In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Scott Buchanan on his work with wood turtles.
Links Mentioned in the Episode:
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By Maddie L.
Scott Buchanan, the state herpetologist for the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife, is our guest. His work revolves around wood turtles, a species facing numerous conservation challenges.
Wood Turtles Overview:
Wood turtles, native to the northeastern United States and Canada, are semi-aquatic freshwater turtles with a unique appearance and adaptations for cold climates.
Wood turtles split their time between freshwater streams and upland areas, inhabiting forests, fields, and streams. Their remarkable ability to blend into their environment helps them thrive.
These turtles face urban development, road mortality, agricultural activities, disease risks, and illegal collection. Habitat degradation due to degraded streams is a significant concern.
Scott’s primary objectives involve gaining a better understanding of wood turtle populations in Rhode Island. Goals include documenting and evaluating their populations, studying their spatial ecology, and identifying the most viable and sustainable populations.
An ongoing GPS telemetry study tracks adult wood turtles, providing comprehensive data about their ecology, habitat use, and seasonal activities. This informs strategies to minimize human interference on conservation lands.
Traditional Survey Techniques:
Visual encounter surveys involve researchers walking through areas to spot wood turtles visually. While effective, it can be labor-intensive because these small turtles blend in with their surroundings.
A regional survey initiative is underway in multiple northeastern states, aimed at enhancing our knowledge of wood turtle populations for better-informed conservation decisions.
Scott discusses his work with conservation detection dogs, particularly Newt, who played a pivotal role in wood turtle surveys. The project began after Chris Hoffman, a professor at St. Lawrence University, saw an article about their turtle visual encounter surveys.
Scott emphasizes the efficiency of using dogs for surveys, comparing their data to traditional methods. Dogs, like Newt, offer substantial advantages, potentially paving the way for more conservation and management efforts using detection dogs.
Challenges and Concerns:
Questions arose about potential risks to the turtles and logistical challenges, all of which were addressed. Scott acknowledges the need to optimize dogs’ usage considering factors such as time of year and species behavior.
Positive Public Reception:
Newt’s involvement generated positive media attention and public interest, highlighting the charismatic appeal of dogs in conservation.
Scott envisions greater institutional capacity for dogs in wildlife protection, particularly in addressing illegal wildlife trade and trafficking.
In summary, Scott Buchanan’s work sheds light on the conservation efforts for wood turtles and the valuable role that detection dogs, like Newt, play in enhancing our understanding of these endangered species.
Kayla Fratt 00:09
Hello and welcome to the K9Conservationists podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs join us every week to discuss detection, training, welfare, conservation, biology and everything in between. I’m Kayla Fratt, a co-founder of K9Conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data for land managers, researchers, agencies, and NGOs. Today I have the joy of talking to Scott Buchanan, the state herpetologist with Rhode Island division of Fish and Wildlife, and we’re gonna be talking all about the work of the important work he’s doing with wood turtles and the starting to touch on some of the work that was done with Christie and Hoffman and Julia with their detection dog Newt, finding wood turtles a couple of years back. I’m super excited to get to this interview. And then next up the chapter interviews, Lauren Wendt about her work with Benny, her conservation dog who’s trained on aquatic resources, including shark fin. She talks about the criteria before adding new targets acquisition of targets and storage and this is back when Lauren Wendt was with Washington State; she now is employed at Working Dogs for Conservation alongside Betty. But before we dive in, we’re going to look at our science highlight, Scott recommended that we read “A Glimpse into the Use of Detection Dogs to Address Global Poaching, Overharvesting, and Trafficking of Aquatic Species,” which is a chapter from the book Using Detection Dogs to Monitor Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Protect Aquatic Resources, which was edited by Dr. Ngaio Richards. This chapter basically goes through several different case studies about different programs used to combat trafficking with these with detection dogs for aquatic species. So the chapter starts out with a story from Birgit Braun about a pilot program that he piloted training detection dogs to find live animals in German airports, which ultimately led to a wildlife detector with a detector dog workshop with attendance from 13 countries. The chapter then explores traffic which is a division of WWF, India World Wildlife Fund India. These pages largely focused on the routine and care of the dog within the traffic facility. Finally, the chapter examines a case study of using dogs to detect illegally harvested a lobster and abalone. This was absolutely my favorite part of the chapter I talked about training dogs to touch the glue that holds eggs to a lobsters tail, and then they were able to catch poachers who had neglected to rerelease a buried lobster, which is a lobster about to lay eggs, they found that the dog actually was also able to detect lobsters that had been cleaned lobsters that were about to grow eggs or had just dropped their eggs naturally. So really interesting stuff. Again, that chapter can be found, it’s chapter seven, and the book Using Detection Dogs to Monitor Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Protecting Aquatic Resources, edited by Dr. Ngaio Richards. Now it’s time to get to our interview with Scott. All right, well, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. Scott. Why don’t we start out with you know, tell us a little bit about how one becomes a herpetologist and you know what your background is to get into a get to where you are now.
