Minnesota DNR uses K9s to sniff out aquatic invasive species

We’re all aware of dogs trained to sniff out drugs, but now DNR officials showcased dogs that can zone in on invasive species such as zebra mussels, which are a growing problem in Minnesota lakes.

If you have zebra mussels hiding on your boat or trailer, you don't want K-9 Reggie around. He'll zero in on the bad guys very fast.  He's one of just two dogs in the state trained to hone in on the hitchhikers.

“They're trained just like drug dogs, just for a different scent that's all,” K-9 Conservation Officer Larry Hansen said.

But when Reggie's not around, there are now nearly 1,000 trained inspectors in Minnesota looking for invasive species like milfoil and zebra mussels.

“If you take zebra mussels, it’s basically stripping the nutrients of the game fish that are in there and taking the food source away,” State Conservation Officer Lt. Adam Block said.

But it seems boaters are getting the message to check their boats.  As the violation rate is dropping, some boaters say following the law has just become routine.

 “When we first take it out we check the bottom for weeds, and then drain all the live wells and the drains on the boat and then go underneath and check for all the weeds and hopefully we don't have any with us,” angler Dave Murray said.

Besides boats, docks and lifts also collect invasive species -- so if you're looking to buy or sell either one, there's something you need to know.

“If you're a homeowner and you're looking to sell your dock or lift, you have to make sure it's been out of the water for 21 days or the person you're selling it to has to make sure it's been out of the water for 21 days,” Block said.

This weekend, as part of the DNR’s "Think Zero" campaign, you can expect to see increased enforcement along boat ramps.  It may not be Reggie, but there will be plenty of people making sure that when you pull out, you pull the plug.

“Think Zero”

Boaters and anglers are encouraged to “Think Zero” this weekend – meaning zero spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) and zero violations. The Minnesota DNR holds Think Zero weekend annually to raise awareness of efforts to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species in the state.

According to the DNR, the number of people violating AIS laws in Minnesota is significantly decreasing each year. The preliminary violation rate for 2015 is 11.6 percent, compared to 17 percent in 2014 and 23 percent in 2013. DNR Enforcement Operations Manager Todd Kanieski said a wide range of factors are contributing to the decline.

Legal requirements for boaters and anglers

•             Clean aquatic plants and animals from watercraft.

•             Drain all water by removing drain plugs, and keep drain plugs out while transporting watercraft.

•             Dispose of unwanted bait in the trash.

Recommendations for boaters

•             Spray boat with high-pressure water;

•             Rinse boat with hot water (120 degrees for two minutes, or 140 degrees for 10 seconds)

•             Dry boat and equipment for at least five days.