The worst wildfire season in Chile's history ravaged more than 1.4 million acres early in 2017, destroying nearly 1,500 homes and killing at least 11 people. More than a dozen countries sent fire-fighting specialists to help battle the dozens of destructive blazes. When the fires were finally extinguished, the landscape was a charred wasteland.
A few months later, a unique team was brought in to help restore the damaged ecosystem. They have four legs and a penchant for careening at high speeds through the forest.
Border collies Das, Summer and Olivia were outfitted with special backpacks brimming with seeds. Then they were sent on a mission, let loose to race through the ruined forests. As they bounded and darted, their packs streamed a trickle of seeds. The hope is that these seeds will take root and sprout, bringing the forest slowly back to life one tree at a time.
The job is a serious one, but for the dogs, it's an excuse to have fun, says their owner, Francisca Torres.
"They reeeeeally love [it]!!" Torres tells MNN, via an email interview. "It's a country trip, where they can run as fast as they can and have a great time."
Watch the dogs go scampering through the forest:
Six-year-old Das typically leads the pack with her two pups, 2-year-olds Summer and Olivia.
Torres started the project with the dogs in March 2017, returning regularly to the forest over the next six months. During that time, her sister, Constanza, often helps with the pups and the seeds, filling packs and corralling all that boundless canine energy. They plan to start the process again soon.
"We come out with the dogs and the backpacks full of native seeds, and they run for the burned forest spreading the seeds," Francisca Torres says.
The dogs get tons of treats throughout the process: every time they return to their handlers, while they wait for their packs to be refilled, and when they're finished spreading seeds. Depending on the terrain, the border collies can cover as many as 18 miles in a day and distribute more than 20 pounds of seeds.
Although the pups are in it for the thrill of the race (and the treats), their hard work has already paid off.
"We have seen many results in flora and fauna coming back to the burned forest!" says Torres, who also runs a dog-oriented environmental community called Pewos and trains assistance dogs.
The dogs will be back out again spreading seed soon, but in the meantime, they're working with sheep, obedience and disc training.
The sheep herding comes in handy because out in the wilderness, they have to have enough self control not to chase or attack any animals they encounter, Torres says.
Torres and her sister pay for all the seeds themselves, as well as the supplies for the dogs and the transportation costs of getting to the forest.
As for why they use these particular dogs for the task, Torres says the answer is simple. "Border collies are supersmart!"
Here, Das patiently waits while her backpack is filled with seeds: