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How Alaska wildlife manager Corey Rossi was charged with illegal hunting

Craig Medred

Editor's Note: This is part 2 of a two-part series. Read part 1 here.

Someone in a trio of Outside men that former Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation director Corey Rossi took on a bear hunt on the north side of Cook Inlet in 2008 is now in trouble with the law.

Who it is, what they did, and where they did it has not been reported. But what is known from an Alaska State Troopers statement is this: "Charges (against Rossi) were filed . . . following an investigation by the Alaska Wildlife Troopers, Wildlife Investigations Unit after learning of the offenses through an unrelated out-of-state operation conducted by another agency."

Anyone who has watched a TV crime drama knows what that statement means. Somebody got in trouble, and they gave up the biggest prize they had in an effort to get out from under the thumb of the law. Rossi was, for someone, that prize. There were three Outside businessmen hunting with Rossi in 2008: David Reis from Colorado, Duane Stroupe from Oregon, and Robert "Bruce" Hubbard from Utah. Troopers got a jump start on their investigation when they were delivered the names.

As is the norm in these cases, troopers immediately began checking the obvious: Had the hunters in question been in Alaska at the time? Had they purchased Alaska hunting licenses? Had they reported on the success, or lack thereof, of their hunts as required by law? If they'd shot any animals requiring a state seal, had the hides been sealed?

What investigators found, according to court records, was that Reis reported killing a bear on June 11, 2008, as required by law. Neither Hubbard nor Stroupe, according to those documents, reported killing anything. But Rossi -- apparently unaware of Reis's report -- went on record as having killed four bears while guiding Reis, Hubbard and Stroupe on the June hunt.

The documents do not say why troopers had suspicion to believe Stroupe and Hubbard had killed bears while on that hunt, too. But the court documents reveal that when asked about the hunt the two men admitted to collectively shooting three bears.

Why report killing 4 bears?

Rossi apparently reported shooting four bears, unaware Reis had reported his kill. There was, at the time, no limit on the number of black bears that Alaska resident hunters like Rossi could shoot in the area just north of Anchorage, and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, an organization with which Rossi was deeply involved, was promoting black bear hunts as a predator-control measure.

Rossi has not said why he reported killing all four bears, but by reporting Hubbard's two kills as his own, Rossi protected the Utah hunter from charges of shooting more bears than he was legally allowed to kill. Hubbard held a lone Alaska black bear tag, according to court documents. And by reporting all the dead bears as his own, Rossi opened the door for the nonresident hunters to use the tags they had purchased to shoot more bears.

Why Rossi bothered to report guiding a hunt with men who appear to have been friends is, like many aspects of this case, unclear. Reis, Hubbard and Stroupe were not required to hire a guide to hunt black bears in Alaska. The whole group could have claimed to be no more than a hunting party of friends -- unless Rossi was getting paid for putting together the hunt.

Wildlife managers who worked with Rossi during his time at Fish and Game said he regularly made trips Outside to hunt. It is unclear if any of those hunts are linked to what happened in Alaska, but Hubbard's firm -- Triple H Hunting -- outfits hunt all over the West. And in the hunting fraternity it is common to trade services. Alaska hunting guides, and fishing guides, are often offered hunting and fishing opportunities in the Lower 48 in exchange for help setting up excursions in the 49th state. This is especially true in the big-game guiding business given a state law that requires non-resident hunters to hire a guide when hunting brown/grizzly bears, Dall sheep or mountains goats. The state considers those animals too dangerous to be hunted alone by nonresidents.

Alaska court filings hint that Rossi might have decided to report the bear hunt as guided because he expected to get paid back with a hunting trip Outside. Those documents say Rossi told investigators "he filled out the hunt records to cover up the possibility of indirect compensation being paid for services provided to Hubbard, Stroupe and Reis."

Always protective of its registered guides, state law makes it illegal for anyone to receive even "indirect compensation" for taking someone hunting in Alaska. Some people have ended up in court for simply putting together hunts for wealthier friends and then tagging along for free.

A "cover up," in one form or another, is at the heart of most of the 12 counts of illegal hunting filed against Rossi. All charges against him involve illegal reporting of what happened on the hunt. The only real, on-the-ground violation of the law was by Hubbard, who has not been charged. He shot two bears when he was licensed to shoot only one, according to court documents.

Rossi would not talk to Alaska Dispatch for this story. A woman who answered the phone at his Palmer home asked who was calling, relayed a name, and then said, "He says he has nothing to say."

All of which is too bad, because Rossi is really the only one who can explain how "Joe's Guide Service" was dragged into this affair.

Enter Joe Dilley.

'I've never met the guy'

There is no indication in state records anywhere that Rossi knew Dilley. "I've never met the guy," Dilley said in a phone interview. "I have no idea how he got my name."

According to court records, Alaska Wildlife Troopers investigators Todd Machacek and Justin Lindell interviewed Hubbard, who said he had no idea who Dilley was, either. But Hubbard did admit to shooting a bear in Alaska while on the hunt with Rossi.

Court records say investigators Matthew Hightower and Eric Hinton interviewed Stroupe, "who initially denied hunting in Alaska in 2008, but later admitted hunting with Rossi, Hubbard and Reis. … Stroupe admitted to being good friends with Rossi, and that the hunt was set up by Rossi."

There is no indication Stroupe or Reis knew Dilley, either. And Dilley told troopers that Rossi didn't know him.

"Dilley said he was sure the top portion of the hunt record was not in his handwriting as he knew how to spell his own name," according to court records. Rossi dropped the "e'' and wrote the name down as "Dilly."

Yet, despite the fact Dilley and Rossi are apparently strangers, they do have a connection: Aaron Bloomquist. Bloomquist is an assistant guide who has worked for Dilley, an active member of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a former head of the Anchorage Fish and Game Advisory Committee, owner of Full Curl Outdoors LLC, a friend of Rossi's and, as of last week, a man who was wondering how he ended up in the middle of Rossi's mess. Bloomquist is identified in the court records as one of the guides who might have been involved in the hunt with Hubbard, Stroupe and Reis. He wasn't.

"I don't really like seeing my name in these things," Bloomquist told Alaska Dispatch said. "It's not something good for the promotion of my business. It's crazy. I have a business, and I haven't been accused of anything."

Unfortunately for Bloomquist, his business also has a link to Rossi.

Rossi's reindeer hunts were once promoted on the Full Curl website. "(Rossi) is a friend of mine. I've advertised for him. I've never taken any money from him," Bloomquist said, adding, "We've all got friends who've done something stupid."

Bloomquist shares Rossi's belief that Alaska's wildlife should be intensively managed -- predator control, as many opponents of the policy call it. It is how he and Rossi, who at 51 is significantly older Rossi, first connected.

A friendly man and smart marketer, Bloomquist has used his connection to Rossi to try and grow his own business. When Rossi and a committee of wildlife division employees under Rossi's leadership last year handed out the coveted governor's permits for hunting bison, muskox and Dall sheep in Alaska, they went to Bloomquist as the representative of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, the Alaska chapter established with Rossi's help.

The permits are to be auctioned to raise funds for Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, which the organization then promises to donate to the state for use in wildlife management. The special permits to hunt Dall sheep have in the past attracted bids as high as $100,000. Permits for muskox and bison have never hit six digits.

The permit-auction program is considered a good and respectable way to raise funds for targeted wildlife management programs, but it also has some pluses for an aspiring guide like Bloomquist. It puts him in position to rub shoulders with hunters with big money.

Bloomquist correctly points out there is nothing wrong with this. Bloomquist is a guide known for his good work in taking disabled servicemen hunting for free. But the consequences of having a relationship with someone like Rossi can have liabilities.

"I'm ready to testify before the Board of Game (this week), and all of this starts?" Bloomquist said Friday, as the board set to begin considering a variety of new predator control programs, including wolf control on the Kenai and grizzly bear snaring.

Snaring sows and cubs

Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, who has never before spoken out on conservation issues before the board, appeared there Friday to attack bear snaring as unscientific and unethical. In an interview with Alaska Dispatch, Knowles indicated it didn't look good for the state to even be considering it at a time when Rossi, the former director of state wildlife conservation, was under investigation for unethical, not to mention illegal, bear-hunting activities.

