of us have similar stories in that where, you know, I’ve talked before on the podcast about how I fundamentally got really lucky with interacting with working dogs for conservation at the right time when they were open to taking a chance on me and I don’t know if I would have been able to get into figure. I don’t know, I don’t know if I would have figured this out if they hadn’t taken a chance on me. And it was a lot of persistence. And I gave up a couple times on getting into this field before I finally did. So Okay, last thing, where can people find you online? follow you on social media, all of that good stuff?
Arden Blumenthal 1:04:30
Yes, yes. Okay, so the trail conference is NY nj tc.org. They also have an Instagram and our program in particular, the conservation dogs program also has an Instagram our handle is at DIA, dia SES saves the forest. We probably will be changing that at some point. That’s a relic of when we first started the Programming there was only dia but now there is DFA getting NP will most likely be getting changed? You get the prison before us. Yeah. A simple change or so has a website. That’s LH prism.org. Hopefully we’ll be getting that revamped a little bit as we get a communications coordinator up and running with us. I think that’s it.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:05:36
Okay, yeah. And we’ll be sure to link to all of those in the show notes. And for everyone who’s listening, thank you so much for being here. We hope you learned a lot and are feeling inspired to get outside and be a canine conservationist. In whatever way suits your passions and skill set. You can find the show notes, where we’ll include all of our items links, donate canine conservationists and join our patreon to join the book club and trading club calls and all sorts of nerdy stuff over at Canine conservationists until next time.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:06:23
Are you on Patreon yet? If you love this podcast and want to support it in the long term, Patreon is the way to go. I spend hours per episode researching guests writing out questions, recording interviews, posting on Patreon to engage with our patrons about all of those, cleaning up the audio and putting together all of the promotional materials. Even with the help of volunteers. This is an enormous task that takes up a ton of my time. And right now I’m not paid for it. For just $3 a month, you can support this show while also gaining access to our exclusive detection dog training video help calls, which happened once a month, our learning club calls which are currently quarterly but I’m hoping to move to monthly and a lot more, you can join the fun over at patreon.com/canine conservationists, we’re using the link in our show notes. You also may want to share this with anyone else you know who is interested in getting involved in the field of conservation detection dogs, because this is hands down the lowest cost way to get as much mentoring and assistance and joining the community of other professional and aspiring conservation detection dog handlers. And you’re gonna really enjoy it. See you there.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai