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Hunting Accident File > VIOLATIONS > 2005

Wildlife officials use laboratory to finger lawbreaker

Article published October 23, 2005

Poacher done in by DNA 

Getting away with it just got a little harder for fish and game scofflaws in Ohio with the recent conviction of a Preble County deer poacher in a "wildlife CSI" case in which DNA evidence played a pivotal role.

Steven Booso of Lewisburg, Ohio was convicted in Eaton Municipal Court of four misdemeanor wildlife violations, including taking a deer with a shotgun during the closed season, possessing an untagged deer, temporarily tagging a deer of another, and deterring a wildlife officer from performing official duties.

He was fined $1,000, with $800 suspended, and ordered to pay $450 for the DNA analysis of deer hair and blood samples, $95 for processing the deer carcass, and $400 restitution to the Ohio Division of Wildlife for the white-tailed buck he poached.

A 30-day jail sentence was suspended but Booso had to forfeit the 12-gauge shotgun he used in the poaching, the wildlife division said. He also lost hunting privileges for two years and was placed on probation.

The poacher's brother, Mark Booso, also of Lewisburg, entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of tagging a deer killed by another person. He was fined $200 and instructed to pay $400 restitution to the division.

The Booso case represents the state's first deer-poaching conviction using the crime-scene investigation technique of DNA analysis, said Kevin O'Dell, the state's assistant administrator for wildlife law enforcement. "CSI is catching up with them."

He said that two other cases, each involving the suspected poaching of a buck, are pending in Morrow and Ross counties.

An even more serious deer DNA case is pending in southwest Pennsylvania, where a Uniontown man, Lawrence Cseripko, is accused of the 1997 shooting death of Paul Horvat before stealing a deer Horvat had shot. Cseripko was arrested on a homicide charge a year ago and remains in Fayette County jail awaiting trial, which has been continued until December.

Police in the Horvat case used DNA analysis to determine that venison in Cseripko's freezer in 1998 was a genetic match to entrails and blood found near Horvat's body.

In Ohio's Preble County case, the wildlife division received a complaint about Booso last fall through its anonymous, toll-free, Turn-In-A-Poacher (TIP) hotline, 1-800-POACHER. In turn, state wildlife officers found on his property an untagged deer carcass Booso claimed to have killed in Indiana. That led to a search of an area the man was known to hunt and the discovery of evidence of a recent deer kill and ATV tracks leading to a nearby road.

Deer blood and hair samples collected at both the residence and deer-kill scene were submitted to a laboratory for DNA analysis, and results confirmed they were from the same deer.

In any event, O'Dell notes that given the expense of each DNA test - around $500 - the wildlife division is only employing the investigative technique with good reason.

So far DNA work has been applied more to field or law enforcement work than it has wildlife research, added Mike Tonkovich, a deer biologist at the state's Waterloo Wildlife Research Station at Athens.

"There are a lot of neat advances. We're using a lot of these new techniques like crime solvers are using to establish relatedness and parentage, and to establish paternity. Some twin fawns are sired by different bucks, for example.

"It's an extension of DNA fingerprinting. So genetics is playing a much larger role in the field as a whole now than it used to."

O'Dell said that Alberta fish and wildlife authorities in Canada did a survey of all wildlife agencies in North America in 1996. "It is interesting to note that at that time many agencies were looking for research to establish a DNA data file.

"In the forensic world of wildlife many agencies specialize to their regions, and of course we all have similar animals such as deer. Some of Canada's agencies can identify fish taken from certain bodies of water.

"We have been using forensic work for some time in gun ballistics, feather, hair, and blood identification, [determining kills based on] bullets-versus-broadheads, and so on."

Chris Dwyer, a furbearer biologist at the state's Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station in Ottawa County, said that analysis of strontium is another promising newcomer as a wildlife law enforcement and research tool.

"Strontium is a naturallly occuring isotope that is very specific to the age of the underlying bedrock within a region. Strontium shows up in the hard tissues [bones, teeth, antlers] of wildlife and fish. The fish guys have been using it since the '80s to determine the origin of fish stocks such as salmonids."

Dwyer cited a case study in Wisconsin involving illegal taking of river otters. A trapper placed a Mississippi otter kill-tag on a Wisconsin animal, claiming he had taken it in the southern state. But strontium analysis of a water sample from the Mississippi locale where the trapper claimed to have taken the otter bore no resemblance to sample readings from the animal.

A new, limited otter trapping season is upcoming in Ohio in late December in response to a burgeoning otter population, especially in eastern Ohio. The strontium analysis technique, Dwyer noted, "may prove handy in differentiating otters that have come from western Ohio [closed season] and eastern Ohio [open season], which closely follows the glaciated/unglaciated zones of Ohio.

"It will keep people honest and help prevent poaching."

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