John Schoen, a retired state bear biologist who helped Knowles with his board testimony, says the ethical problem with grizzly snaring is that it is indiscriminate. It catches any bear that happens by, including sows with cubs. If a sow with cubs is killed, the cubs are doomed to die.

Killing sows and dooming cubs goes against the basic tenets of wildlife conservation dating all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt and the formation of the Boone & Crockett Club in 1887. Boone & Crockett promoted what has come to be called "trophy hunting" in an effort to preserve North American wildlife fast disappearing as people killed animals for subsistence. Roosevelt preached the idea that only the oldest and largest animals -- predominately big males -- should be shot. The changes in hunting regulations that followed are credited with saving Lower 48 populations of moose, elk, deer and others. Since Roosevelt's time, hunting has largely focused on killing mature, male animals with carefully regulated hunts for females allowed only when populations were in danger of over-browsing their range.

Only in Alaska has that changed in recent years as the pressure has increased to kill predators, including bears and wolves of both sexes, to try to increase populations of moose and caribou.

Against that backdrop, there are a fair number of Alaska hunters who have a hard time getting upset that Rossi and his clients killed four black bears. But the way Rossi handled the hunt has angered even the strongest supporters of predator control.

"We can't have that kind of crap," said Terry Holiday, the president of the Alaska chapter of the Safari Club. "There's no way we can stick up for a guy who does all of that behind our back. This takes things to a whole new level."

Holiday admitted that when he first heard Rossi was involved in killing four bears in Game Management Unit 16, "I couldn't understand why (people) were making such a big deal out of it." But as details have emerged, he said, "it gets real messy. I can't stick up for a guy breaking the law. It's pretty blatant what he did. And now, with our ex-governor throwing his two cents in … Well, I don't look upon that bear snaring too favorably, either. That shouldn't be happening, in my opinion."

Eddie Grasser, the regional representative for Safari Club, went even further trying to distance the organization from Rossi.

"We never really got involved in the appointment one way or the other," he said. "I certainly agree we need to get (management) more back on science ... We even financed a wolf study for the National Park Service."

Such limp support today for the agenda Rossi pushed into the board meeting just last week hints at some serious questions about how Fish and Game is run these days.

Wildlife division staff say the proposals for grizzly bear snaring and Kenai wolf control are getting serious consideration before the board, mainly because Rossi steamrolled those ideas forward even as he was being investigated for allegedly conducting his own, private and illegal predator control program.

Commissioner of Fish and Game Cora Campbell, who could have asked Rossi to go on leave or told him to do so while the investigation was under way, has now admitted she knew about the probe for at least a month before the board meeting, but let Rossi continue to push his agenda.

Gov. Sean Parnell, meanwhile, is avoiding the media just like Rossi.

The relationship between the two men is unclear. Wildlife division biologists have long said the main reason Rossi got the director's job and held onto it, despite chaos in the division, was because he and the governor "pray together." It's unclear whether that phrase is meant literally.

There is considerable animosity toward Rossi in the agency he once ran. His two-year tenure as director was stormy. There was regular turnover in the division as biologists shifted positions to try to avoid dealing with him, or when he stalled filling positions to vet the willingness of applicants to back his agenda. Some biologists just quit.

Parnell is a devoted Christian. It's unknown whether faith had anything to do with naming Rossi --  someone with limited credentials and lack of management experience -- as wildlife division director. Sharon Leighow, the governor's spokeswoman, told at least one news outlet Friday there would be no comment during the investigation. The investigation is, in fact, complete. The legal process, however, is just beginning. The Parnell administration is apparently hopeful the whole controversy will fade away.

On that, Dilley, the Kenai guide, might have some good advice for them.

After he got over the shock of being interviewed by troopers in December -- confident he'd convinced them he had nothing to do with any illegal hunting -- he said he mostly put the incident out of his mind until last week, when news reports revealed exactly why troopers were interested in Corey Rossi. Then its gravity dawned on him.

"Holy F---,'' Dilley said. "This is a big deal."

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com

This is the second of two parts. Read Part I -- The spectacular rise of Alaska wildlife manager Corey Rossi