December 19, 2011
Nose on the Range, Part 4: The Elements of Survival
Working Dogs for Conservation saves dogs and wildlife
The Demetriadeses are by no means alone in their desire to sustain the quality of life in this mountain setting. Louise Bruce, field representative for the Centennial Valley Association, once told me that of the area’s 60-some landowners, 42 are members of her group. “Our common goal is to maintain working ranches and not see them turn into hundreds of little ranchettes.” A majority of the private landowners have arranged easements with various nonprofit conservation organizations or the Red Rocks refuge to limit development and maintain healthy habitats.
Meanwhile, the Wildlife Land Trust has partnered with the Centennial Valley Association and the Nature Conservancy to control invasive weeds and replace traditional fencing with versions easier for migrating pronghorn antelope and other wildlife to cross. And now the land trust is poised to acquire an easement on one more key property close to the refuge. Put such private protection efforts together with mostly unspoiled public lands, and you get a whole much greater than the sum of its parts—a guarantee that animals can keep moving freely, exchange genes with other populations, replenish outlying groups, and adapt to changing conditions. This is their surest hope for survival over the long run.
As we bid the Demetriadeses goodbye for the day, Parker tells me, “Getting to meet folks like them is another reason I love this work.” The comment brings to mind her phrase for what she does: double conservation, helping save dogs who help save wildlife. While Pepin was purchased from a reputable breeder, several of his teammates once sat in shelters with uncertain futures. Working Dogs for Conservation’s website details the stories of dogs like Wicket, a black Lab mix from a Montana shelter whose claim to fame is finding 52 scats in one day. And there’s the border collie cross whose obsessive drive didn’t appeal to potential adopters; Orbee’s speed, intelligence, and enthusiasm are now applied to conservation work.
How many of us have looked at a high-energy dog dashing back and forth in a little fenced yard, barking his head off, and thought: A pet like that needs a bigger yard, a place to run and dig and play, a place to be the kind of dog he was meant to be? Part of the challenge of nature conservation is getting people to take the next step and ask themselves what kind of place a wolf or coyote needs. Or a moose, antelope, bear, or wide-wandering wolverine. Where is she supposed to run and eat and play and rear her young? How do we create room for each to be the kind of animal she was born to be? I’m pretty sure that some of the answers are on display in the Centennial Valley.
By afternoon, the temperature has grown too hot for Pepin to keep working. Back at our temporary quarters, I head to my room for a quick nap. Through an open window, I can hear sandhill cranes calling overhead as they fly from the refuge toward the upper end of the valley, where Tony and Donna Demetriades will be sitting together on their porch, watching to see what kind of wildlife comes by next.
Passing another room, I see two strong, long-legged, remarkably high-energy creatures inside: Pepin and Parker. Both are sound asleep. She has one arm draped over his shoulder, and he has a foreleg sprawled across her neck. This is the image of double conservation I will carry with me after I leave.