Legacy of the Laboratory

Siting of what was to become Matson’s Laboratory was a matter of economy and expediency. During Gary’s grad student years at the University of Montana, Milltown offered the low housing price of $65/month. Land use zoning was fundamentally absent. After graduation, the Matson family remained in Milltown and was able to start their small “backyard business” on a shoestring.

The first lab was housed in a 1958 8x28’ Nashua mobile home, purchased for $500. The roof leaked and the floor was spongy from oil seeping out from the heat stove. Gary put on a new roof, installed flooring, and made counters for lab equipment. The “remodeled” lab included a mini-quarters for mice so Gary could continue studies investigating the teratogenic effects of Agent Orange.

Siting of what was to become Matson’s Laboratory was a matter of economy and expediency. During Gary’s grad student years at the University of Montana, Milltown offered the low housing price of $65/month. Land use zoning was fundamentally absent. After graduation, the Matson family remained in Milltown and was able to start their small “backyard business” on a shoestring.

The first lab was housed in a 1958 8x28’ Nashua mobile home, purchased for $500. The roof leaked and the floor was spongy from oil seeping out from the heat stove. Gary put on a new roof, installed flooring, and made counters for lab equipment. The “remodeled” lab included a mini-quarters for mice so Gary could continue studies investigating the teratogenic effects of Agent Orange.

Siting of what was to become Matson’s Laboratory was a matter of economy and expediency. During Gary’s grad student years at the University of Montana, Milltown offered the low housing price of $65/month. Land use zoning was fundamentally absent. After graduation, the Matson family remained in Milltown and was able to start their small “backyard business” on a shoestring.

The first lab was housed in a 1958 8x28’ Nashua mobile home, purchased for $500. The roof leaked and the floor was spongy from oil seeping out from the heat stove. Gary put on a new roof, installed flooring, and made counters for lab equipment. The “remodeled” lab included a mini-quarters for mice so Gary could continue studies investigating the teratogenic effects of Agent Orange.

The original goal for the Lab was to offer prepared microscope slides for instructional use in high schools and colleges. Over a period of a year, Gary built an inventory consisting of several slides from each of the major biological organs of several different species. The business name at this time was “Montana Microscopic.”

Sales by Montana Microscopic were, to put it mildly, slow. Luckily, a fellow University of Montana grad student suggested the lab would do well to offer services in the newly emerging technique of cementum aging. Gary’s grad student friend was doing research in the Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, where John and Frank Craighead were leaders in grizzly bear research. Working together, the Matsons and the Craigheads pioneered the use of cementum aging in grizzlies, providing a local association to further explore the technique.

During the early years of operation, Gary visited a firm for advice about how to advertise more effectively. Among the suggestions were changing the name from the somewhat obtuse “Montana Microscopic” to the more direct “Matson’s Laboratory”. Matson’s made the change.

The original goal for the Lab was to offer prepared microscope slides for instructional use in high schools and colleges. Over a period of a year, Gary built an inventory consisting of several slides from each of the major biological organs of several different species. The business name at this time was “Montana Microscopic.”

Sales by Montana Microscopic were, to put it mildly, slow. Luckily, a fellow University of Montana grad student suggested the lab would do well to offer services in the newly emerging technique of cementum aging. Gary’s grad student friend was doing research in the Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, where John and Frank Craighead were leaders in grizzly bear research. Working together, the Matsons and the Craigheads pioneered the use of cementum aging in grizzlies, providing a local association to further explore the technique.

During the early years of operation, Gary visited a firm for advice about how to advertise more effectively. Among the suggestions were changing the name from the somewhat obtuse “Montana Microscopic” to the more direct “Matson’s Laboratory”. Matson’s made the change.

The original goal for the Lab was to offer prepared microscope slides for instructional use in high schools and colleges. Over a period of a year, Gary built an inventory consisting of several slides from each of the major biological organs of several different species. The business name at this time was “Montana Microscopic.”

Sales by Montana Microscopic were, to put it mildly, slow. Luckily, a fellow University of Montana grad student suggested the lab would do well to offer services in the newly emerging technique of cementum aging. Gary’s grad student friend was doing research in the Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, where John and Frank Craighead were leaders in grizzly bear research. Working together, the Matsons and the Craigheads pioneered the use of cementum aging in grizzlies, providing a local association to further explore the technique.

During the early years of operation, Gary visited a firm for advice about how to advertise more effectively. Among the suggestions were changing the name from the somewhat obtuse “Montana Microscopic” to the more direct “Matson’s Laboratory”. Matson’s made the change.

