The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has some advice for would-be wildlife poachers: don't even think about it. Two men and a juvenile learned that hard way after being turned in by other hunters for illegally shooting moose in the "Tustumena bench" area.
"This is a great example of ethical hunters standing up for what is right. Without their willingness to be good observers, and most importantly, to step forward and get involved, we would not have made this case," said refuge Manager Robin West.
The poaching incidents took place in 2005 in the Timberline Lake trophy moose drawing permit area, between the eastern fork of the Funny River and Bear Creek on the eastern side of Tustumena Lake.
After a lengthy investigation by refuge officers, Foektist (Frank) Martushev, of Homer, was charged with two counts of possessing/transporting illegally taken game. Eoicifi Reutov, of Gervais, Ore., and a juvenile member of Martushev's hunting party also were charged with taking moose during a closed season and possessing/transporting illegally taken game. The minor was additionally charged for falsifying a permit report.
"It took eight months to a year to investigate. We really worked for this one," said refuge officer Jim Neely.
Reutov had a permit to hunt in a nearby area more to the east of Funny River, but hunted and killed a moose outside his specifically permitted area. Reutov and Martushev transported the illegally taken moose using Martushev's horses.
Like Reutov, the juvenile had a permit but hunted outside of the allowed area and killed two moose. The minor also cooperated with Martushev to illegally transport a moose and later falsified his harvest permit report in an attempt to state the moose was killed in the correct permit area, according to refuge officers.
"Drawing a permit to one of these areas is way difficult. On average, I would say only one out of every 15 attempts is successful, so by doing this, these guys were stealing from everyone doing it the right way," Neely said.
Legal hunters in the area were video recording several monstrous moose when the Martushev hunting party rode up on the animals and began shooting. They later asked members of the Martushev party about their permits, and when they began to act suspicious, the other hunters called it into the refuge, according to Neely.
After refuge officers received the tip, they intercepted the hunting party after dark when they arrived at the Tustumena boat launch. Officers seized the hunters' firearms and the illegally taken animals three bull moose, the smallest of which had a 55-inch antler spread.
"This wasn't just guys going for meat. These were trophy moose that were taken," Neely said.
Officers later flew to the hunters' remote camp, seized more firearms and obtained other incriminating evidence. During the investigation officers learned Martushev received payment for illegally providing big game transport services to a nonresident hunter from Arizona who had drawn a trophy moose permit in the Indian Creek area east of Tustumena Lake.
Martushev accepted payment to bring his pack horses several miles into the refuge in order to outfit the nonresident's hunting party, but he did not posses an Alaska guide license or a refuge commercial use permit authorizing the activity, according to refuge officers.
In February, Kenai District Court accepted no contest plea agreements from the three defendants. Martushev received fines totaling $10,000 with $7,500 suspended, 360 days in jail with 360 days suspended, and he paid $1,000 bail on a federal charge of conducting a commercial enterprise on the refuge without a permit. He also must make a $4,000 donation to the Friends of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to be used to promote future wildlife conservation efforts.
The conditions of Martushev's three-year state probation include that he not be convicted of any jailable offenses during the probationary period, the loss of state hunting privileges for one year, and banishment from hunting or accompanying hunters in the refuge for three years.
The juvenile offender received fines totaling $3,500 with $3,000 suspended, 210 days in jail with 210 days suspended, and he was ordered to perform 160 hours of community service and pay $1,000 restitution to the state.
The juvenile also will serve three years state probation, lose state hunting privileges for one year, is banished from hunting or accompanying hunters in the refuge for three years, and he lost the moose he illegally took and the firearms used in taking it.
Reutov received fines totaling $5,000 with $3,00 suspended, 240 days in jail with 240 days suspended, and he must pay $1,000 restitution to the state. He will serve five years state probation, lose state hunting privileges for one year during which time he may not accompany other hunters in the field, and is banished from hunting in the refuge for five years. He also lost the illegally taken moose and the firearms used to commit the offense.
"I am pleased with the outcome and hope it sends a strong message that actions of this sort will be dealt with harshly," West said.
Neely added that he thinks ethical and unethical hunters both can learn from this incident.
"There's a lot of people who might not have stepped up when they saw other hunters not playing by the rules, but with two million acres to cover we can't be everywhere all the time, so we rely on the public to get involved when they suspect wrongdoings with public resources. Accolades definitely go to those hunters that did step up," he said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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