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Wisconsin dog trained to sniff out invasive species

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Mequon, WI -- 19 years ago, a man just outside Milwaukee looked out at a square mile of farmland, and decided it needed to change.

With a purchase and donation, a unique, 150-year transformation project began, called Mequon Nature Preserve.

Now well-underway, conservationists will spend the next century-plus returning hundreds of acres to the forest, prairie and wetland it was in the early 1800's.

It's an incredibly difficult task, made even tougher by an almost constant battle with invasive plants sprouting all over the chunk of land.

But staff at the preserve have a new tool to help fight the pesky plants.
A tool with four legs and a powerful nose.

There's nothing new about a dog being used for hunting in the State of Wisconsin.

What is new is a dog in Wisconsin, hunting invasive species.

Enter Tilia -- a 3-year-old Chocolate Lab, who has a rare job title. Conservation dog.

"I get to work with her, which is a joy," said Cory Gritzmacher.

Cory Gritzmacher is Tilia's nature preserve partner in crime. The two have spent a lot of time together, training, and now suiting up and searching.

"She has this vest on so she knows she's going to work" said Gritzmacher.

Going to work means finding tiny plants in a giant plot of land. Something that would otherwise take a ton of time, requiring a lot of manpower.

"Currently she's trained on Wild Parsnip and Garlic Mustard. Those are two hard-to-control invasive species that can be hard to find." "Her cue to us is a pretty passive approach, I refer to it as a look. She'll turn around and pause and look at me and say 'hey its right here, pay me I want a reward'. She's doing it for food. That's what motivates her," said Gritzmacher.

But the job doesn't end there for Tilia. When she's not hunting, she's teaching.

Gritzmacher takes Tilia to schools, to help kids learn about the importance of conservation.

The pooch even has her own Instagram account with a pretty sizable following.

"She's kind of the Smokey Bear of the conservation world," said Gritzmacher. "Smokey was all about preventing forest fires, and we're using Tilia to talk about invasive species removal."

Tilia serving is several roles. Conservation ambassador, man's best friend and invasive species worst nightmare.

Tilia is the first ever on-staff Conservation Dog in the state of Wisconsin. And she's just getting started.

They plan to train her to sniff out even more invasives.

As for Mequon Nature Preserve, it's a non-profit that continues to receive funding through donations and grants.

So far, they've planted more than 10,000 native trees and shrubs.

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Dan Wolfe

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