Histological techniques for making slide preparations of teeth are similar to those used for other biological tissues, but differ enough to pose major challenges. Gary worked to adapt lab techniques for this specialty, but there were many dark periods of deep frustration during technique development. For example, there was a time when the tooth sections loosened from the slides and were lost. In time, this problem and many others were resolved to create a standardized, highly dependable procedure.

At first, Gary thought that counting cementum annuli would be just like counting rings in a tree. It wasn’t. Each species’ cementum growth pattern is different from others, and Gary spent much of the early lab years studying species-specific cementum patterns. The age analysis methods he developed have been tested and revised over the years and are now the proprietary standardized analysis models used by Matson’s Lab.

Histological techniques for making slide preparations of teeth are similar to those used for other biological tissues, but differ enough to pose major challenges. Gary worked to adapt lab techniques for this specialty, but there were many dark periods of deep frustration during technique development. For example, there was a time when the tooth sections loosened from the slides and were lost. In time, this problem and many others were resolved to create a standardized, highly dependable procedure.

At first, Gary thought that counting cementum annuli would be just like counting rings in a tree. It wasn’t. Each species’ cementum growth pattern is different from others, and Gary spent much of the early lab years studying species-specific cementum patterns. The age analysis methods he developed have been tested and revised over the years and are now the proprietary standardized analysis models used by Matson’s Lab.

Histological techniques for making slide preparations of teeth are similar to those used for other biological tissues, but differ enough to pose major challenges. Gary worked to adapt lab techniques for this specialty, but there were many dark periods of deep frustration during technique development. For example, there was a time when the tooth sections loosened from the slides and were lost. In time, this problem and many others were resolved to create a standardized, highly dependable procedure.

At first, Gary thought that counting cementum annuli would be just like counting rings in a tree. It wasn’t. Each species’ cementum growth pattern is different from others, and Gary spent much of the early lab years studying species-specific cementum patterns. The age analysis methods he developed have been tested and revised over the years and are now the proprietary standardized analysis models used by Matson’s Lab.

Gary and his wife, Judy, were able to take advantage of facilities at the U of Montana to advertise. Computer cards were punched to create addresses for all North American wildlife management agencies, and were placed in a very large, floor-standing computer. The first advertisements for the Lab were “mimeographed” postcards.

A court challenge to the State of California’s bobcat management policy resulted in a need to validate the ongoing health of bobcat populations. For several years, the California Department of Fish and Game sent several thousand teeth from harvested bobcats to Matson’s Lab. This work was the first large sample of teeth sent to the lab for analysis and confirmed that a healthy commercial cementum age analysis operation could exist.

Gary and his wife, Judy, were able to take advantage of facilities at the U of Montana to advertise. Computer cards were punched to create addresses for all North American wildlife management agencies, and were placed in a very large, floor-standing computer. The first advertisements for the Lab were “mimeographed” postcards.

A court challenge to the State of California’s bobcat management policy resulted in a need to validate the ongoing health of bobcat populations. For several years, the California Department of Fish and Game sent several thousand teeth from harvested bobcats to Matson’s Lab. This work was the first large sample of teeth sent to the lab for analysis and confirmed that a healthy commercial cementum age analysis operation could exist.

Gary and his wife, Judy, were able to take advantage of facilities at the U of Montana to advertise. Computer cards were punched to create addresses for all North American wildlife management agencies, and were placed in a very large, floor-standing computer. The first advertisements for the Lab were “mimeographed” postcards.

A court challenge to the State of California’s bobcat management policy resulted in a need to validate the ongoing health of bobcat populations. For several years, the California Department of Fish and Game sent several thousand teeth from harvested bobcats to Matson’s Lab. This work was the first large sample of teeth sent to the lab for analysis and confirmed that a healthy commercial cementum age analysis operation could exist.

A 1988 visit to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage was a pivotal time in the development of the Lab. The Department had always utilized its own lab for slide preparation and analysis of tooth sections from Alaska brown bears. Invited by the Department, Gary participated with three experienced agency biologists to analyze the ADFG collection of tooth sections from known age bears. Gary’s results were accurate and precise over the three separate trials done by each participant, and the Department has sent its game mammal teeth to Matson’s Lab ever since.

