NOAA-led Working Group Establishes New Guidance for Wildlife Forensics Practices
To solidify the courtroom validity of wildlife forensic techniques, a scientific working group formed two years ago to standardize methodologies and establish best practices for handling many species and evidence types the discipline encounters. Last week the group convened to put final touches on the documents, which should address criticisms in a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences that certain forensics premises and techniques are scientifically unreliable, undercutting testimony in criminal and civil trials. NOAA’s forensic experts from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center joined their counterparts in state, federal, academic, and international programs to put this lengthy set of directives together, and it will appear on the working group’s website soon.
Commerce in illegal wildlife runs well into the hundreds of billions of dollars per year and is the third-largest black market after drugs and weapons. The trade includes deliberately mislabeled seafood, unlawful fishing, and poaching or smuggling endangered exotic species. Evidence can be a van full of boots made from the hides of endangered sea turtles, shipments of elephant tusks, coral jewelry, shark fins, trophy elk, oil-soaked birds, wild ginseng, or blood from a dog fighting pit. The best practices document answers the National Academy report’s call for increased scientific rigor, and offers guidance to wildlife forensic scientists to ensure that their science meets high legal standards.