FAIRBANKS -- The country's most prestigious hunting fraternity has disqualified a world-record grizzly bear shot by an Alaska hunter on the Toklat River because his two hunting partners drove off-road vehicles through salmon spawning areas during the hunt.
The Boone and Crockett Club removed the bear, shot by Chugiak hunter Dave Malzac in 1998, from its record books after complaints by a retired Fairbanks fisheries biologist led to an investigation into the hunt.
While it is not uncommon for the Boone and Crockett to remove trophies from the record book, it is the first time the club has disqualified a world record, according to Jack Reneau, the club's big game record director. The Boone and Crockett Club was founded by former president and conservationist Theodore Roosevelt and prides itself on fair chase and ethical hunting practices.
''We just discussed the information and made a decision with all information we had,'' Reneau said from the club's headquarters in Missoula, Mont. ''The fact it was world record didn't have anything to do with it.''
The club's records committee made the decision to disqualify the world-record bruin more than two months ago but didn't announce it until earlier this month.
Louis Barton, who worked as a commercial fisheries biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks for almost 30 years before retiring three years ago, asked the Boone and Crockett Club to disqualify Malzac's record bear because the hunting party had driven ''swamp buggies'' through critical salmon spawning habitat without a permit, a crime for which both of Malzac's hunting companions, Robert Caywood and Harold Bryant, pleaded no contest and were convicted after the hunt. They each paid a $600 fine.
Charges of unlawful transportation of game filed against Malzac, however, were dropped and he eventually submitted the bear's skull to Boone and Crockett for the record books.
''I'm glad (Boone and Crockett) made the decision they did,'' Barton said. ''I don't see how they could have come up with any other decision than they did. These guys broke the law.''
It was Barton, who studied the Toklat River salmon as part of his work at Fish and Game, who spotted a maze of tire tracks criss-crossing spawning streams and sloughs in the Toklat Springs area during an aerial salmon survey in October of 1998, a month after Malzac had shot the bear. The Toklat River, located about 100 miles southwest of Fairbanks, is one of the major spawning areas for the Yukon River's fall chum salmon run and home to thousands of spawning salmon from mid-September through October.
Barton notified Fish and Wildlife Protection troopers, who then initiated an investigation that eventually resulted in the charges against Caywood and Bryant, as well as the one against Malzac that was dropped.
But it wasn't until three years later, a few months after it was announced by Boone and Crockett at the club's annual big game awards program in June of 2001, that Barton found out Malzac's bear had made the Boone and Crockett Club record books. Based on an article that Malzac wrote for the club's Fair Chase magazine, as well as the joint investigation by Fish and Game and Fish and Wildlife Protection Troopers almost three years earlier, Barton petitioned the club to revoke Malzac's record.
Barton contended that Malzac broke at least two of the club's six fair chase tenets: 1) to obey all applicable laws and regulations; and 2) to behave in a way that will bring no dishonor to either the hunter, the hunted or the environment.
In an attempt to get Boone and Crockett to revoke the record, Barton supplied the club with several pieces of evidence, including charging documents, trooper interviews and a story Malzac wrote for the club's Fair Chase magazine, that implicated Malzac and his two partners.
With a dramatic decline in the Yukon's fall chum run in recent years, the state and federal governments have spent millions of dollars studying salmon in the Toklat River and other spawning tributaries in an attempt to figure out why fewer fish are returning. It was his concern for the salmon and that pushed Barton to pursue the case with Boone and Crockett.
After reviewing the evidence, the Boone and Crockett Club's records committee agreed with Barton.
''Tire tracks caused by the hunting group's daily use of one or two buggies to cross the many braids, sloughs or springs of the Toklat and Sushana rivers, plus traveling up and down in the waterways for many days while they hunted the area alone were well documented,'' the club stated in a news release dated Feb. 11. ''That extensive use became a major consideration in the records committee's conclusion that Mr. Malzac would not have taken his trophy without the illegal use of his friends' vehicles in violation of the Fair Chase Ethic of the Boone and Crockett Club.''
While Malzac could not be reached for comment, he stated in a December 2001 story detailing the situation that he had shot the bear legally and if the elite club didn't want him in its record books, he wasn't interested in becoming a member of the elite hunting fraternity.
Tim Mowry is a reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
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