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In September, Alan Ramsey and Marirose Kuhlman met with Ngaio Richards and Orbee of Working Dogs for Conservation (WDC). WDC uses trained detection dogs in non-invasive conservation applications. The dogs learn to locate invertebrates, rare or invasive plants, and wildlife sign (e.g., scat, urine, and dens).

In September, Alan Ramsey and Marirose Kuhlman met with Ngaio Richards and Orbee of Working Dogs for Conservation (WDC).

Ngaio studies scat from otter and mink to monitor aquatic contaminants such as heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and flame-retardants. The presence of these contaminants indicates an unhealthy aquatic ecosystem.

Ngaio studies scat from otter and mink to monitor aquatic contaminants such as heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and flame-retardants.  The presence of these contaminants indicates an unhealthy aquatic ecosystem.

Alan and Marirose compared their scat detecting ability with that of Ngaio and Orbee. They searched for otter and mink scat along 2 km of the northern Bitterroot River shoreline - an area of known otter activity. Ngaio and Orbee surveyed the same stretch later that day. The red line indicates the survey path. Blue pins represent located otter scat. Pins cluster at otter latrines where Orbee found multiple scats.

Final otter scat score: Orbee 11; Alan 1. Neither Alan and Marirose nor Orbee found any mink scat.

Orbee sniffed out a scat in this logjam. Due to difficult accessibility, a human searcher might avoid these logs, or find the logjam too complex for a thorough search.

Orbee sniffed out a scat in this logjam. Due to difficult accessibility, a human searcher might avoid these logs, or find the logjam too complex for a thorough search.

Alan stepped right over some camouflaged otter scat.  When Orbee approached, he located it right away and alerted Ngaio.

Alan stepped right over some camouflaged otter scat. When Orbee approached, he located it right away and alerted Ngaio.

Orbee also detected this otter anal jelly, a substance used for scent marking, along an eroded bank below a cottonwood.  Alan and Marirose had bypassed this difficult section of riverbank.

Orbee also detected this otter anal jelly, a substance used for scent marking, along an eroded bank below a cottonwood. Alan and Marirose had bypassed this difficult section of riverbank.

Ngaio collected fresh otter scats for chemical contaminant analyses.  Fresh samples require careful handling. Ngaio wore gloves to deposit fresh scats in sterile glass jars. She can analyze these samples later to determine heavy metal content, species, sex, and individual identification.

Ngaio collected fresh otter scats for chemical contaminant analyses. Fresh samples require careful handling. Ngaio wore gloves to deposit fresh scats in sterile glass jars. She can analyze these samples later to determine heavy metal content, species, sex, and individual identification.

Orbee’s reward for a job well done was a fun game of tug with Ngaio!  It was delightful to see this dog-handler team’s obvious rapport with one another.

Orbee’s reward for a job well done was a fun game of tug with Ngaio! It was delightful to see this dog-handler team’s obvious rapport with one another.

About the Author

Marirose Kuhlman

Marirose graduated with a BA in biology with an emphasis in botanical science from the University of Montana, Missoula. She gained experience in botany working as a field technician for the Forest Service, non-profits, and the university. She has also worked as a lab technician in a salmon and trout genetics lab, and has organized environmental education classes for local homeschooled children.

Marirose works as a botanist for MPG Ranch where she performs vegetation surveys and conducts a pollinator monitoring program. She lives in a little hand-built cabin in the woods with her husband and their four young children who keep them very, very busy.