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Fish and Wildlife gets a new forensics lab

Teya Vitu//December 10, 2015

Fish and Wildlife gets a new forensics lab

Teya Vitu//December 10, 2015

The state Wildlife Health and Forensics Lab for the first time has a home designed for its specific needs. Photo courtesy of PETRA.
The state Wildlife Health and Forensics Lab for the first time has a home designed for its specific needs. Photo courtesy of PETRA.

For the first time, the state’s Wildlife Health and Forensics Laboratory will have a facility on Eagle Island specifically designed to determine diseases live and dead wildlife may be carrying.

Only dead animals will be brought to the lab. The largest will be transported from the truck to the freezer, cooler and necropsy lab on a 56-foot meat hook trolley system. The new facility has a necropsy lab, which includes a freezer and a cooler; a wet lab, where samples are processed; and a genetics lab. The lab has three full-time employees and a few seasonal employees.

Samples from live animals collected in the field will be analyzed in the wet lab, said Brad Compton, assistant chief of wildlife at the Idaho Fish & Wildlife Department.

“Most of what we do is conduct wildlife health assessments,” said Compton. “There are some diseases that can be problematic for agriculture and livestock.”

The Wildlife Health and Forensic Lab has rented space in Caldwell for the past 20 years for its lab, and the space hasn’t been ideal for the task, Compton said.

“This year, there were over 1,000 animals that we’re asked to determine the cause of death,” Compton said. “Majority of the dead animals, we don’t get the whole animal. We get parts. Every once in a while you get a whole animal, even a moose.”

Most of the focus is on game animals such as white tail deer, mule deer, elk, moose, big horn sheep, mountain goats, black bear and mountain lions.

Meridian construction company PETRA built the lab, a $1.5 million facility that was funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.

The Wildlife Health and Forensics Lab includes a 56-foot meat hook trolley system. Photo courtesy of PETRA
The Wildlife Health and Forensics Lab includes a 56-foot meat hook trolley system. Photo courtesy of PETRA

One challenge in building the construction masonry unit (CMU) building entailed the inability to shut off the water for more than four hours at a time because the water fed a nearby pond with endangered fish, said Ian Franklin, PETRA’s project manager.

“For the first connection (to the building), we would have liked to have the entire day,” Franklin said. “We did it in four hours.”

Sub-contractor Advanced Heating & Cooling installed the refrigeration system and the meat hook trolley system. Franklin said the crew went to local meat packing plants to get insights on installing the track.