Just like the person who never throws anything away because, "You never know when you might need it," today's conservation officers have learned to always collect DNA samples from suspicious wildlife incidents. This stored DNA can then be compared to DNA samples collected from other suspicious incidents, even if years have passed. Thanks to a home video, Senior Conservation Officer Lew Huddleston was able to put all the pieces together to solve the case of a trophy bull elk poached in the Medicine Lodge area back in December 2001.
Officer Huddleston had received a report of about a headless elk carcass that had been found. Investigation revealed that the animal had indeed been shot, but that the bullet had passed through and was not available as evidence. In order to create a potential link for future investigations, Huddleston took a tissue sample from the carcass to have the animal's specific DNA charted. This information would prove vital as events unfolded.
In November 2002, a Clark County resident was showing off a large 6x8 elk rack of an animal he reportedly had shot in Montana with a Montana elk tag. The problem was that another local sportsman had taken video back in September 2001 of a large elk along Crooked Creek in Clark County, Idaho that was very distinctive and looked identical to the rack that the first man had said had come from Montana. With this information a warrant was obtained and the antlers seized. Samples from the antlers were sent off to IDFG's lab in Boise and came back as an exact DNA match with that of the headless carcass found in Idaho back in December 2001.
During the investigation the man changed his story to say that he had really found the elk already shot dead alongside the road and that the head was already severed from the body. Jefferson County Magistrate Michael Kennedy noted this change in explanation when he found the man guilty in April 2004. Kennedy offered to make generous reductions in the sentencing if the man agreed to take and pass a polygraph exam. The man declined and received the following penalties for illegally killing the trophy elk that had a gross score of 378.
The man was ordered to pay a criminal fine of $1,000 and a civil penalty of $5,000. He had his hunting and fishing license privileges revoked for three years and was placed on probation for 18 months, with 180 days of jail time suspended pending successful completion of probation. He also received 60 hours of community service to be done in conjunction with Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
The moral of the story is that thanks to the modern technology of DNA analysis and video recording, Idaho's conservation officers have even more tools at their disposal to apprehend wildlife violators, especially when private citizens are able to contribute valuable information to an investigation.