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Dozer the Detector Defends Against Invasive Species

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, February 6, 2012

Sacramento County has a new defense against the type of invasive species that can wipe out crops and cause billions of dollars in damage.  It sniffs out the species that might enter the state by mail.

Dozer is a three-year-old lab mix.  His handler is Jennifer Berger.  She's an Agricultural Inspector with Sacramento County.   Every weekday morning, they  head off to one of the Sacramento region's UPS, Fed Ex or Post Office package sorting locations.  In a four hour shift, she and Dozer will check the contents of trucks and hang out on the conveyer belt with Dozer sniffing packages as they go by. 

BERGER: "We have Ag Inspectors there every day as well inspecting the marked packages.  My purpose with my dog is to find the unmarked packages.  You know there are times certain companies try to get around certain certidfications.  They might send something in an unmarked box or they might send with an incorrect…lacking information.

When a package contains fruit, Dozer either sits, or paws at the package.  It's not the fruit itself that's the risk to California's agriculture industry, it's the little bugs on the fruit.  They're called psyllids and nematodes.

BERGER: "They're coming in on citrus or curry, which is the citrus family.   They're so tiny, you can't see them with the naked eye. They're shipping mainly in floriday throws them in a shoebox and mails them without getting them inspected."

Berger says the unintentional violations are generally what she and Dozer find, though she did run across a salt water manta ray in the mail once and she's pretty sure that was intentional. 

Psyllids attack the citrus, preventing them from ripening.  Nematodes attack the roots of fruits and vegetables.  The University of California Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources says pests cause more than $3 billion in damage every year in California.     

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