Over the years, Matson’s Lab has served as “expert witness” in legal cases. In two cases involving the harvest of under-age brown bears, the defendants pled guilty after the management agency showed photographic evidence of the animal’s age. In a third case, Saskatchewan wildlife officers suspected that a game farm operator was incorporating wild deer into his herd. The farmer gave up his claim for having raised the deer himself when many ages of his deer suspected to be of wild origin did not match his record of age. Matson’s photographs and age reports were sufficient evidence in every case for the prosecuting agency to secure a conviction, though no Lab personnel ever appeared in court.

A 1988 visit to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage was a pivotal time in the development of the Lab. The Department had always utilized its own lab for slide preparation and analysis of tooth sections from Alaska brown bears. Invited by the Department, Gary participated with three experienced agency biologists to analyze the ADFG collection of tooth sections from known age bears. Gary’s results were accurate and precise over the three separate trials done by each participant, and the Department has sent its game mammal teeth to Matson’s Lab ever since.

Over the years, Matson’s Lab has served as “expert witness” in legal cases. In two cases involving the harvest of under-age brown bears, the defendants pled guilty after the management agency showed photographic evidence of the animal’s age. In a third case, Saskatchewan wildlife officers suspected that a game farm operator was incorporating wild deer into his herd. The farmer gave up his claim for having raised the deer himself when many ages of his deer suspected to be of wild origin did not match his record of age. Matson’s photographs and age reports were sufficient evidence in every case for the prosecuting agency to secure a conviction, though no Lab personnel ever appeared in court.

A 1988 visit to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage was a pivotal time in the development of the Lab. The Department had always utilized its own lab for slide preparation and analysis of tooth sections from Alaska brown bears. Invited by the Department, Gary participated with three experienced agency biologists to analyze the ADFG collection of tooth sections from known age bears. Gary’s results were accurate and precise over the three separate trials done by each participant, and the Department has sent its game mammal teeth to Matson’s Lab ever since.

Over the years, Matson’s Lab has served as “expert witness” in legal cases. In two cases involving the harvest of under-age brown bears, the defendants pled guilty after the management agency showed photographic evidence of the animal’s age. In a third case, Saskatchewan wildlife officers suspected that a game farm operator was incorporating wild deer into his herd. The farmer gave up his claim for having raised the deer himself when many ages of his deer suspected to be of wild origin did not match his record of age. Matson’s photographs and age reports were sufficient evidence in every case for the prosecuting agency to secure a conviction, though no Lab personnel ever appeared in court.

As years went by and business slowly grew, the Matson family and lab expanded and moved about a half mile to a new site. At first, the trailer continued to house the Lab but was eventually replaced by an independent “stick-built” building. Gary and Judy put in long days growing the lab and growing the family. Eventually, there was one more addition to the lab building before the business was sold to its present owner, Carolyn Nistler. The new lab building in Manhattan, Montana is beautiful and well-endowed with space and facilities.

As years went by and business slowly grew, the Matson family and lab expanded and moved about a half mile to a new site. At first, the trailer continued to house the Lab but was eventually replaced by an independent “stick-built” building. Gary and Judy put in long days growing the lab and growing the family. Eventually, there was one more addition to the lab building before the business was sold to its present owner, Carolyn Nistler. The new lab building in Manhattan, Montana is beautiful and well-endowed with space and facilities.

As years went by and business slowly grew, the Matson family and lab expanded and moved about a half mile to a new site. At first, the trailer continued to house the Lab but was eventually replaced by an independent “stick-built” building. Gary and Judy put in long days growing the lab and growing the family. Eventually, there was one more addition to the lab building before the business was sold to its present owner, Carolyn Nistler. The new lab building in Manhattan, Montana is beautiful and well-endowed with space and facilities.

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Teeth Analyzed
1969
Year

Humble Beginnings

Established in 1969, Matson’s Laboratory has been a leader in cementum age analysis for 50 years, providing wildlife professionals around the world with accurate and precise ages for all manner of wildlife. The carefully studied groundwork laid by Gary Matson has earned this lab a global reputation and fostered collaboration with biologists, researchers, technicians, and hunters alike. Thanks to the efforts of those who came before us, we are looking forward to another 50 years of success!

Since moving to Manhattan, MT in 2015, Matson’s Laboratory has continued to flourish and expand its business horizons. With our annual processing volume following a trend of steady increase and the reintroduction of previously discontinued services, including soft tissue analysis and skeletochronology, the future looks bright. The team of ten technicians here at the Lab has helped us surpass the benchmark of 100,000 teeth processed per year, representing over 80 unique species from around the world!