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Corey Rossi and the 30 bear weekend

Rick Sinnott
istockphoto

It's probably just a coincidence, but Corey Rossi and Rick Rydell were planning to hunt black bears together in Game Management Unit 16B the same week that Rossi committed the fraudulent acts that landed him an indictment for 12 Class A misdemeanors.

Rossi is the former director of the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation. He resigned on Jan. 12, vanishing without a comment. Some of the specifics of his violations were revealed in his charging document; other sordid details have been uncovered since then.

Rydell is a conservative talk show host for an Anchorage radio station. He has written a couple of books about his hunting adventures in Alaska. In Blood on the Tundra, Rydell tells the story of a hunting trip he planned with Rossi and Aaron Bloomquist on the weekend of June 6 to June 8, 2008.

The 30-bear weekend

The way Rydell tells it, the state of Alaska had just declared war on bears. A predator control program in Unit 16B, a few miles west of Anchorage, sought to remove 1,140 of the estimated 1,900 black bears in the area. All that was needed for an Alaska resident to shoot an unlimited number of black bears, including cubs and sows with cubs, was a predator control permit "with no limit and very few rules." Rydell wrote, "For Corey Rossi, Aaron Bloomquist and me, it was the birth of the 30-bear weekend. Three guys, three days, taking 30 bears."

This was, he continues, "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a chance for greatness, to help put nature back in balance for a short period of time, and a chance to sight in new rifles on moving targets, over and over and over again." If you've ever listened to him on the radio, you'll recognize this as pure Rydell. It's hard to tell if he believes his own hyperbole. But there's usually a grain of truth in it.

Rydell tells us that Bloomquist was a member of Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife (SFW). SFW is a pro-hunting group that isn't really "for" wildlife, if that term includes predators. The organization was planning to use helicopters to rotate hundreds of hunters into remote camps to shoot enough bears to reach the harvest quota. Rossi told the Anchorage Daily News that SFW would assist hunters with bait, food, and transportation costs where possible.

At the time, Rossi was a board member of Sportsmen for Habitat, a "sister organization" helping SFW set up the remote bear-hunting camps and shuttle hunters from Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley. To take advantage of the free transportation and other amenities, hunters were required to pay a $30 membership fee to SFW. In addition, Sportsmen for Habitat, the profit-making arm of the organization, required all hunters and camp volunteers to have a "signed agreement with our registered guide."

Rossi and Bloomquist seem to have been at the epicenter of all this action.

Bloomquist was a licensed assistant big game guide and the owner/operator of Full Curl Outdoors LLC, a hunting and fishing guide service operating out of Tyonek. According to Rydell, "in his day job [Bloomquist] aggressively worked the bears near the road system with clients," but he planned to shoot additional bears after hours with his predator control permit.  Bloomquist must not have proofread Rydell's book. An anonymous post on an outdoor forum's website, dated May 12, claimed "Aaron Bloomquist, SFW's contact for the SFW subsidized hunt, is not a legal guide in Unit 16." Bloomquist responded to the post about three weeks later, on June 5, saying he had a guide on his staff who did the contracting for Unit 16.

About a week before the 30-bear weekend was scheduled, the state ruled out the use of helicopters because it appeared to violate federal law. Their plans dashed, the three hunting buddies went separate ways, according to Rydell. But they were all in Unit 16B that weekend. Rossi "took this opportunity to focus on the SFW camps to increase the number of bears being removed there."

Rydell, also a licensed assistant big game guide, ended up hunting alone. While sitting in his tent, he claims a bear walked 5 feet from him, followed by three others. Rydell believed, based on size, it was a sow with "three cubs." Describing one of the "cubs" he wrote, "it was a cub, but not a yearling. The bear was a 2-year-old about the size of a good-sized dog." For all the bluster about wildlife management on his talk show and in his books, Rydell clearly knows little about black bears. This was a sow accompanied by her three yearlings. Yearling black bears aren't called cubs; they typically leave their mother before they are 2 years old, and 2-year-old bears are larger than a good-sized dog. Rydell claims he shot all four bears in less than 10 seconds -- the sow with his Ruger M77 stainless steel 30-06 and the three "cubs" with his Mini 14 .223 with folding synthetic stock and pistol grip -- as they scrambled for the safety of the trees. He shot two more bears before leaving the next day.

Rossi also claimed to have shot four black bears that week. Hunters have 30 days to take bear hides to an authorized vendor for "sealing," a process wherein the Department of Fish and Game collects information about the hunt and a locking tag is fastened to the hide and skull. Six of seven alleged violations on Rossi's rap sheet, committed on or about June 12, involved making false statements on sealing forms. He was also charged with illegally possessing and transporting a black bear taken by a Utah resident, Robert "Bruce" Hubbard, on June 12. The remaining five charges, all of a similar nature, were committed on or about June 14 and June 20. 

