August 24, 2009 in Idaho

the great indoors

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

In the new laboratory at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s regional headquarters, biologist Marc Divens identifies species of fish larvae from Bonney Lake. The $1.9 million facility will be dedicated in a public ceremony today at its office complex in Spokane Valley.
(Full-size photo)

Dr. Kristin Mansfield stopped performing wildlife necropsies in her bathtub after her kids were born. She moved to her barn instead.

Lugging animal carcasses home was messy and cumbersome. But Mansfield, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife veterinarian, often needed a bigger work space than her cubicle to track down the causes of death.

Was the wolf struck by a speeding car or a bullet? Did the doe die of chronic wasting disease? The answers typically relied on a scalpel.

“My husband stopped asking, ‘What’s in the bag in the freezer?’ ” Mansfield quipped last week, as she showed visitors around a new laboratory at the Fish and Wildlife department’s regional headquarters in Spokane Valley.

The $1.9 million lab eliminates the need for Mansfield to work in her barn. The lab sports a stainless steel table for necropsies.

“We could put a moose on it,” Mansfield said of the table, which holds up to 2,000 pounds and comes with an overhead hoist.

The 5,300-square-foot laboratory contains space for fish and wildlife research, plus storage and secure lockers for the department’s law enforcement staff. The lab gives workers a professional and sanitary place to perform the analyses integral to their research, said Madonna Luers, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman. In the past, the staff used borrowed lab space at local universities or worked in the parking lot, their homes or their barns.

The lab will be dedicated today in a ceremony honoring Fred Shiosaki, a former Washington Fish and Wildlife commissioner, for whom the lab and an existing office complex will be named.

“We wouldn’t be here without Fred’s leadership,” said John Andrews, regional Fish and Wildlife director.

Shiosaki spent eight years on the commission. He said he was part of a team calling attention to the need for better work space.

“I have friends in the Legislature, and John Andrews and I were able to interest them in the need for new facilities,” Shiosaki said. “It was a great big group effort. We all worked hard at it.”

The Department of Fish and Wildlife employs about 125 people in Region 1, which spans 10 counties in Eastern Washington. Forty of those staffers work in the Spokane area.

Before the new office building opened in 2005, 13 people worked in a 50-year-old Fish and Wildlife building on North Division. The agency also leased space in two other office buildings, and some staffers worked out of their homes. Andrews said the scattered staff made it difficult to serve the public.

The lab is adjacent to the office building at the Fish and Wildlife department’s Spokane Valley complex. Space for housing the department’s boats and snowmobiles is part of future plans, so staffers won’t have to drive across town to get equipment out of storage for their field work, Shiosaki said.

The lab already makes their work more efficient, employees said. A freezer and cold storage will house a “blood library” of samples drawn from wildlife over the years that is used to track disease. The freezer also will store tissue for research.

Several years ago, for instance, a disease called “adenovirus” caused deer die-offs throughout the West.

“I believe that we had an outbreak south of Cheney three years ago, but I never had a carcass fresh enough to diagnose it,” said Mansfield, the veterinarian.

Wildlife biologists also will use the lab to study hair-loss syndrome in mule deer and prepare tissue samples for testing for chronic wasting disease, avian influenza and DNA analysis.

In a separate space dedicated to fish research, biologist Marc Divens examined thread-like fish larvae under a scope last week. He’s working on a study of crappie reproduction in local lakes.

On the law enforcement side of the building, property and evidence custodian Terry Ray-Smith showed off secure evidence lockers. Any items used in poaching or other crimes are seized by officers as evidence.

“We’ve got spear guns from illegal fishing on the Columbia River, spotlights from spotlighting and illegal traps,” Ray-Smith said.

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