The scientists at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory have one big job: to use their resources, expertise, training and crime-fighting ingenuity in the service of wildlife law enforcement.
Based in Ashland, Oregon, the USFWS’s facility was established in 1988 to provide scientific analysis of investigative evidence. It helps track down poachers, illegal fishing and hunting operations, logging of protected trees, theft of rare plants, and sources of products made from endangered species.
Take a walk around the lab’s evidence rooms and you’re likely to see musical instruments made from the scarcest rosewood, colorful feathers, bundles of animal hides, taxidermy and mounted trophy heads. There are shiny purses and shoes made from exotic skins, stacks of bones, teeth, tusks and skulls. It’s all evidence, and with the right sets of eyes doing the examining, the lab is able to use it to link a victim to a crime scene, and ultimately to a suspect.
The USFWS Lab is the go-to facility for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and its staff of scientific super heroes use their skills in genetics, chemistry, pathology, morphology, and criminalistics to support the mission of animal and plant protection around the world. By examining and identifying victims and causes of death, as well as tracking contamination from chemicals and performing high-tech DNA analysis, if the Lab isn’t careful they might just end up with their own TV show.