June 6, 2019 | Topics: Stories
By Cory Gritzmacher
Have you ever tried to find something that seems nearly impossible to locate? Ever wonder if a tool existed in present day that could do that very task? The good news is that a tool does exist and they are often referred to as “man’s best friend.”
In summer 2016, Mequon Nature Preserve Inc. (MNP Inc.) purchased a Labrador puppy to fulfill land restoration initiatives as well as become part of the environmental education team for youth programs and community events in the surrounding area. Once trained, MNP Inc.’s dog, Tilia (Latin word for basswood tree), will work at Mequon Nature Preserve (MNP) full time as a conservation ambassador. As a one-year-old, Tilia is learning to scent three species of salamanders as well as wild parsnip, a toxic invasive plant species that can cause third degree burns when touched. On evenings and weekends, the dog lives with executive director Kristin Gies and her family. The dog will be a part of the MNP Inc. team for her life.
The dog’s greatest value lies with her ability to scent wild parsnip, a dangerous invasive plant that can be difficult to identify before it flowers. Wild parsnip is spreading rapidly throughout the City of Mequon and elsewhere. If touched, this plant can cause third degree burns, making it more of a health hazard than poison ivy and poison oak. Once identified with the dog’s assistance, the wild parsnip will be properly eradicated to control future dissemination of seeds.
Tilia will also provide health benefits and create a positive atmosphere to MNP visitors, at the weekly story time, community workshops, and annual events. Studies have shown that animals reduce stress, increase serotonin levels, create positive and happy surroundings, increase productivity, and strengthen employee morale in the workplace. Having the dog join the staff in classroom settings is a creative way to educate students about conservation and make their experiences more memorable.
Over the past two years, Tilia has worked on her skills for offsite fieldwork, learned several new scents to expand her repertoire and has demonstrated her skills for many environmental organizations for future projects. She will be available to hire for those and other organizations who have a need for her skills. Fees charged will help cover Tilia’s training costs, care and staff time.
This year, Tilia will be focusing on school-related and mascot work and will hopefully be hired by at least 3-5 organizations to cover training costs. MNP plans to have a sustainable program by 2020.
Cory Gritzmacher is the Director of Restoration and Operations at Mequon Nature Preserve. Images courtesy Mequon Nature Preserve.