The Northern Highland American Legion State Forest covers more than 232,000 across three counties in northern Wisconsin.
It’s open to hikers, campers, hunters, boaters, and bikers among others.
With that many people using all that land, it can be difficult finding someone who gets lost in it.
That’s where DNR Conservation Warden Audrey Royce and her K9 Nyssa come into the picture.
“It’s pretty easy for people to get twisted up and turned around. Cell phone signal as we all know is terrible, so it’s pretty easy to get lost. A search and rescue K9 is going to come in handy,” said Royce.
Royce and Nyssa are the only K9 unit in the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest and one of about a dozen associated with Wisconsin DNR.
The DNR doesn’t own the dog. It’s up to an individual warden if they want to get a dog and train them for service.
Royce owns Nyssa and pays for training and other expenses.
“I’ve always wanted a dog to work with search and rescue and it just kind of worked seamlessly with getting stationed here,” said Royce.
Nyssa is a nearly 1-year-old German Shepard. She’s currently the only K9 within the DNR that’s trained for search and rescue operations.
Royce said they’re always training together. For the last eight months, they've been doing search and rescue scenarios every Saturday with the with Newbold Fire Department Search and Rescue.
“It never ends. That little puppy brain constantly has to be reminded that she has a job. It’s definitely a perishable skill. We work hard at maintaining it,” said Royce.
Royce and Nyssa will continue to keep up those skills so they can be ready to help anyone that needs it.
“Hopefully it makes people feel a bit more comfortable if they get twisted up and lost out there, Nyssa will hopefully come and find them, but she’s super friendly too,” said Royce. “If people see her, feel free to wave me down, stop and say hi, ask questions about her. She’s a pretty cool resource to have. Not many wardens have a dog in the first place, not many female wardens have a dog. Nyssa’s kind of one of a kind.”
In addition to tracking people, Royce and Nyssa are training to locate and recover evidence.