Canada seizes furs from Alaska couple

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- More than $1.4 million in fur coats, jackets and other clothing made of animal skins is in Canadian custody after two Alaskans attempted to pass through Canada without the proper paperwork, Canadian officials said.

The case is still under investigation, and names have not been released, said George MacKenzie-Grieve, Yukon division manager for Environment Canada's Envi ronmental Protection branch.

The shipment, from Anchorage and destined for Southeast Alaska, contained fur for retail sale. It included fur from bobcat, wolf, river otter, lynx as well as python and alligator skins -- protected species that require special permits before owners can carry them across an international border, according to border agents from the two countries.

The two Anchorage residents traveling with the goods properly declared their cargo but did not have the necessary permits, MacKenzie-Grieve said. The shipment was detained on May 2 at Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory.

Without the permits, MacKenzie-Grieve said Environment Canada had no way to ensure the pelts and skins were legally taken.

''The paperwork is a tracking system to make sure the movement of these things are traced,'' he said. ''There's no evidence that I'm aware of -- and you can't tell by looking at them -- whether they were improperly taken or not.''

But the issue is that they are from protected species and permits are required for them to cross international boundaries, MacKenzie-Grieve said.

The problem would not have arisen if Alaska was like any other state, where residents can drive from one town to another without crossing an international border. But with Alaska's panhandle accessible via road only through Canada, the travelers were stuck.

''It's a little different than a situation where somebody fails to declare what they're transporting into the country and may have even taken steps to hide it,'' said Dan McGrath, a spokesman for Canada Customs.

The approximately 1,300 items remain under detention by Environment Canada, MacKenzie-Grieve said.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers are aware of the seizure but are playing no role in the investigation, according to John Gavitt, the agency's regional director for law enforcement.

U.S. and international law offer an exemption for personal baggage but not for commercial shipments, he said. Permits cost $25 per shipment, though sometimes added inspection fees apply.

Until the investigation is complete, it is unclear what, if any, charges, fines or sanctions the two individuals face. Canada law prohibits the release of a person's name until charges have been filed.



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