Officials of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Friday refused to release the letter of resignation submitted by former Director of Wildlife Conservation Corey Rossi, a man now charged in what looks to be an increasingly messy illegal bear hunt.
Rossi, according to court documents, didn't just cover up bear kills made by two wealthy out-of-state hunters. He also used the name of a guide he apparently didn't know to book the 2008 hunts.
At the time, Rossi was a licensed assistant guide and needed the name of a licensed registered guide on paperwork to make the hunt legal.
Rossi used the name of guide Joe Dilley of Kenai. Dilley said Friday he was shocked when Alaska Wildlife Troopers showed up at his home in December wanting to see his records for a bear hunt with three men he didn't know. Dilley said he explained to troopers he hadn't taken the men in question on any hunt. Troopers then told Dilley his assistant guide -- Corey Rossi -- said otherwise. Dilley's reaction was simple: Who is Corey Rossi?
He knows now. A former federal wildlife-control agent, a man without formal training in wildlife management, Rossi secured a job in state government because he was a friend of Chuck and Sally Heath, the parents of former Gov. Sarah Palin. Palin hired him to a special job in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Palin's successor, Gov. Sean Parnell, later approved Rossi's promotion to director of wildlife. Exactly why has never been clear given that many wildlife professionals -- including a significant number of the biologists employed by Fish and Game -- objected to the move.
Exactly when Rossi quit as state wildlife director remains unclear. Fish and Game spokeswoman Nancy Long said she couldn't release Rossi's resignation letter because the agency considers it part of his confidential employment record. It is known that Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell held some sort of emergency meeting with staff Thursday afternoon to discuss Rossi's departure.
At 5:48 p.m. Thursday, Campbell sent a three-sentence email to Fish and Game employees, announcing Rossi had resigned for "personal reasons," thanking Rossi for his service, and naming an assistant director of the division to assume Rossi's duties.
Campbell was in Anchorage Friday at a meeting of the state Board of Game. Long said the commissioner was too busy to answer questions. She said that Campbell was "in the middle of a Board of Game meeting" but might be able to respond to questions by email.
Several Fish and Game biologists, meanwhile, used the same word to describe the short message Campbell sent staff notifying everyone of Rossi's departure but skipping the details: Embarrassing.
Rossi, it should be noted, has not been convicted of any crime. He has only been charged. He could be proven not guilty. But at the moment the situation looks bad for an organization that has long prided itself on responsible management of Alaska fish and wildlife.
Rossi on Friday refused to comment on the 12 charges he faces. When Alaska Dispatch called his Palmer residence, a woman answered and simply stated that Rossi "had nothing to say."
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com