Alaska wildlife chief charged with illegal hunting, resigns

Palmer native Rossi accused of illegal black bear kills in 2008.

Anchorage Daily NewsJanuary 12, 2012 

A top official in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game quit his job Thursday after being charged with 12 criminal hunting violations, state officials said.

The charges against Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Corey Rossi, a controversial 2010 appointment, are related to an illegal 2008 bear hunt, according to Alaska State Troopers and charges filed Thursday in state court.

Troopers say the division director lied on big game hunting reports. He was a licensed assistant big game guide at the time, according to troopers.

Rossi, 51, submitted his resignation on Thursday, according an email from Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell.

In a report posted Thursday afternoon, troopers say Rossi aided two non- residents in the killing of three black bears in Game Management Unit 16B, in the Susitna Valley. Rossi also killed a bear himself during the same hunt, troopers say.

But Rossi lied on reports to the state, saying that he killed all four bears and that the out-of-state hunters were unsuccessful, according to troopers.

Alaska Wildlife Troopers investigated the case after learning about the accusations through an unrelated investigation conducted by an out-of-state law enforcement agency, according to the charges.

The Department of Law's Office of Special Prosecutions filed the charges, troopers say.

No one answered Rossi's home phone in Palmer on Thursday night. A message left on the recorder was not returned.

Rossi was hired in January 2009 as assistant commissioner of "abundance management," a newly created position at Fish and Game. Critics complained that he won the job because of ties to the family of then-Gov. Sarah Palin.

CONTROVERSIAL PICK

Rossi employed Palin's parents for 14 years trapping nuisance animals when Rossi worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Sally Heath told The Associated Press in 2010.

Later, under Gov. Sean Parnell, Rossi was a controversial selection as chief of the state wildlife division. The agency is charged with managing wildlife and habitat across the state, including working with the Board of Game to adopt hunting regulations.

Following his selection by then Fish and Game commissioner Denby Lloyd, 39 former Fish and Game supervisors and biologists signed a 2010 letter calling for Rossi to be ousted, according to news reports at the time.

The letter said Rossi, who does not have a college degree, lacked the education and scientific training to head the division.

Lloyd defended Rossi's selection in 2010 letter to John Schoen, senior scientist at Audobon Alaska.

"I am confident that his professional experience, administrative abilities, and familiarity with wildlife issues in Alaska will ably serve the resources and the division as well as the people of Alaska," Lloyd wrote.

Lloyd retired as commissioner in late 2010 following a drunken-driving arrest earlier in the year. He later pleaded guilty to the charge.

OUT-OF-STATE TIP

The troopers' Wildlife Investigations Unit in Anchorage learned of the illegal bear hunt on Nov. 22, 2010, from an out-of-state law enforcement agency, the charges say. The agency, which is not named in the charges, was investigating possible illegal hunting in Alaska.

Robert "Bruce" Hubbard of Utah admitted to killing two black bears in Alaska while hunting with Corey Rossi and Duane Stroupe of Oregon, the charges say.

Under Alaska law, hunters must "seal" the skins and skulls of the black bears they kill. Rossi sealed four black bears at a taxidermy business in Anchorage on June 12, 2008, according to Fish and Game records, the charges say. Rossi reported that he killed all four, using bait, on June 10, 2008.

Troopers and other agencies conducted multiple interviews last month in Alaska, Oregon and Utah. Rossi admitted to sealing the bears under his name, even though he did not kill all four of the animals, the charges say.

Rossi is accused of:

• A permit hunt report violation.

• Three counts of making false statements on a black bear sealing certificate.

• Two counts of unsworn falsification.

• Unlawful possession of an illegally taken bear.

He also is charged with five counts of unlawful acts by an assistant big game guide.

All are misdemeanors.

Campbell has named Dale Rabe, Conservation Division Operations Manager, as his interim replacement, according to a Fish and Game spokeswoman.

The governor's office had no comment Thursday.

Asked a series of questions via email about the Rossi charges, including when state officials learned of the investigation, Sharon Leighow, spokeswoman for Gov. Sean Parnell, responded, "We are going to pass on commenting as the investigation is ongoing."

Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell responds to questions about when and how she learned that the state Division of Wildlife Conservation director was under criminal investigation. Video by Kyle Hopkins / Anchorage Daily News

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