Canines expand the abilities of CRB Response team (June 2021 Newsletter)

This information was originally shared through the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle (CRB) Response's quarterly newsletter. To sign up for updates on CRB, add your name to the form at the bottom of this page.


This map shows where our traps have caught CRB in the past six months. The size of the circle represents the number of beetles caught in a trap—a larger circle is a trap that has caught a higher number of beetles in the time period. Our highest-catch areas include Pearl City Peninsula, Waipio Peninsula, and Ewa Beach/West Loch, and populations emerging in Mililani and Kunia.


CRB Field Updates:


New container prototype for steam treatment,

Our field crews have continued to optimize our vacuum steam unit to treat CRB-infested breeding material. Recently, they built a new container prototype to maximize the infiltration of steam throughout the material.


Building on promising results from palm treatment trials, our whole team is coordinating large-scale palm treatments in Pearl City Peninsula and Waiawa Kai, our highest catch area on Oʻahu.


Outreach:

CRB Outreach brought a Resource Library online as a page to house activities and information on our website, and published new videos on our Youtube Channel


Through presentations and events, the CRB Response reached a total of 266 people this quarter. Our team also spoke with 261 members of the public and 107 business contacts.


Data team update:

Data from the field on beetle detections and availability of breeding material determines where and how our staff focus their efforts. This quarter, the CRB Data Team has continued to streamline systems for recording and analyzing field data.


Canines expand the abilities of Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Response team


Since their introduction to the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle (CRB) Response in September 2019, the Canine Team has brought a new dimension to our work to stop CRB and the harm they inflict on palms and other host plants. Our core team of two canine handlers, Cody Morden and Marlee Monahan, team up with working dogs Bravo, Rider, and Coop to identify breeding sites infested with CRB larvae. Through extensive training for both the canines and their handlers, the team has grown in their efficiency to cover a much broader area than what was possible for our human-only team of years past.


Specially trained CRB detection canines are of great value to the program because they survey potential breeding material and alert us to the presence or absence of CRB with a “sit” response. What’s more, canine searches are provided at no cost to land managers and prevent unnecessary disruption to green waste that does not contain CRB. Successes of the canine team are evident in their detection of new breeding sites, which led to the removal of CRB and treatment of the material. In 2020 and 2021, canines alerted us to breeding material that yielded 658 CRB, more than 20% of the total CRB removed from breeding sites in the same timeframe.


Cody Morden praises Bravo for detecting CRB larvae.

However, even a canine search with no positive response supports our work. A lack of response can indicate that a site is “clear” from CRB, at least temporarily, freeing up valuable staff time to treat higher priority areas. New treatments for infested material including our vacuum steam unit and palm treatments require staff time and funding, but they depend on accurate detection of CRB.


So, how can we trust canines to respond accurately to the presence or absence of CRB? We trust the skills they have demonstrated in their training and exams, and consultation with experts in the field of canine pest detection helps us understand their abilities and limits. The team continues to improve its strategies, most recently with support from canine training experts from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).


Professionals from the USDA National Detector Dog Training Center joined our team on Oʻahu this April and May. Aaron Beaumont, Supervisory Training Specialist, evaluated the canine team and offered suggestions on the details and overall strategy of the team. James Mason, Training Specialist, led a newly hired Monahan through a month of training and exams, which she passed with confidence.


In an interview, Beaumont remarked on the multitude of considerations canine handlers make at any given moment: “People that are canine handlers and do a good job are talented. They make it look easy, and it’s really not. It takes a lot of coordination. You have to multitask: you have to look out for yourself, you have to look out for the dog, you have to work the dog, you have to read the dog’s behavior. Then, you have to interpret that and consider what that means to you in this setting and environment.”


Drawing from a career of experience working with canines, Beaumont had ample suggestions for improvements in our operations and best practices, along with positive and motivational feedback for the CRB Response team.



Aaron Beaumont and Rider search potential breeding material.

“I came out to make a couple of quick adjustments and help them find some efficiencies. It’s been amazing working with your program at every level. People took time to help me understand the challenges, the limitations they were facing as well. It’s not easy, there’s real work going on, and the team is getting stronger every day.”


Based on evaluations from Beaumont and Mason, our dogs and their handlers have made great progress in developing their detection skills. Still, we can optimize their performance by improving our protocol – starting earlier in the day to take advantage of cooler temperatures, training canines to increase their physical endurance, and searching areas that are not completely saturated with the scent of CRB, to name a few improvements. Once we implement these changes, we anticipate that the canine team will improve further, overcoming distractions to efficiently search a larger area.


Incorporating a canine team has been a long-term aspiration of the CRB Response. Soon after the Response was established in 2014, we became aware of how unrealistic it is to physically search every pile of mulch, compost, green waste, or decomposing plant material within CRB hot zones on Oʻahu. Now, with canines as a force-multiplier, the CRB Response as a whole can cover more ground in identifying infested material and focus on treatments. This combination of an efficient canine team and effective treatment methods bodes well for the success of the CRB Response and the future of palms on Oʻahu and beyond.


Free surveys of mulch, green waste, and decomposing plant material are encouraged for land managers within CRB hot zones on Oʻahu: Pearl City Peninsula, Waipio Peninsula, Ewa Beach, Kunia, and Mililani. If you are concerned about CRB infestation in your backyard, farm, or land, please contact the CRB Response for treatment recommendations offered at no cost.