Forensics in the Wild

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National Wildlife Refuge System announces Officer of the Year awards


Five law-enforcement officers in the National Wildlife Refuge System were recently recognized for their outstanding police work. The recipients of the 2011 Refuge Officer of the Year awards are among the 270 full-time and 130 dual-function uniformed officers sworn to protect public safety and enforce federal law on the 553 national wildlife refuges managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Among the honorees was Officer Deb Goeb (shown in the photo to the right while on an annual detail at National Elk Refuge in Wyoming) of the Mountain-Prairie Region. Goeb, based at Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Montana, is the lead firearm instructor in the Service’s field training program. She established night patrols to curb illegal drug and alcohol use on the refuge. And her resolve in tracing an elk poaching case in a closed portion of the refuge led to a federal court conviction.

For most people, the terms elk poaching and forensic science may not immediately go hand-in-hand, but Goeb utilized the same forensic and investigative techniques as any other investigator to help gather enough evidence to lead to a conviction:

First, Goeb collected kill-site evidence, showing the elk was a female (or cow). Then, she had the local game warden check with local meat processors for cow elk that had been received in the last 48 hours. As a result of that inquiry, the game warden obtained samples from three specimens. Goeb sent the samples to the National Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland, Oregon, along with samples from the kill site. Five months later, the lab determined a match. After two interview sessions—one involving the assistance of a state wildlife investigator—the suspect confessed.

The other recipients of the 2011 Officer of the Year awards are:

  • Shelby Finney, Southwest Region (Salt Plains NWR, Oklahoma)
  • Carl Lantz, Midwest Region (Crab Orchard NWR, Illinois)
  • Bryant Marcial, Southeast Region (Caribbean Islands NWR Complex)
  • Gareth Williams, Northeast Region (Potomac River NWR Complex, Virginia)
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