THE BLOG

Did Alaska Senate Candidate Break Law While Serving on State Board?

10/23/2012 12:55 pm ET | Updated Dec 23, 2012

Alaska State Senate candidate Bob Bell is under investigation for his role in a controversial musk ox hunt in 2010 during the same time he was serving on the Alaska Board of Game, according to Alaska State Troopers.

At issue is whether Bell followed regulations meant to discourage trophy hunting when he transferred ownership of horns from the musk ox he shot to a Nome artist, who then carved them and may have sold the horns back to Bell.

The candidate said in interviews that hunting partner Cliff Judkins, who was chairman of the Board of Game at the time of the hunt, kept horns from a musk ox he shot during the same hunt.

Former head of Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation Corey Rossi, who also participated in the hunt, might have been involved in the choice to keep the horns. Rossi this year resigned from the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation after it was discovered he organized an illegal bear hunt.

After questions from Alaska Dispatch, Alaska State Troopers are investigating what transpired with the musk ox horns that Bell and his fellow hunters took in 2010, according to Trooper investigator Justin Lindell and Nome-based Trooper Jay Sears. If Bell or others are found to have taken horns illegally, they could face misdemeanor charges, with up to a $10,000 fine and a year in jail, said Nome District Attorney John Earthman.

A Republican, Bell is running against incumbent state Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat, in the Nov. 6 election.

After a discussion about the horns last week, Bell, 69, declined to speak to Alaska Dispatch, instead directing all questions to campaign adviser Marc Hellenthal. Also, Bell initially agreed to allow Alaska Dispatch come to his house and photograph the horns, but changed his mind a short time later, claiming the news site was trying to "set me up."

In an email to Hellenthal, who passed it along to Alaska Dispatch, Bell insists he did everything by the book.

"I did not break any laws, did not intend to skirt any laws. This was a perfectly legal hunt and perfectly legal purchase of art," Bell said, referring to the musk ox horns. "(S)ome in the media are trying to make it into something it is not."

Judkins did not return phone calls and Rossi could not be reached for comment.

(T)horny issue

Musk ox are prehistoric-looking, Arctic animals weighing up to 800 pounds, with shaggy hair and impressive horns. The Seward Peninsula population, an area that includes Nome, has grown from the 36 animals introduced there in 1970 to more than 2,500, nearly half of the state population that's closely monitored by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Whether hunters can keep the animal's horns was already a thorny issue before Bell, Judkins and Rossi headed out on the tundra in 2010.

The Board of Game had repeatedly grappled with the question over the 13 collective years that Bell and Judkins served on the body. Rossi had also long participated in the discussion.

As was first reported by Alaska Dispatch earlier this year, the trio's hunt became controversial earlier this year when the men were accused of trying to pressure Nome-based state wildlife biologist Tony Gorn into allowing them to illegally keep musk ox horns as they applied for their hunting permits.

Rossi was behind the effort to strong-arm Gorn. Although not involved directly, Bell and Judkins were with Rossi when the initial confrontation took place. Rossi failed to persuade Gorn to turn a blind eye and let them keep the full horns, carved or not, with Gorn citing the state regulations to Rossi.

What hasn't been reported was what happened to the horns after the hunt.

For this specific musk ox hunt, regulations state the horns must be ...