Scott Buchanan 03:05
Sure thing. Thanks, Kayla. First of all, thanks for having me.
Kayla Fratt 03:09
Yeah, how do you get to be a herpetologist?
Scott Buchanan 03:11
Well, unfortunately, I think it’s well, for better or worse. Put it that way. I think it’s there’s a high bar of education. So you have to go to school for a really long time. And that’s, that’s my story. Not dissimilar from many in this field. But yeah, so you know, I did my undergrad in ecology, kind of general ecology. Way back when I did a master’s, I studied Hognose Snakes at Cape Cod National Seashore, studied spatial ecology, and habitat selection. And then I had the opportunity to do a PhD at the University of Rhode Island where I studied freshwater turtles, occupancy, demographics, population genetics, that kind of thing. And I got really fortunate in that I was able to land a job right across the street from URI working with the Rhode Island division of Fish and Wildlife were employed currently, as a state herpetologist. And yeah, you know, it’s the kind of thing that requires a lot of education. So I always try to tell people if you’re interested in pursuing a career in herpetology, or a similar field, get as much experience as you can get as much take every opportunity to get experience that will help you pursue that.
Kayla Fratt 04:50
Yeah, that makes sense. And was herpetology something you were always interested in as a kid, or did it kind of was it the sort of thing that you had a really impactful undergraduate class or did you just I landed a master’s program that focused in that direction.
Scott Buchanan 05:04
Well, my interests were broad. Growing up, I was always fascinated by amphibians and reptiles. Certainly, you know, I remember, well, the first snake I ever saw in the wild when I was a kid. But like, I wasn’t the proto typical kid herper, necessarily, you know. It wasn’t until after my undergraduate, I knew from a young age, I was like, I want to work outdoors, I want to work in conservation. But that could go in many different ways. And so, undergrad, I studied ecology. I was very interested in conservation. But it wasn’t until after undergrad when I got a volunteer position at Cape Cod National Seashore, working as a herpetological field tech, and being immersed in like data collection, and inventory, Inventory and Monitoring of amphibians and reptiles in that setting, that it really flipped the switch. And I worked with, I was fortunate, also in that at that same time, there were a number of graduate students doing work there at both the Masters and PhD level, so there was this little, like herb conservation community that was there. And there were some great mentors at that time of my life. And I hadn’t even considered going to grad school at that point, I just wanted to go to work. But that changed after exposure to, you know, the work that these other young people were doing and having a great mentor Bob Cook, who was the park herpetologist at the time, and I ended up doing a master’s there and going back to work seasonally there for six years in a row. And really, you know, fell in love with not just keep cod, but southern New England, I was my family who grew up in New Jersey for the most part. And yeah, I don’t know, one thing led to another and I am
Kayla Fratt 07:26
yeah, no, that’s great. And I think always a good reminder that false rings true bourbon, so many of the grooves that our listeners are interested in. It’s just it’s, it’s a lot of education and a lot of taking opportunities. And yeah, the that inspiration is so important as well. So what does what does a state or pathologist do? What are some of your your goals? And what is your day to day look like?
Scott Buchanan 07:51
Sure, and I’ll start by saying almost no two days are alike, which is good. I like that about the job. The quick version is it’s all things conservation and management, amphibians and reptiles in the state of Rhode Island. That’s what I say to people when I don’t have time for a deeper description. But when I do, you know, there’s, there’s like five or six pillars of things that I do in my job, or that are sort of the core responsibilities. And one, which is probably the most fun is Inventory and Monitoring of amphibians and reptiles in the state of Rhode Island. So, you know, we always want to learn more about where our species are, and the state of their populations. So that we can inform conservation and management as much as possible and take into account populations of amphibians and reptiles. When we can when you know, all the things that are going on out there are at some decision making point. We have about 40 species of amphibians and reptiles in Rhode Island. So that’s a lot. You know, that’s an endless effort and things are always changing. We’re never going to know as much as we want to know. So we have to prioritize. And usually we prioritize learning more about species of conservation concern, threatened and endangered species, vulnerable species, that sort of thing. And that’s like doing surveys that doing data collection, opportunistically sometimes any source of data is good data, try not to turn anything away and try to keep track of everything coming in the door. So that’s one big thing. Another part of the job is kind of wearing a regulator hat. So every state has laws and regulations around wildlife and that’s no different With amphibians and reptiles, so on an annual basis, we might be kind of tweaking our regulations to change this or that or to improve the clarity of the regulations. And then we also have to enforce those regulations wherever and whenever possible. So that can be in for me, that can be like doing inspections at a pet store, that can be working with law enforcement, if we get a public complaint about someone in possession of wildlife that they shouldn’t be in possession of, that sort of thing. Um, and then you have, of course, just habitat management. So, you know, every, whenever there’s habitat management going on, especially on our state lands, you know, there’s a, there’s a role for me to play in informing those decisions. And then you have outreach and education, working with the public kind of doing things like this, you know, working to put information out there and inform the public and raise interest by the public. And then what else? I think that covers the biggest, you know, pillars of the job. But like I said, it’s dynamic, it’s changing all the time. There’s always things you don’t predict that come up, and you’re putting out brush fires, and it’s a really interesting and oftentimes, fun and rewarding job. So I’m grateful to have that job.
Kayla Fratt 11:39
Yeah, the variety of sounds really, really great. And there’s, there’s so much that’s involved. That sounds like a very cool job. So pivoting now, we’re here to talk mostly about wood turtles. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about what are what are wooden turtles? What are they like? What challenges are they facing for someone who maybe hasn’t heard of them? Or maybe has heard of them, but couldn’t necessarily pick them out of a lineup? What what do we need to know about our winter or friends?
Scott Buchanan 12:06
Sure. What’s arrows are a really cool species. And a lot of my focus and my job and stemming from my PhD has to do with turtles more than anything else in my job. And that’s in part because turtles are so vulnerable, kind of a combination of their biology and the risks that they face in the wild. So I’ve been in this position almost five years, and a lot of my energy’s gone towards turtles in Rhode Island when turtles are one of our most imperiled species, and they are a freshwater turtle, or sometimes referred to as a semi aquatic turtle, meaning they spend part of their life in freshwater part of their life in the uplands. They’re very much a habitat specialist. And they’re associated with freshwater streams, like non typically non degraded, clean water, gravelly, sandy bottom streams, their geographic range stretches probably from like a Virginia up into eastern Canada and parts of the Midwest. So they’re acclimated to cold weather for sure. Kind of a northern species, I would say, with respect to, you know, us geography. And they’re just beautiful species. I think the care paste length, the shell length, probably gets up to about eight inches. They have sort of like an etched pattern in the scutes of their shell, which gives them their name, they look like they’ve been etched by wood. And they have like, orange coloring on the face. They are when you come across them, typically they’re like docile and easy to handle. And just it’s really cool species. And they’re very much imperiled. So they’re throughout their range. And in Rhode Island, you know, we’re a small state, we have a handful of populations, We’re particularly concerned about them, but they’re subject to a whole variety of risks. And, you know, it’s typical ones, it’s urban suburban development, you know, for new homes and construction. Road mortality getting hit by cars, when they’re crossing roads. Similarly, with agricultural equipment, getting getting hit by a mower or something like that. There’s always disease risk here. In reptiles, they’re subjected to illegal collection, illegal collection from the wild for the pet trade. And also habitat degradation because they are a freshwater. There, they rely upon freshwater stream stream specialist. It’s easy to degrade a stream. And when that occurs that can make a stream uninhabitable for them. So very much like a regional species of conservation concern, they’re actually being considered for listing under the federal endangered species act right now. That decision is pending, we’re probably going to learn later this year if in fact, they obtain some status. And it seems possible that they could with this picture.
Kayla Fratt 15:54
Yeah. Yeah. So definitely one of those species that have got a lot of challenges. And I will say, time you hear about a habitat specialist nowadays that that can’t be a good thing, kind of conservation wise. So what are some of the goals that you have in your role? As far as researching was when turtles like what are the questions that are still outstanding, that are of conservation, conservation importance for them?
Scott Buchanan 16:24
It all starts with learning more about the populations we have in Rhode Island. On unfortunately, we know very little about the species in the state, we can infer based on having collected very little data over the years, very little incidental, very few incidental observations over the years from Fish and Wildlife staff and other researchers in the state and also the public. Like, we know there’s not a ton of them. And we know a few places where they occur, where populations seem to be at least most robust in the state. But knowing only that we want, we all know a couple of things like there’s gotta be places they occur, that we’re missing them. And we need to know those places, and document those places and have them on record so that when that information can be used to inform conservation and management in any way it’s there. And this species can come to the fore and be considered in decision making. And then within those populations, we want to get a sense of how robust they are, how viable and sustainable are these actual populations are? They’re 15 adults left. And these are populations that are on their way towards blinking out? Or are there are a couple 100 adults left. And he’s are strong, viable populations that we should really invest resources to ensure that they’re going to be here in 2515 100 years. And so that, that those are big questions, and like, there’s a lot of work needed to get to that point. And that’s where surveys come in. And other types of studies, too, like we are currently doing GPS telemetry study on one of our populations of wind turtles in the state to figure out like, how much space do they use around this stream? What time of year? Are they in nearby fields? That sort of thing?
Kayla Fratt 18:52
Gotcha. Can you tell us a little bit more about maybe the telemetry study, and then some of the other methods that have kind of traditionally or historically been used for monitoring with turtles. And maybe as you’re going through that if you want to mention anything about kind of the strengths or weaknesses of those techniques before we before we dive into the dog stuff?
Scott Buchanan 19:11
Sure, sure. I’ll start with telemetry and then I’ll talk about surveys, more traditional survey techniques, the telemetry, we are using GPS tags, which is exciting because they can produce so much more data than typical radio telemetry. radio telemetry requires that a researcher go out in the field and physically find the animal hone in on it using the radio signal, and then take a location of that animal. GPS. These tags that we’re using are taking like nine locations a day. Oh. So you’re getting an order of magnitude, more data. And that allows us to And we’re studying them to just gain a much better understanding of their typical ecology, spatial ecology, habitat use activity. So it’s an exciting study, we’re doing it on one of our most robust populations we’ve got, we’re scheduled to be a two year study, we started last year, we’ll collect data again this year, on all adult turtles, they have to be a certain size so that you can epoxy these transmitters on their shell. We’ve got 5050, roughly 5050, adult females and males, about 20 turtles each year we’ll be tracking. And it was, you know, there’s always bumps in the road when you start a research project, but we’ve smoothed out most of those bumps now we’re, we’re getting really good reliable data, we understand the data and sort of the you know, any, any caveats associated with the data, and we’re feeling really good about it. And, again, it’s going to inform management, especially so this study is taking place from conservation land in Rhode Island, and it’s conservation land that’s subject to all sorts of human use. Hunting, fishing, horseback riding, hiking, camping, all that sorts of stuff. And some habitat management as well. View vehicle traffic. So we feel like it’s going to inform us to say, okay, you know, during these times yours in these areas, let’s be as hands off as possible to make sure that we’re not mowing wood turtles, or disturbing wood turtles, or subjecting them to vehicle traffic, that sort of thing. And that’s, you know, that’s it’s applied research. So it’s valuable. On the survey side, a typical approach to surveying is what was some form of what’s referred to as visual encounter surveys. And that’s exactly what it sounds like, that’s a group of an individual or a small group of people in the field, kind of walking a transect in some systematic way, whether it’s in the stream, or immediately adjacent to the stream, and trying, hoping to bump into a wood turtle to see one with your eyes and then collect data on it. And that’s effective it works. But it’s very much a, it, you have to invest a lot of time, typically, in order to encounter enough with turtles, to understand a population on the level that we want to understand the population. And it’s a lot of you know, it’s a lot of physical labor to requires just a lot of people out there doing the work. And there is there’s a regional effort spurred in part by US Fish and Wildlife Service’s desire to learn more about the species to inform their decision making process. For the ESA, there’s a regional effort among all the states in the northeast to do these types of surveys in a coordinated fashion. So for the last few years, most of the states have been conducting that type of survey, which I just described visual Yeah, under survey.
Kayla Fratt 23:47
Yeah. What? What is the, like the vegetation to cover look like there and kind of remind me how big these turtles are, because it seems like a very challenging visual survey set up.
Scott Buchanan 23:59
Yeah, it can be I mean, they’re, they’re smaller turtles, for sure. These ones are get to about eight inches. Okay, length, you know, so that’s like, a reasonable search image, I guess. Yeah. But, you know, just like a lot of species, they’re evolved to blend in with their environment. They’re, they rely on being cryptic, in order to avoid predation in many cases. So when they’re in a stream, they don’t look all that much different than Iraq. They’re easy to miss when they’re in the stream and you’re talking about flowing water. Where, you know, vision is kind of obscured when you’re looking through the water. And that’s only in a stream that’s shallow enough to see through a crash. They can be in deeper streams or darker streams and a lot of times, streams are there’s either sediment or or the waters really tannic see can’t see through it that well. And then when they’re in the uplands and just to just a little bit more, and they’re sort of like history for a portion of the year, they’re in the streams. And that’s typically like, fall through the spring there overwintering in the streams. And then both the males and the females will come out of the streams, usually, like, I don’t know, mid spring or so and through the summer, and spend time, both in the stream and outside of the stream and the habitat adjacent to the streams to forage, the females have to nest kind of just estimate like chill out and relax, conserve energy, to, to thermal regulate, to bring their body temperature up, so that their metabolism can kick in and they can grow all that sort of stuff. And now when they’re in the uplands, you know, habitat, the vegetation varies widely. In southern New England, you’re talking typically about re forested areas. So secondary forest, which can mean a lot of different things, but it’s usually like a canopy forest. Mixed hardwoods and softwood species. And some level of understory you know, of, of shrubs and vegetation at the ground layer. Cover is important for them, they can go under leaf litter, or they can just kind of bury themselves in a grass for thick vegetation to hide. And then another important component of that vegetation is fields. A lot of there’s, there’s just a typical like matrix of habitats in my part of the world is like forest and field in the field is agriculture or kept in grassland for habitat management purposes or something like that. And those fields provide good opportunities for thermo regulation, and they provide good opportunities for nesting for the females. So we oftentimes find what turtles we oftentimes find box turtles right at the edge of that forest and field.
Kayla Fratt 27:30
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Scott Buchanan 28:45
Yeah, I would love to. We were approached by a professor at St. Lawrence University, Chris Hoffman. Chris has been working with dogs for some time. And we had published a small article about a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island doing with turtle visual encounter surveys. Chris saw that article and gave us a call and said, Would you be interested in having a dog come down to do what turtle surveys and this is this is in coordination with another professor at URI Nancy character who I work with very closely in my capacity on a number of projects. And Nancy and I jumped at that opportunity. We said Yeah, absolutely. That could be really productive. It could be really interesting. Let’s give it a go. And so we set things up. Chris had an undergraduate student come down to Rhode Island for a couple months and lead the project. That student was Julia Julia sir Wha, sir Roy. And pretty much from you know, we spent a little bit of time Training the dog to get the dog acclimated to the Rhode Island environment and to further train the dog on wolf turtles. And before we knew it, they were off and running. And they were finding what turtles and that dog Newt was our sort of mascot superhero. In short order, he was really effective at finding wood turtles, and box turtles who would who oftentimes come across box turtles in shared habitat, which is also great data. And we kind of set things up so that there was a degree of, of a systematic approach to the surveys. We focused new in Julia in on a few populations on three areas where we knew there were with turtles. And we wanted to learn more about those populations for turtles. So in other words, let’s bring new down and have them do surveys. And let’s have him find as many more turtles at these three populations as possible. New proved really effective at that.
Kayla Fratt 31:21
Yeah, that’s great. Yeah, so were you out in the field with Julia Newt much at all, or were you stuck working on other projects during during kind of fieldwork?
Scott Buchanan 31:35
I’m oftentimes stuck working on other projects. It’s hard to in this role, it’s hard to like, dedicate as much energy as I want to any one project, I was there in the initial stages, you know, to meet the team and meet new and get a sense of what you could do. So and of course, had to acclimate the team to to the sites and make sure everything was running smoothly. So I spent some time in the field, observing you observing Julia and learning from Julia and Chris, about the dog and dog surveys. But for the most part, Julia and the dog, and we also had another URI, undergraduate student, Noah Goldthwaite, here is helping the team. And for the most part, they worked independently, you know, and I had to train them up on collect data from turtles to when they find turtles, and Julia and Noah took right to that. And they did a great job with collecting data from turtles, and they generated a, you know, a significant dataset, they found, I think they found 21 individuals there bounces about 20 individuals using new, that’s just one turtle. So I also did some foster work. Which was, you know, I mean, that, for reference that was in, they did that in a couple months, we also had a graduate student at URI who have done, who completed two years of visual encounter surveys. And that’s doing a lot more, that’s investing a lot more time over those two years doing a lot of other sites and granted sites where we didn’t know the status of what turtles, we didn’t know if they were there or not. That was more about figuring out where they were. And that was Chloe Johnson. And she did, she did a great job with her project. But in all that time, she only found, I want to say, less than 30 With turtles, like around 25. So you’re talking comparable amounts of data in a two month period, as compared to a period of two months using the dog as two years without the dog, which is, you know, it’s a little bit of comparing apples to oranges. There were differences there in the approach and whatnot. But nonetheless, I mean, it screams to me, Hey, this dog is really effective at finding with turtles. There’s a real future for these types of surveys using dogs.
Kayla Fratt 34:39
Yeah, definitely. And I think a one of the things that I know, I’ve heard I think heat Smith from robot detection team says this often as a reminder, that when you do have a dog team out there, you’re also not just relying on the dog. And I think sometimes we have this tendency to compare human only searchers to dog too. seems as if dog teams don’t also involve the human searcher. And obviously, depending on kind of the terrain and the risks involved, the handler may not be may have to focus almost entirely on the dog. But I’ve also certainly been in situations where I have found stuff as I’ve been handling the dog. It’s not that the handlers deadweight.
Scott Buchanan 35:21
Oh, yeah, yep. Yep. Yeah, that’s a really good point.
Kayla Fratt 35:24
Okay, thank you. Well, so what were some of your kind of questions or hesitations? Or initially, when Chris reached out to you, have you heard of detection dogs before? Had this been something you’d even consider? Did you think she was crazy? Do you think the dog was?
Scott Buchanan 35:44
What? Yeah, that those those types of questions came to the fore? You know, early on, we asked those questions. of Chris, is there any risk to the to the target animal? These are really sensitive species. Yeah, they have a shell, but they’re subject to disturbance and injury. And she was quick to dispel those fears. And we didn’t see any thing like that, you know, there’s news, well trained, and was not aggressive towards any animal and would just lie down when he found a turtle. Other initial concerns and questions we had were just like around logistics, you know, we had to try to set this up in short order. And I had heard of dogs as turtle detectors before, and usually in the light that they were good at finding turtles. But you still have to figure out all the logistics, you have to figure out, how are we going to use the dog team most efficiently? We have an ongoing turtle survey project in the state. How are we going to coordinate with those surveys and not disrupt those surveys? And, you know, we just we figured it would be a challenge, but we went for it anyway. And it was really rewarding in the end.
