Training dogs that rescue … trees?

Spring is in the air, and for my part of the world, that means pine pollen is, too, turning the air and everything else a dusty yellow.

I can always gauge the level of spring fever by the number of tree and flower photos in Facebook status updates I see in a given day. Yesterday’s beginning of spring brought a profusion of blooms online. One friend posted a photo of a gorgeous bonsai tree blazing with fuchsia-colored blooms. Another posted a picture of Monet’s beautiful painting Spring (Fruit Trees in Bloom).

A third friend posted a link to a story about a pear tree blooming at the site of the 9/11 memorial. The tree had been found severely damaged among the rubble after the attacks, was relocated and nursed back to health, and then replanted at the memorial site. Isn’t it amazing that someone thought to bother saving that tree and now visitors to the site can see it as an offering of beauty and hope and nature’s resilience?

Let’s turn back to that pine pollen, for a moment, and some amazing dogs who are being trained to make sure pine trees stick around and keep on giving us their tangible, hopeful announcement of spring every year.

Auburn University is doing some really cool work in a project called EcoDogs that trains dogs to detect certain items of ecological interest: animal droppings, baby fawns, boa constrictors and even tree fungi. That’s right: tree fungi. Continue reading