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
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
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
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."