FAIRBANKS—Three men who worked at the lodge of legendary Fairbanks hunting guide and aviator Urban Rahoi were sentenced last week at a court hearing in Anchorage for their roles in hunting-related crimes that included poisoning wolves with an artificial sweetener, operating an illegal bear-beating station in a national preserve, and guiding nonresident hunters without being valid hunting guides.
Federal prosecutors announced the indictments of the three men — Casey Richardson of Montana, Dale Lackner of Haines and Jeffrey Harris of Washington — in August, 2017 following an investigation into Rahoi's business Ptarmigan Lake Lodge on an inholding in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve during the 2014 and 2015 hunting seasons.
Richardson worked as a police officer in Missoula, Montana at the time he was committing the felony hunting violations, according to the Missoulian newspaper.
At Friday's sentencing, Lackner was sentenced to six months of home confinement, and Richardson and Harris were sentenced to three months in a halfway house, followed by three months of home confinement, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office. All three men were sentenced to five years of probation during which they have court orders not to hunt or assist with hunting. They were each ordered to pay restitution ranging from $6,000 for Lackner to $26,000 for Harris to the U.S. Department of the Interior Restoration Fund.
Rahoi, who held Alaska State Guide License No. 1 as the first registered guide in Alaska after statehood in 1959, was not indicted in the case. However, he is identified in the court records as an unindicted-co-conspirator who didn't participate in the illegal hunts but who was aware of the illegal activity at his lodge. Harris was employed at the lodge as a horse wrangler and maintenance worker, while Lackner and Richardson "acted on behalf of" Rahoi and the business in exchange for being able to hunt there, according to the government's sentencing memo in the case.
According to the investigation, Rahoi purchased 14 pounds of the artificial sweetener xylitol at a Fairbanks health food store in the fall of 2015, and Richardson put the sweetener into rabbit carcasses to poison wolves in an effort to control the population of the predators.
Although he wasn't criminally charged, Rahoi was cited for having an illegal baiting station. As part of the settlement for the citation, Rahoi made a $4,900 community service payment to the National Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the national parks. Rahoi, who turned 100 years old this month, also surrendered his Alaska registered guide-outfitter license and agreed not to reapply for a license.
In addition to being a hunting guide, Rahoi is known in Fairbanks for his World War II service flying bomber planes, his work in real estate development and his passion for vintage snowmachines. More than 100 people came to the Pioneer Park Centennial Center for the Arts earlier this month for a birthday celebration for Rahoi. U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan gave a tribute to him on the Senate floor last week as part of his Alaskan of the Week series.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Rahoi said he feels betrayed by his country for being investigated in this case. His hunting in what is now Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve predates the creation of the park by the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
"According to the law, the federal government was never to be in command of game laws. It was Alaska that was supposed to control the game. They kind of took over on their own like they always do in the federal government," he said. "I've given all of my life to this goddamn country, and I've had it with it."
Rahoi hasn't been back to Ptarmigan Lake Lodge since he suffered a stroke in 2016, he said, and the property remains for sale.
Rahoi doesn't dispute buying xylitol to poison wolves and takes pride in his work to control predator populations in his hunting grounds. He said when he started hunting at Ptarmigan Lake 67 years ago, a federal agent helped him poison wolves. Today, poison isn't a legal way to kill wolves in Alaska, although the state government encourages predator control through other means, including state employees conducting aerial shooting of wolves from helicopters and having liberal hunting and trapping rules for the predators.
Rahoi said predator control has helped the moose and caribou population in the area around his lodge.
Prosecutors stated that the criminal investigation began in December 2015 after Alaska Wildlife Troopers received an anonymous letter about illegal hunting at Ptarmigan Lake Lodge.
Contact Outdoors Editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors