Three Wainwright hunters were found guilty Aug. 2 of illegally taking musk oxen during a closed season and failing to salvage the meat. - Alaska Wildlife Troopers

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Wainwright hunters found guilty of poaching musk oxen

August 11th, 2017 | Shady Grove Oliver, The Arctic Sounder Print this article   Email this article  

Three Wainwright residents have been found guilty of poaching musk oxen. They were sentenced Aug. 2 in Utqiaġvik court.

Thomas "TJ" Tazruk, 33, Willie Bodfish, 58, and Billy Bodfish, 30, each pleaded guilty on June 25 to taking musk oxen during a closed season and failing to salvage the meat.

"In exchange for guilty pleas, the defendants received open sentencing from the Barrow court," Alaska State Troopers noted in an online dispatch.

Judge David Roghair sentenced each of the men to 30 days in jail with all 30 days suspended, one year of probation, a $500 fine with half suspended, and restitution payments. Both Bodfishs and Tazruk are responsible for paying restitution for each of the killed musk oxen, of which there were three, totaling $9,000. Each of the defendants had to forfeit the firearms used in the killing of the animals, as well.

The charges stemmed from an incident early last year and followed a lengthy investigation by Alaska Wildlife Troopers.

Troopers first found out about the incident in late March of 2016, when they arrived on scene near the confluence of the Nuka River and the Colville River in the western Brooks Range, nearly 200 miles northeast of Kotzebue.

According to troopers, they found the bodies of three female musk oxen who had "been shot multiple times and left to waste." Only a single hindquarter had been salvaged from one of the animals, troopers said at the time.

They continued their investigation of the suspected poaching and two weeks later found a skinned wolverine carcass near the bodies of the musk oxen.

"During the course of the investigation, it was also revealed that the defendants had stolen aviation fuel from a remote cache used by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the National Park Service," troopers noted.

The fuel had been intended for use in a wild game survey taking place in the area at the time.

Over the summer, wildlife troopers interviewed the three men, who told officers they killed the musk oxen for bait. They planned not to salvage the meat, but use the carcasses to lure wolves and wolverines they wanted to hunt, troopers said.

Not only was it unlawful to kill those specific animals during the closed season, all edible meat must be salvaged from any kill, even if the inedible parts are intended for other uses.

As the Sounder reported last year, charges, which included theft and unlawful use of game as bait, were filed against the three hunters Sept. 6. A few of those charges were later dismissed through court proceedings.

"The Alaska Wildlife Troopers hope this case serves as a deterrent to poachers," they noted in a dispatch. "Cases, regardless of their remoteness, are investigated thoroughly to deter such crimes and protect Alaska's fish and wildlife resources."


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