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Alaska big game guide helped Canadian clients hunt illegally

Jerzy Shedlock
mackenzieandjohn / cc via flickr

An international wildlife investigation has resulted in the conviction of a big-game guide from Haines. The veteran guide admitted to multiple illegal hunts, submitting false documents for those hunts and importing animals killed in Alaska to Canada, according to U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler.

Ronald L. Martin, 72, was sentenced in federal court in Juneau on five felony violations of the Lacey Act, which protects wildlife though civil and criminal penalties covering a wide array of violations. Notably, it prohibits the trade of illegally taken fish and game.

Martin, a Haines resident and a guide for 30 years, pleaded guilty and was sentenced on Monday. He admitted to the illegal hunts and importations. A district court judge handed down a sentence that includes four years of probation and a $40,000 fine.

The hefty fine is the result of “Operation Bruin,” a joint U.S.-Canada wildlife investigation, the release says. Officials documented 10 illegal brown bear hunts, three illegal black bear hunts and four illegal mountain goat hunts together valued at $189,000. Martin reportedly hid horns and meat in a trailer to smuggle them into Canada.

Haines, a town of 1,800 residents, sits close to the Canadian-U.S. border on Alaska’s Panhandle. 

Martin avoided prison for his crimes, infractions that are typically detested among Alaska guides and hunters. During his four years of probation, Martin cannot hunt in the United States; he is banned from hunting anywhere in the world for two years. He will not get back any of the game seized during the investigation or the 27-foot trailer he used to export the prize kills, according to a press release from Loeffler’s office.

Prior to Martin’s federal conviction, the guide was slapped with a $10,000 fine and forced to give up many of his hunting-related possessions as part of a state sentencing. He handed over his PA-18 Piper Supercub airplane, a Ford F250, an ATV, and a Kimber .338 Caliber rifle with a Leopard scope. Martin also surrendered his guide license for life -- perhaps the most personally damaging penalty.

Hunting near Haines, Martin allowed Canadian and American clients to take brown bears over bait, which is against the law in specific Game Management Units in Alaska. GMU 1D, the area surrounding Haines, allows bear baiting on portions of the land. Martin's clients also hunted without proper licenses or tags, the release says.

He reportedly would file false documents after the hunts to conceal the illegal activities then smuggle the wildlife across the border. All of the crimes, which occurred over an 11-year span between May 2002 and November 2011, violated the Lacey Act and a similar Canadian act.

Operation Bruin continues, and prosecutors have brought cases against guides and clients with connections to Martin, the release says.

Big game guide John Katzeek and three of his Canadian clients were recently indicted for similar charges of illegally taking and smuggling game.

Starting in November 2012, Canadian prosecutors in Alberta and Yukon Territory charged 17 people with 55 violations under the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.

On March 23 of this year, Martin’s client Lyle Whitmarsh was convicted in Alberta of illegally possessing and importing a brown bear into Canada. The court handed down a $4,000 fine and prohibited the Canadian from importing wildlife into his home country for two years. And as recently as Oct. 16, Jack Whitmarsh, Lyle’s brother and another client of Martin’s, was convicted in Canada of the same crime. Jack Whitmarsh owes $15,000 for his crimes.

Trial dates have been set for some of the 15 remaining Canadian defendants charged under Canadian law.

Contact Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter @jerzyms.