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Wildlife laboratory plans 'forensic gardens'

'CSI'-style Ashland lab will exhibit scientific garden

ASHLAND 'The world's most advanced wildlife CSI lab is planning a new outdoor garden, and it will reflect the high-science investigations that go on inside.

Perhaps bushes could be arranged like the pattern of a seized leopard skin, or flowing grasses that look like zebra stripes. Sculptures might mimic the bones of a poached whale, or a pond could appear like a cache of smuggled caviar.

Maybe its a series of berms which, from above, look like the trace print of an endangered cat, even trees shaped like a poachers' bullets that scientists have under microscopes at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants its new Forensic Garden to combine aesthetics and scientific principles to create a public reflection of the unique wildlife science that goes on every day inside its Ashland lab that helps jail poachers and wildlife smugglers.

Since we can't have public tours of the lab, we'd like this to tell our story, lab Director Ken Goddard says.

The new scientific-based garden, rare in the world, is set to be done next year and lab officials want help in choosing a design for its organic public art.

University of Oregon landscape architectural students have drafted 14 separate plans for landscaping the area fronting the lab, and all are different interpretations of the lab's work.

They all generally work along the principle of bringing together wildlife victims, crime scenes and poachers ' the links that lab scientists use to help solve wildlife cases.

They range from fantastic to practical, says Ed Espinoza, the lab's assistant director. We want it to be low maintenance and tell a story.

The public also will have a say in which story gets told. The lab will open at least two of its doors from noon to 8 p.m. Friday to allow the public to view the designs and vote on its favorite. Concerns about protecting evidence in ongoing federal cases means visitors cannot enter any of the individual labs, which will be blocked off with 'what else ' crime-scene tape.

The garden will be the final touch to a &

36;10 million expansion that will expand the 23,000-square-foot lab with 15,000 more square feet. Much of that will be a sealed biological-containment lab that will allow scientists to house and handle potentially dangerous viruses and items like bush meat, a variety of dead animals smuggled from Africa for use in tribal customs, Espinoza says.

That's something we've been waiting for for a long time, Goddard says.

While granting the construction permit, the city of Ashland asked the lab to add an educational component to its expansion, Espinoza says. Instead of a standard gazebo with interpretive plaques, the lab reached into history for the concept of a scientific garden.

Originally designed as places for medicinal plants and serve as taxonomic warehouses, scientific gardens have morphed into landscapes meant to connect science and art.

The scientific garden at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, is based on mathematical equations, Espinoza says. One at Cornell University is based on wavelengths.

Typically, if you know something about science, you can look at these gardens and think, 'Oh, I get it. That's what they're trying to capture here,' Espinoza says. And it's public art for the community.

The lab caught a break when the U. of O. landscape architecture class adopted it for coursework, he says.

The federal agency paid the school about &

36;4,600 for materials and travel, giving the students a tour of the lab so they could understand the unique work there.

Out-of-the-box thinking really appeals to us, Goddard says.

One landscape has a wolf motif, based on many of the wolf necropsies done at the lab. Others have picked up on the crime aspect, incorporating bullets. Others tap into the genetics, endangered species recovery and even snakes.

It's a different concept. Definitely, it's weird, Espinoza says. The goal is to make a statement.

Regardless, the designs all must feature berms over which cars or trucks cannot drive, Espinoza says.

Homeland Security requirement, he says.

Whatever landscape is chosen should be installed before the new wing is completed next year, Espinoza says. Cost has not been determined.

When done, it will be the first science garden at a fish and wildlife service building, says Mike Marxen, branch chief of visitor services for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland.

It's a very unique project, and so is the lab, Marxen says. The fact that we're doing a landscape associated with this lab makes it even more unique.

Wildlife laboratory plans ?forensic gardens? "mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

See the displays

The National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory is asking the public to help choose a design for its new Forensic Garden.

The lab will host a quasi-open house so the public can see the 14 different garden designs created by a University of Oregon landscape architecture class.

Visitors can vote on which design they prefer.

Viewing and voting runs from noon to 8 p.m. Friday at the lab, 1490 E. Main St., Ashland.

Ed Espinoza, assistant director at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensic Lab in Ashland looks over one of 14 conceptual displays submitted for a theme park surrounding the facility?s grounds. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli