ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota Department of Natural Resouces (DNR) is unveiling its latest weapon in the fight againstzebra mussels, and contrary to recent high-tech trends this one is old school.

With tails and wet noses to boot.

DNR conservation officers will use three zebra mussel-sniffing K-9 teams for the first time this year to help combat the spread of the dreaded zebra mussel. Minnesota is only the second state in the country to use trained dogs to prevent the spread of invasive species. They will be used throughout the state during the open water season.

"The use of K-9s is a progressive enforcement tool that will complement and support our invasive species prevention efforts," said Col. Jim Konrad, DNR Enforcement director. "However, they should not overshadow the fact that preventing the spread of AIS is still everyone's personal responsibility."

Earlier this year, conservation officers Todd Kanieski and Travis Muyres traveled to California to learn about the country's first program to successfully utilizing mussel trained K-9's.

"A K-9 can find a mussel on a boat much faster than a human inspector," said Kanieski.

Minnesota'sthreemussel dogs were trained in-house for five weeks by Muyres, an experienced K-9 handler and certified K-9 unit trainer. Muyres' K-9 mussel team partner Laina is a Belgium Malinois purchased from a domestic breeder.

The other teams include water resource enforcement officers Lt. Julie Siems and her K-9 partner Brady, and Lt. Larry Hanson and his K-9 partner Digger. Siems' and Hanson's dogs are Labrador retrievers provided by animal shelters and animal rescue organizations.

"It's very difficult to find a qualified prospective detector dog, but each of the dogs selected from the shelter was healthy, sociable and had a strong search drive," said Muyres. "That search drive will prove to be invaluable in detecting AIS."

The mussel detecting K-9s will also be trained in tracking, evidence recovery, firearms detection, and wildlife detection.

Zebra mussels send a chill down the spines of wildlife officials, as theinvasive pestscan multiply out of control and dramatically change the ecosystem of a body of water. They are often transported from lake to lake by boaters. The mussels are only about the size of a finger nail, and their larvae microscopic, making them tough to find. They have been discovered on various lakes across the state.

The DNR will also have between 126 and 146 human watercraft inspectors stationed around the state at various lakes this summer.

Boaters are required by law to:

  • Remove aquatic plants, zebra mussels and other prohibited species from boats, trailers and equipment before transporting from any water access.
  • Drain all water from bilges, livewells, motors, ballast tanks and portable bait containers before leaving water accesses or shoreline property.
  • Remove the drain plug, open water draining devices, and drain bilges and livewells; the drain plug must be removed or open when transporting a boat on public roads.
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