An invasive weed that chokes out native plant species has multiplied significantly since it was found in Fish Creek Park 15 years ago and the province is now using dogs to help develop a plan to control it.

Thesium arvense is typically found in China and central Europe but was discovered in Fish Creek in 2001 and experts say its impact on the park’s biodiversity is a concern.

"This has an added complication because the roots of this species parasitize the roots of other species, so they suck the carbohydrates out of the roots weakening the other plant and use them for themselves,” said Dr. Mary Ann McLean, biologist at St. Mary's University.

The Aquatic Invasive Species Conservation K-9 Program has now been expanded to sniff out the weeds in order to map the areas where the plant is present. The data will be used by parks staff to come up with a plan to reduce its presence in the park and improve and maintain native species.

“We are glad to see such an innovative approach to address the ongoing issue of invasive weeds in the park. We have worked with parks’ staff for many years on this issue and hope this project signals a renewed effort toward finding new and efficient ways to attack this big problem,” said Nic DeGama-Blanchet, Executive Director, Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society.

The three dogs have also been used to sniff boats to stop zebra mussels and other invasive species but this is a new task for them.

"So without the dogs it would be pretty much impossible to find out the extent of the weed in the park, so using dogs is helping us because they're very efficient, very quick and they're very accurate," said Cindy Sawchuk, Conservation K-9 Program lead.

The Alberta Environment and Park’s Innovation Fund provided $25,000 for the pilot project to train the mussel-sniffing dogs from the conservation K-9 unit to detect Thesium arvense.

In Canada, Thesium arvense is currently only found in Fish Creek Park and the immediate surroundings and the province says because it’s not typically found here, information is limited on how to control it.

The expanded program won't interfere with the dogs’ usual summer time duties as the new weed sniffing work will be done outside of boating season.

For more information on the AIS Conservation K-9 Program, click HERE.