Forensic Science Makes the Case

  • Wednesday, March 15, 2000

Laboratory tests on a set of white-tailed deer antlers were key evidence leading to the Federal conviction of a Portage, Wisconsin, man of illegally killing and transporting a trophy deer in interstate commerce, between Wisconsin and Michigan. Clyde H. Masten III, age 24, was sentenced today in Federal court for violating the Lacey Act. U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen L. Crocker sentenced Masten to serve 30 days in jail with work release privileges and pay a $2,000 fine. He was placed on probation for five years and ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service. As Conditions of probation, Masten may not hunt or fish, possess firearms or fishing equipment, purchase a hunting or fishing license, or accompany anyone hunting or fishing. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Ed
Spoon and Conservation Wardens of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The
laboratory tests, used for the first time in a case of wildlife law, proved conclusively that the
deer was not killed in Michigan, as Masten had claimed. The investigation showed that the deer
was killed illegally, at night, near Portage, Wisconsin.

"This poacher would not have been brought to justice without the work of scientists Brian Beard
and Clark Johnson at the University of Wisconsin." said Spoon. "Dr. Beard analyzed the strontium isotope content of the deer's antlers to establish the geographic fingerprint of the area where the deer had lived. The fingerprint turned out to be identical with deer living in the Portage, Wisconsin area."

When Masten pled guilty to the charge, he admitted that he tagged the Wisconsin deer with a Michigan archery deer tag in an attempt to legitimize his actions. After poaching the deer in Wisconsin, he took it to Michigan, where he staged the "hunting" of the deer on videotape.

Agent Spoon enlisted the help of the Department of Geology and Geophysics and the Geology Museum at the University of Wisconsin to disprove Masten's claim that the deer was killed legally in Michigan. Comparing the fingerprint obtained from laboratory analysis with that of the area where the deer had lived, proved that the deer could not have come from Michigan.

"Strontium isotope fingerprinting was used during the Vietnam War and to determine migration histories of ancient humans in the southwestern United States." said Beard. "But with this case, we can now see the potential for its use in a wide variety of law enforcement investigations."

Masten has a long history of violating Wisconsin fish and wildlife laws. He has a string of 27 convictions in state court for violations beginning in 1993. At the time of this latest offense, Masten's hunting privileges in Wisconsin were revoked for three years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving,
protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of
the American people. The Services manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System of more than 520 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 Fishery Resource Offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments
with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds
of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife
agencies.

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