Idaho conservation officers are working on a new way to sniff out wildlife crime.
Jim Stirling, a Fish and Game conservation officer in the Magic Valley Region, is going to Indiana next spring to learn how to work a dog in wildlife crime investigation as part of the Wildlife Scent Detection K9 program.
Stirling will be the handler of a one-year old black lab. Training for the dog and the handler will be provided by Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The dog will be on the ground and working by summer.
The program is designed to assist conservation officers by locating items that normally may go undetected. About 18 other states use dogs, including Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Hampshire and Kansas.
Florida was the pioneer, beginning their program in the mid '80s. Several Canadian provinces have been using them longer.
Stirling plans to use the dog's nose to locate hidden wildlife or wildlife parts, locate firearms evidence and to track persons. He expects the dog will help Fish and Game identify more closed season, unlawful possession and over-limit violations.
The dog would allow conservation officers to locate more evidence, more efficiently in the field, reducing the number of unsolved cases. Tracking skills can help locate lost or injured hunters, locate violators and prove some cases, such as trespassing. In addition, the dog will be very visible at public events, school presentations and demonstrations.
Fish and Game's program is designed as a five-year pilot project. After five years the program will be evaluated on its success and more dogs may be added. The only money contributed by Fish and Game is Stirling's salary and the vehicle costs. All equipment, training and expenses are being paid from grant money. Much of the equipment has been donated by businesses in the Magic Valley.