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American Society of Landscape Architects


December 2007 Issue

CSI: Wildlife
A most unusual federal laboratory calls on students to help design an interpretive landscape.

By Michael and Laura Murphy

CSI: Wildlife C/O Carol Bellows, Associate ASLA

Not long after 9/11 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, along with almost all other federal agencies, was notified of the requirement that designated facilities be protected. The word came to the Fish & Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in the small southern Oregon town of Ashland from the office in Portland. The vision of an unsightly barrier around the lab was unappealing to all who knew the town and the nature of the facility and its staff of scientists, investigators, administration, and its support staff. The lab is a pair of low buildings that stands in an attractive neighborhood setting, near a school, along a rural road, adjacent to a hands-on science museum. One factor in drawing world-class scientists in the field of animal forensics and crime investigation to this singular laboratory is its location, with views across the Rogue River Valley toward the hills and mountains that surround the town.

Among the hundreds of police pathology labs in the United States and worldwide, this one is unique in that it is designed specifically to crack crimes not against humans, but against wild creatures: birds and animals taken or used in violation of international endangered species laws. Increasingly the lab is working with a broad spectrum of life from insects to dying coral reefs. With its spectrometers, scanning microscopes, gas chromatographs, and newly constructed building that houses everything from a “bug room” to a DNA analysis facility and biological containment, this is the only lab of its kind in the world, resembling in many ways the laboratories made popular by the CSI television series. A remarkable assemblage of scientists and sleuths works there, and these “detectives” are dispatched to all parts of the world, working with nations committed to the preservation of wildlife species and the prosecution of those who violate national and international laws. Stories of its operations have appeared in magazines ranging from Smithsonian to Sierra and Popular Science to National Geographic World.

When Gary Blefgen, a project engineer at the Portland office of the Fish & Wildlife Service, discussed creating an “anti-attack” buffer around the Ashland lab with his colleagues, interpretive specialist Matt How and landscape architect Kelly Donahue, Donahue had a possible solution. Could a landscape garden be designed that would meet the protective demands for a Level II federal facility—and be not only appealing but educational?

Donahue contacted her former professor, Kenneth Helphand, FASLA, at the University of Oregon’s Department of Landscape Architecture, to get his thoughts on the subject. The idea for an interpretive science garden that met the security concerns quickly evolved between Helphand and Donahue, and they aired their idea at a discussion meeting with Fish & Wildlife staff in Portland. It was met with enthusiasm, then carried 300 miles to the south by Donahue, Helphand, How, and Blefgen, who presented it to the forensics lab professionals and planning officials of the city of Ashland. The city liked the idea of a garden, and the concept was supported by all, especially the idea of telling the story of the unusual purposes and operations of the lab.

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