Kayla Fratt 37:11
Yeah. Yeah. I’m glad that I’m glad that you are open to it. And that’s always one of the things that you know, it’s challenging in this field as a practitioner to figure out how and when to approach the right people and the right projects. And, you know, really proved the dogs worth. And I’m glad that that Newt and Julia and Chris continued to demonstrate that level of professionality. And yet did a did a really, really good job. It sounds like, so is there Do you have any hopes for returning to work with, with dogs? Do you have the data that you feel like you’d need? What is kind of what are your thoughts as far as the future of Rhode Island? With turtle detection dogs?
Scott Buchanan 37:57
Well, I am very much open to continuing to work. You know, when we first spoke with Chris, I was open minded and optimistic, but also, you know, cautiously optimistic. I had never seen dogs in practice in this capacity before. And my mind did change over that short period working with them just a couple of months. And I’m certain, you know, I, I feel very confident, I should say that working with dogs can generate more data than relying strictly on visual encounter surveys. And therefore I think there’s a real place for turtle detector dogs. In conservation and management, there’s always going to be a need for more data, you know, more inventory monitoring data. And if you know, research teams, state fish and wildlife agencies, wildlife, land conservation NGOs, if they can use this practice to learn more about turtles and other wildlife hard to find wildlife, on their lands. It’s going to benefit their ability to do conservation and management. I would we don’t have any plans right now to work with Chris again. But of course, I’d be open to that. I think that if I were to institute sort of a regular using dogs regularly in this capacity, it would take a bit of work on my end, and I’d have to convince some people to set aside funding to do that. But, you know, again, I’m really confident that the results would speak for themselves. And I think that, you know, there’s I say I’m very confident, just shy of certain. And the only reason is because I’m a scientist and like, I want to see an experimental design, and I want to see a statistically different result. In order to be certain, and the data we have, it’s strong, but it’s preliminary. You know, it’s it’s not that degree of there’s not that degree of certainty, I guess. But it’s very strong preliminary evidence, and it’s something that would also be worth pursuing. At the sort of academic and research level, like, Let’s demonstrate, let’s prove that dogs in an experimentally sound way, let’s prove that dogs are, or a dog team is more efficient at finding turtles.
Kayla Fratt 41:02
Yeah, I would imagine. So. And there may still I think, I think it’s important for all of us to be open, open minded and honest to about you know, okay, well, maybe we find that during certain times of the year based on turtle behavior, or kind of olfactory relief, or olfactory changes due to hormone levels, dogs are more or less efficient at certain times of year. I know, there have been past findings with detector dogs, you know, potentially struggling more than would be expected in specific studies. I think that’s where continuing to do so much of this research is really helpful as well, even if we can feel really confident that dogs on dog teams are going to be useful, that still really worth investigating. Okay, but you know, what time of year, what behavioral things may be going on with the target species that makes it more or less easy, you know, as a different example, we were just completing our fieldwork in Guatemala, and we’re realizing that we weren’t collecting as well, as far as we know, we didn’t really collect nearly as much, Margot Scott, as we had kind of hoped that the dogs would be able to help fill in that gaps, that gap. And then, you know, through more conversations, it’s just kind of like, well, it’s actually a really good chance that most of the Margot’s cat is going to be way up in the trees and the dogs. They’re not the right tool to solve that particular problem. So they solved a lot of other problems for that project. But the dogs are unlikely to come in and, you know, fix the bar guy’s got collection problem. And I think that’s always something that it’s really important to be honest and open minded about those things as practitioners, because dogs are not the perfect tool for every single job. Yep,
Scott Buchanan 42:44
I completely agree. They’re, they’re a tool. They’re a strong tool, potentially. But any tool needs to be optimized for the task at hand. And that’s a great point. And it’s something that in an academic research setting could be investigated.
Kayla Fratt 43:05
Yeah, yeah, definitely. Well, we’re going to be doing a follow up episode with Chris and Julia to talk more about Newt and what went into his training and the actual fieldwork. But as we’re wrapping up here, Scott, I’d love to hear if you had any other final points or takeaways, or maybe great stories from the field that you wanted to be sure to share with our listeners before we before we go.
