Colorado Parks and Wildlife using dogs to aid wildlife officers with enforcement
With more than 900,000 acres of land under their purview, it can be difficult for officers with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to effectively cover all of their ground. So when a call comes in reporting poachers in the area or there’s a need to quickly locate an endangered species, it helps to have a good nose.
Over the last couple years Colorado Parks and Wildlife has introduced a trio of dogs to their ranks, part of an ongoing pilot program meant to determine if K-9 units are effective in assisting in the department’s law enforcement efforts, education programs and even management of the state’s wildlife.
“In general our wildlife officers have huge amounts of land they have to cover,” said Jason Clay, a spokesperson for CPW. “Between management for hunting and fishing, wildlife watching, camping, trails and more, it’s hard for our officers to cover a lot of ground. We’re seeing if a tool like this can be an aid, and everything we’ve seen so far points to the fact that the dogs are a great asset to our officers.”
“You can go over very large amounts of acreage looking for things, but just walking around with a naked eye, it’s going to be hard to spot,” said Clay. “But with the scent detection of the animals, Cash was able to find the carcass, which led to the hunters being prosecuted. Their capabilities with their scent far exceed what we can do on our own.”
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In addition to locating suspects and evidence, the dogs’ ability to track scents on several different animals can come in handy in conservation efforts as well. Cash is able to detect and track two different endangered species in Colorado: The black-footed ferret and the boreal toad.
“Trying to detect the odors of those two species can be used to help in location efforts,” said Clay. “There have been black-footed ferrets that have been transplanted and released, because they’re a very endangered species, to seven or eight different sites. So if they want to go look after they’ve released these animals, the dogs can go and try and help detect them to see how they’re taking hold.”
Samson is also currently undergoing training to be used in experimental “canine hard releases” with dangerous animals such as bears and mountain lions. Clay said when CPW relocates a bear or mountain lion away from residential areas, they often use rubber buckshot to reinforce negative experiences with humans. Once Samson’s training is complete, he’ll begin assisting with the releases, presumably by safely barking and trying to scare the animal back into the wilderness to further reinforcing the negative association.
Finally, the dogs have served as ambassadors for parks and wildlife, visiting a number of schools across Colorado to help spread the word about people’s responsibilities regarding wildlife and the environment.
“Our officers are in schools all the time with the dogs, and they’re great ambassadors for the mission of conservation of parks and wildlife,” said Clay.
Because the program is still in its pilot stage, it’s funded primarily through public donations. Clay said it costs about $12,000 in the initial stages to obtain and train a new dog for the program, and as much as $20,000 over a 10-year working period that includes food, equipment, veterinary care and more. CPW currently has a donation page set up at GoFundMe.com/CPW-k9 to help raise funds for the program.
“They’re a tremendous tool, just as they’re a staple in other law enforcement agencies,” said Clay. “They add dimensions to our operations that we can’t do ourselves, and they can greatly enhance our conservation efforts.”
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Wayne Hall took a job as an air traffic controller at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in 2003 thinking he would stay for a short time. Instead he stayed for nearly 17 years and was promoted up to the position of air traffic manager. He reflected on the experience upon retirement.