In 2022 Working Dogs for Conservation (WD4C) and Indigenous Vision (IV) launched the Blackfoot Environmental Justice Program. The project empowers communities to reduce the ecological and social effects of chemical contamination and newly introduced diseases. WD4C and IV are deploying professional conservation detection dogs to find and collect mink and otter scat in areas used for traditional food and fiber gathering. Chemical analysis of these samples will identify the spatial distribution and severity of heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and endocrine disruptors. Because these contaminants are isolated from live animal scats, we can be certain that the chemicals have entered natural foodwebs and are at risk of bioconcentrating. In other words, we know that the contamination matters and is affecting wildlife and people.
Native communities, which harvest and use more wild products for more of the year than non-native communities, endure greater risk from the effects of these chemicals, even before other risk factors like food insecurity, reduced access to health care, and social stressors are considered. The results of contaminant mapping are already helping communities avoid legacy dumping sites and discover undetected new chemical contamination. In this way, the project is not only providing environmental benefits, but it is improving food security and food sovereignty, both of which have been identified as critical components of cultural integrity and human livelihoods.