Here's how Alaska State Troopers describe the chain of events based on information released so far.  Rossi was a licensed assistant big game guide. He and two nonresident hunters obtained black bear baiting permits in Palmer on June 9. Hubbard and the same two hunters had purchased nonresident big game hunting licenses and locking tags the day before. The sealing certificates submitted by Rossi claim he shot four black bears over bait on June 10 near Shirleyville. A fifth bear was sealed by one of the nonresidents, who claimed to have shot it on a guided hunt at a bait station on June 11. Hubbard later confessed to shooting two of the bears claimed by Rossi. Rossi later told troopers he hunted with Hubbard and the other two nonresidents but only shot one bear.

It's not clear if Rossi or any of his three nonresident hunters took advantage of the subsidized bear bait, food and transportation that SFW was offering. It's also not clear if Rossi was the guide mentioned in the anonymous post who was working for Bloomquist.

A missing link

State troopers have obtained enough evidence and confessions to make Rossi's life miserable. But there's a missing link. Someone seems to have aided and abetted Rossi by giving him the information and forms necessary to submit false information on hunt records.

Each of the nonresident hunters purchased one tag to harvest a black bear. But that wouldn't stop an unscrupulous resident like Rossi, with a permit to shoot an unlimited number of bears, from claiming their bears to give them an opportunity to shoot another. Hubbard did shoot two bears without affixing his locking tag to either one. Rossi and other SFW leaders were highly motivated to kill as many bears as possible to reach the harvest goal of 1,400 bears.

Bloomquist met Rydell in Tyonek on June 7 and later that night helped him drag the dead bears out of the woods. Bloomquist was named in Rossi's charging document and is reputed to work under the supervision of Soldotna big game guide Joe Dilley, also named in the charging document. Dilley had signed the falsified hunt records, but he claims they were completed by someone else. And, he said, he had never heard of Rossi.

Rossi submitted hunt records signed by Dilley and the hunters, but in his own handwriting, to the Big Game Commercial Services Board. The forms were dated before the hunt ended. The hunt records falsely claimed Hubbard and another hunter killed no bears. The sealing certificates signed by Rossi falsely said he took four bears. And the predator control permit report submitted by Rossi falsely said he took four bears.

Assuming all the dates are accurate, Rossi was back in Palmer on the Monday following his aborted 30-bear weekend, meeting the three hunters and booking an immediate return flight to Unit 16B.  But several important, unanswered questions remain: when, where and from whom did he obtain the hunt records signed by Dilley, who says he doesn't know Rossi?

Bloomquist and Rydell are also life members of the Alaska Moose Federation. As the director of the division of wildlife conservation, Rossi was one of federation's chief supporters, giving members moose calves to raise and release without the requisite background documents and permit. As director, Rossi also gave SFW coveted governor's permits for hunting bison, musk oxen and Dall sheep that allow Bloomquist, as SFW's representative, a unique opportunity to guide wealthy hunters.

Rossi obtained his first political appointment about six months after the 30-bear weekend when then-Gov. Sarah Palin created a new position for him, the assistant commissioner of abundance management, in the Department of Fish and Game. Rossi didn't earn the appointment all by himself. He had help getting the job, and he had influential supporters after he was appointed.  Rydell, whose show airs three hours a day, five days a week, is a huge supporter, often bragging about Rossi's credentials and achievements on the air. Bloomquist supported Rossi's appointment as director and carried his water in numerous meetings at the Alaska Board of Game and other venues. 

Picking up the pieces

Gov. Sean Parnell can't be blamed for not knowing about Rossi's game violations before wildlife investigators in another state cracked the case. However, Parnell bears complete responsibility for appointing Rossi the director of wildlife conservation. A lot of people saw this train wreck coming long before it left the tracks. Rossi was clearly not qualified to be the director of an agency that manages Alaska's wildlife for all Alaskans. He wielded his political support like a big stick. I worked under Rossi for several years, and I've never worked for a person with worse supervisory skills. He continued to guide clients, at least once in exchange for a free hunt outside of Alaska, after he was appointed as director of wildlife conservation. He was not committed to wildlife conservation; he was committed to hunting, trapping and guiding.

Wildlife professionals are trained and generally inclined to consider all perspectives, unlike single-minded zealots like Rossi, who inevitably manage wildlife for themselves and a few relatives and friends. The new director must have substantial experience and education in wildlife management. He or she must be a person with credibility and integrity who can work with all Alaskans, not just pro-hunting organizations. Just as important, the new director needs a strong commitment to conserving wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Like Rydell, Gov. Parnell appears to know little about wildlife or its management. Parnell would be wise to stop listening to the people and organizations that brought us Corey Rossi.

Alaska Dispatch encourages a diversity of opinion and community perspectives. The opinions expressed herein are those of the contributor and are not necessarily endorsed or condoned by Alaska Dispatch. Former state wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott retired in 2010 after nearly 30 years with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He was known during his time with the state for his outspokenness on wildlife issues -- particularly the way Anchorage residents interact with urban wildlife. Contact Rick Sinnott at rickjsinnott(at)gmail.com