Scott Buchanan 43:27
One thing I would love to mention is how popular Newt was very quickly. In Rhode Island and beyond, as soon as the media learn that we’re using a dog to find turtles, they were tripping over themselves to get in touch with us and see new inaction and interview Julia and Noah and some others involved in the project. I should also mention Roger Williams Park zoo, and the director of conservation there Luke karate, he played a really important role in this project. He’s studied with turtles in the state in the past and was a real supporter of this project. And so that was an on unforeseen benefit. All that positive press, you know, Oh, yeah. As a as a government employee. Getting your agency out there in a good light is a really valuable thing. And, you know, Newt was the catalyst for that. There’s no question.
Kayla Fratt 44:37
We’ve talked a little bit in a couple of different areas about the fact that because dogs are charismatic megafauna in a way they can bring this positive media attention and focus to projects that might otherwise escape that sort of attention and focus. You know, when you’re working on zebra mussel projects or eradication of invasive plant, or And then surveys on some sort of endangered plant, it’s just it can be hard to get people excited about that. And I think turtles fall somewhere above invasive plants for sure as far as charisma. But, you know, for the general public, they’re certainly not koalas or Pampas frogs and really help help bring that charisma factor up. And again, that’s not the main point. But it’s certainly a benefit. Well, Scott, is there anything else that you wanted to bring up? Or anything that maybe you wanted to ask me before we go here?
Scott Buchanan 45:30
I just think there’s a ton of potential here. Yeah. Dogs and turtle conservation? You?
Kayla Fratt 45:37
Yeah. Well, I think even there’s a lot of potential to be using dogs more, more consistently. And on a staff level, whether it’s on in, you know, state, federal, national county government or within some of these larger preserves or coalition’s I think, you know, personally, there’s a lot of reasons that I, I have a love hate relationship with this contractor based model. But I think there, there could be a lot more long term benefit and a lot more long term data that comes out of figuring out more ways to have dog teams, on staff within given agencies or NGOs. So I’m excited that that’s something that, you know, I think the more we work with agents with these agencies, the more they might be able to start seeing that. And I hope it’s something that I see more of in my lifetime.
Scott Buchanan 46:27
Here, here. Yeah. And that raises the issue of illegal trade and wildlife trafficking. And I think that, you know, hopefully, that’s a whole nother podcast. But there’s certainly a need for greater institutional capacity agency capacity using dogs not just relying on contractors to do it, in that sector. Because there’s so much being shipped in and out of the country all the time. And x ray machines can’t get to it all dogs are really good at protecting concealed wildlife as
Kayla Fratt 47:06
well, they really, really are. And again, it’s the sort of thing where I think, potentially, you know, you get a dog on staff so that they can do a couple of months a year of fieldwork on one turtles, but then you’ve got the dog and the handler on staff, you might as well spend a couple of months working on, you know, I don’t know, if there’s a peak season for specific types of trafficking, I’m sure it depends on what’s being trafficked. But, you know, once you’ve got these dogs around, then they’re just become, they’re just more and more opportunities to leverage them. And these dogs love the work and want to work. And if you’re strategic about what you’re teaching them to do, you can have dogs working on different property, you know, a different project every month almost. Yeah, yeah. Definitely something again, I’d just love to be seeing more of and I think there are some groups already doing a really good job of that. And those were, you know, highlighted in that book chapter that we sent, that we highlighted at the beginning of the podcast. Again, I think we’re in an exciting place as an industry. And I’m really grateful for folks like you who are open to working with dogs and excited to see where this can go. And I’m glad that, you know, Julia and Newt were so helpful. And I hope that these, I hope that we keep hearing good news about our web turtle friends, where, you know, we’re all rooting for them, whether we’re actually actively working on them or not.
Scott Buchanan 48:24
It’s good to hear good to hear. And likewise keep up the important work that you’re doing. I think that there’s there’s a clear path here for more work in the future with dogs and conservation, and I hope that your work results in more dogs working with conservation.
Kayla Fratt 48:45
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Well, yeah, thank you and for everyone at home. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you learned a lot and you’re feeling inspired to get outside and be a canine conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and your skill set. You can find Show notes, donate to K9conservationists, join our Patreon, or sign up for our online handler course at K9conservationists.org. Until next time!