Dogs May Weed Out Prolific Plant

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BILLINGS, Mont. - Someday soon, man's best friend could also be one of his
biggest allies in the war on noxious weeds.

That's the hope of researchers such as Kim Goodwin, who are studying
whether dogs can be trained to detect the prolific - and problematic -
spotted knapweed the same way they can be trained to sniff out drugs and bombs.

Goodwin, a weed prevention coordinator at Montana State University at
Bozeman, said she got the idea for putting dogs to work by seeing how they
have been used at airports, mail facilities and ports.

"I thought maybe dogs could do the same thing across landscapes because we
have a problem with invasive plants spreading," she said. "To be most
effective with weeds spreading, we have to detect them early."

That's been a problem because, while ranchers and land managers can fan out
over a pasture to look for the weed, it is time-consuming and often not
successful.

Enter a dog named Knapweed Nightmare. Nightmare, as trainer Hal Steiner
calls her, was being trained as a drug detection dog for law enforcement
when Goodwin contacted Steiner with her idea.

Steiner owns Rocky Mountain Command Dogs near Bozeman and has extensive
experience training dogs for tasks ranging from medical service to drug
detection.

Steiner said he has been working with Nightmare, trying to get her more
focused on the scent of the weed.

Small knapweed samples are bundled in towels to create toys that Steiner
often hides for Nightmare to find.

Over time, hiding places will get more difficult.

Trials are scheduled to begin this spring. Researchers say Knapweed
Nightmare will be unleashed on 10-acre rangeland parcels that have spotted
knapweed.

This project is important, they say, because of what's at stake. Noxious
weeds such as spotted knapweed can be costly to the agricultural and
tourism communities.

Dave Burch, state weed coordinator at Montana's Department of Agriculture,
said spotted knapweed is estimated to cost the state's economy about $42
million a year and infests about 5 million acres in Montana, he said.

While it's widespread, trying to hunt the weed for elimination is rather
unscientific. Ranchers and land managers search the range, often on foot,
for the pinkish-purple flowerhead.

Herbicides can be used to control spotted knapweed, at a cost of up to $50
an acre, said Jerry Marks, extension agent at Missoula County. Sheep, goats
and even insects can also be used for control, he said.

"It has become probably one of the most discussed and cussed plants I can
think of," Marks said.


Pubdate: Thu, 22 Jan 2004
Source: Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)
Webpage:
http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/state/article/0,1299,DRMN_21_2594342,00.html
Copyright: 2004, Denver Publishing Co.
Contact: letters@rockymountainnews.com
Website: Rocky Mountain News - A vital source for news and information in Denver and the Rocky Mountain area.