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Sale of big game trophies now allowed after divorce

Posted: March 12, 2012 - 10:11pm

FAIRBANKS (AP) — Alaskans who get divorced and don’t want to look at the moose head their hunting-crazy spouse hung on the wall now have an option. They can sell it.

While the Alaska Board of Game rejected a proposal to allow the sale of big game trophies in Alaska during its meeting in Fairbanks last week, the board agreed to add divorces to the list of special circumstances under which the sale of big game trophies in Alaska would be allowed.

Previously it was only legal to sell big game trophies if they were part of an estate settlement, included in a bankruptcy sale, or if they were mounts prepared by taxidermists that went unclaimed.

“I support this,” board member Ted Spraker of Soldotna said during discussion of the proposal. “There will be very limited cases and it’s probably usually a case where people are in some financial situation.”

The proposal was submitted by Mary Jane Sutliff, an Anchorage attorney who said she ended up with a Dall sheep mount and black bear hide as a result of her 2008 divorce.

“I inherited trophies from a divorce,” Sutliff wrote in her proposal. “I did not want them. I would like to sell them.”

In a phone interview, Sutliff said her ex-husband “unloaded” the trophies on her, as well as several others, thinking his son would get them.

“It was a way for him not to have to pay to store them,” she said.

Dale Rabe, interim director for the state’s Division of Wildlife Conservation, said the Alaska Department of Fish and Game didn’t have a problem with adding divorces to the list of circumstances allowing the sale of big game trophies.

“I don’t see this happening very often,” Rabe told the board.

The proposal passed by a 5-2 vote.

Lynn Keough of Anchorage was one of two board members to vote against it.

“Can you tell me how you get divorced and end up with things you don’t want?” Keough asked.

“I’ve been divorced twice; I can tell you how,” replied Spraker, drawing a laugh from the audience and fellow board members.

For example, Spraker said, a divorce settlement may stipulate that one person gets the house with the furnishings, which might include mounts on the wall.

“Say the wife didn’t want that mounted moose head over the fire place and wants to sell it,” Spraker said.

Board member Nate Turner, who splits his time between Fairbanks and a homestead on the Kantishna River, said the new regulation might help Alaska’s divorce rate.

“I think once people realize they can lose their trophies through divorce they might not want to get divorced,” he said.

Sutliff said she intends to talk to her son to see if he “has an emotional attachment” to any of the trophies she acquired and if he doesn’t, she plans to sell them.

“I’m not going to store them,” she said. “I’ll market them and sell them.”

The Game Board had a more serious discussion on a proposal to allow the sale of trophy mounts, which was submitted by the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee. The proposal asked that hunters be allowed to sell trophies that have been prepared by taxidermists because they are personal property.

In the last two months, there have been two cases in Fairbanks where people were cited for selling big game trophies.

One man was fined $500 for selling a Dall sheep mount he claimed to have purchased at a garage sale several years ago. He advertised the mount on Craigslist and an undercover Alaska Wildlife Trooper responded to the ad. The same thing happened to another man who was fined $500 for selling the skull and horns of a musk ox on eBay.

Spraker said he was “solidly opposed” to allowing the sale of taxidermy mounts in Alaska. Enterprising hunters and taxidermists would be able to cash in on such a law by selling trophies to tourists for big bucks, he said.

“If we open the sale of trophies I think we’re heading down a path to the market hunting scheme we had years ago,” Spraker said. “Everybody I’ve talked to has said if you don’t have sale of trophies in your state, don’t start it.’”

Board member Nick Yurko of Juneau said allowing the sale of trophies is “another place for an outlaw to get started.”

Initially the proposal received some support from board members Lynn Keough, Cliff Judkins and Teresa Sager-Albaugh.

Keough, of Anchorage, said the state already allows the sale of black bear hides and noted other states allow the sale of big game trophies.

“We can choose to broaden our horizons or bury our head in the sand and live in the past,” he said.

Judkins, of Wasilla, said once a hunter pays to have a trophy prepared, it should become his or her personal property and they should be able to do with it whatever they want.

“If someone’s got a mount on the wall and they move to a house with a smaller wall where it won’t fit or they’re moving out of state, they ought to be able to sell an item instead of throwing it away,” he said.

Sager-Albaugh, of Tok, agreed and said the fears of about selling big game trophies are “overstated.”

“Legalizing the sale of trophies won’t increase the bag limits,” she said. “It’s not like we’re opening up opportunities to harvest dozens of trophy grizzly bears or sheep to be taken down to a shop to be sold.

“Once you’ve legally harvested a trophy it’s yours,” Sager-Albaugh said. “You should be able to do with it what you want.”

But Turner, who works as a big game guide, pointed out hunters pay thousands of dollars to come to Alaska seeking big game trophies. Many of those hunters probably would be willing to pay the same kind of prices if they didn’t have to actually go hunting.

“I imagine there would be quite a number of people willing to pay to have a trophy if they didn’t have to go hunting,” Turner said. “I have no doubt I could make a living with this if it was freed up.”

In the end, after hearing from legal adviser Kevin Saxby with the Department of Law, the board voted the proposal down 7-0. 

“The more we turn wildlife into an article of commerce the harder we make it to defend the preferences we make between residents and non-residents,” Saxby advised.

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