As genetic evaluation and DNA testing becomes more mainstream, you can expect to see it become the foundation of wildlife crime scene investigations, used to help convict poachers and to finger flagrant game thieves.
It was the genetic material found in random drops of elk blood at a Washington state hunting camp that recently helped bring a poacher to justice.
Dean Harriman. 48, pleaded guilty to poaching after federal authorities used blood spatters to positively link him to an elk killed illegally in Mount Rainier National Park three years ago.
During his sentencing hearing last week, Harriman was ordered to pay a $500 fine and make $2,500 restitution. He also is banned from the national park for a year, and his Washington state hunting privileges were revoked for a year.
Court records show a park volunteer discovered a fresh elk kill site within the park boundaries on Nov. 6, 2004. Investigating park rangers found Harriman and five others camped just outside the park in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest with elk meat and a head in their possession.
At that time, Harriman told rangers that he shot and tagged the elk outside the park boundaries, on public land where hunting was legal.
Testimony indicated that Harriman refused to let rangers take tissue samples of his tagged elk. However, they later gathered blood samples at the camp, which subsequently matched the DNA from the kill site inside the national park.
The samples were sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland, Ore., where specialists confirmed that blood found at the two sites came from the same elk.
The other hunters were not prosecuted due to lack of evidence, according to a report in the Everett Herald. When Harriman originally claimed to investigating rangers that the elk was taken on National Forest land, he also admitted to killing the animal.
“It’s a big area and a lot of things need to come together to get a good case,” park spokesman Chuck Young told the newspaper. He said federal investigators were convinced Harriman knew he was in the park when he shot the elk.