A 70-year-old Alaskan from Copper Center has been charged with 22 counts of buying illegally obtained caribou antlers from Alaskans living in the Western Alaska village of Selawik -- and then selling them to a Juneau business nearly 1,000 miles from the rural community.
A charging document does not indicate whether Harbor E. Stanton, the accused big game businessman, knew he was breaking the law. He allegedly bought numerous caribou antlers at moderate prices from residents of Selawik, then turned around and sold them for more than $10,000.
Selling animal parts for a quick dollar is typically detested among the state’s guides and hunters, though keeping up with the nuances of Fish and Game regulations proves difficult for some, and the arguments for and against indigenous rights gets thrown in the mix when Alaska Natives argue they’re bartering to survive -- meat for heat, it’s been called.
Selawik, a community of about 850 residents, is located at the mouth of a river by the same name, some 90 miles from the regional hub of Kotzebue and 670 miles from Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Souvenirs carved from wildlife antlers can be sold at premium prices to tourists.
An Alaska State Wildlife Trooper investigated Stanton’s crimes and found that in June 2011, Stanton stayed with Selawik resident Randy Davis about a month. Davis allegedly helped Stanton gather caribou antlers from game management unit (GMU) 23. Davis told the investigating trooper most of the antlers collected were still attached to caribou skulls -- they were not naturally shed. Stanton cut up and packaged the antlers for shipment, the charges say.
Stanton also allegedly bought antlers from six villagers, who would bring “a stack of antlers” to him. Stanton would offer a price between $40 and $150, according to the charges.
In one such instance, Kirk Sampson, Jr. told troopers he sold antlers from years of hunting to Stanton. On one trip, he sold six sets -- four still attached to the skull and two cut off at the base of the skulls. On a second trip, Stanton brought five more sets of caribou antlers from Sampson, all for $50.
Purchasing and selling, even bartering for caribou antlers within GMU 23 -- which includes Selawik -- is illegal unless the antlers are naturally shed or made into a handcraft.
Stanton made most of his alleged purchases around June 2011. And he made at least one purchase in July or August of 2010, the charging document said.
It was also in June 2011 that Stanton shipped 16 boxes of antler pieces to Ivory Jack’s in Juneau, Alaska’s capital city whose economy relies heavily on summer tourism, when cruise ship passengers crowd the city’s narrow downtown streets lined with stores selling souvenirs. Kurt Tripp of Ivory Jack’s admitted to buying the antlers by the pound, the charges say. The state has not issued any charges against the store owner.
Tripp told investigators he shelled out $10,500 for the antlers in advance of Stanton’s trip north. He reportedly said he did not know which village Stanton was traveling to and from for the antlers. Still, Ivory Jack's may have lost that entire purchase and more, as authorities seized 16 boxes from his business.
All of the charges against Stanton are misdemeanors, but the fines from such a large amount of charges can add up. In April, an Anchorage man who pleaded guilty to selling a brown bear rug on Craigslist, after a trooper informed him the sale was illegal, was fined $500. And the sought-after fur was taken by the state. Troopers have said Internet sales of big-game trophies are increasing.
Tripp, the owner of Ivory Jack’s, uses the Internet to sell his wares as well. The business’s website reads, “Ivory Jack’s specializes in eco-conscious mammoth and fossil walrus ivory jewelry, beads, carvings and raw materials.”
Online court records indicate no charges have been filed against Tripp nor against anyone who allegedly sold Stanton the antlers.
But Tripp has previously been fined for questionable business practices involving Alaska Native crafts. In 1996, after years of investigation, the Federal Trade Commission accused Tripp and partner Ngoc Ly of misrepresenting work as that of Alaska Native carvers. Tripp provided Ly, a Vietnamese carver also known as Eddie Lee, with a Seattle-based workshop where Ly carved old ivory, bone and soapstone under the name Eddie Lyngoc. The men also paid Ron Komak, a Nome native living on the streets of Seattle, to use his name. They were ordered to pay $20,000 each.
Stanton’s arraignment is scheduled to continue on Dec. 23 in Kotzebue.