An Alaskan hunter was sentenced to an $8,500 fine after pleading guilty to shooting a Dall’s sheep on the Yukon side of the border in 2017 and then carrying it back into Alaska and claiming it as a legal kill.
Most of the facts of the case were read to territorial court Judge Karen Ruddy on Jan. 7, who then delivered the sentence at a later hearing on Feb. 16.
Donald Lee III, a Fairbanks resident, was hunting in the Ogilvie Mountains, west of Dawson City, on the Alaskan side of the border in August 2017.
He was fully licensed to take a Dall’s sheep on that side of the border. The court heard that he was travelling without a GPS as he was an experienced outdoorsman and comfortable navigating by landmarks and the position of the sun. Despite not knowing his exact position he was aware he was near the border.
Lee admitted to shooting a mature Dall’s sheep ram from between 150 and 200 yards away. He told the court that he was not aware the sheep was in Canada until he went to retrieve it, crossing a strip of cleared land at the 141st Meridian marking the border. He said that due to the steep terrain he was unable to see the border cutline when he took the shot.
The hunter acknowledged that he made the wrong choices after realizing the sheep he killed had been standing on Canadian soil.
“I suppose I could have contacted someone to get in touch with the Canadian authorities somehow. Instead I made some poor decisions,” Lee wrote in a statement that was read to the court.
Lee brought the sheep back across the border, completed all inspections and paperwork necessary to claim that it was killed in Alaska, ate the meat that he had carried out of the mountains and had the ram’s head made into a taxidermied shoulder mount.
He also posted photos of himself with the sheep at the spot that it was killed to an online forum. It was an anonymous complaint with photos of Lee and the sheep that led to an investigation by Yukon Conservation Officers and the Environment Canada Wildlife Enforcement division.
Officers visited the area and located the site Lee’s photos were taken. They snapped their own pictures of the site, which were also presented to the court. It was determined that the sheep died about 120 yards from the border.
The court heard that once the kill site had been positively identified, U.S. authorities interviewed Lee.
“Mr. Lee made certain admissions and charges were laid in October 2020,” said Noel Sinclair, the federal crown counsel who prosecuted the case.
Sinclair told the court that Lee admitted to making the mistake, expressed willingness to return to Canada to deal with the legal matter and promptly surrendered the shoulder mount to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after he was interviewed.
The offence that Lee entered an early guilty plea to was unlawful transportation of the dead sheep out of Canada as set out in the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.
The court heard that it carries a mandatory minimum fine of $5,000 and a maximum penalty of $300,000.
Aggravating factors presented to the court included the rarity of Dall’s sheep and the strong regulations around it.
Sinclair acknowledged mitigating factors including Lee’s cooperation with authorities and early guilty plea. He said that for these reasons the crown was asking for a fine of less than the $19,000 USD that a guided sheep hunt in that area would have cost in 2017.
Sinclair asked the judge to impose a $12,500 fine and an order barring Lee from hunting in Canada for the next five years.
Speaking to the court Lee said he was truly sorry. He asked that the minimum fine be imposed based on the mitigating circumstances including the fact that he was fully licensed to hunt in Alaska. He told the court that any fine will have substantial financial impact and said he would accept a longer hunting prohibition in Canada if it meant a lesser fine.
The judge ordered the $8,500 fine, $1,000 of which was to be paid to the Turn In Poachers and Polluters (TIPP) reporting line along with the five-year hunting prohibition in Canada and the return of the taxidermy sheep to the Canadian government. Lee will have a year to pay.
“I will also say that the sentence imposed today is one which should send a strong message to the public about the price. Unethical hunters will pay when they are careless or deliberately turning a blind eye to the regulatory requirements for hunting in the Yukon,” Sinclair said following the sentencing.
He said investigators like the ones who looked into this case are on duty all the time and will go to significant lengths to discover unlawful hunting activity even in the most remote parts of the territory.
Gordon Barker, one of the Environment Canada wildlife enforcement division officers who investigated the incident involving the Dall’s sheep, said he was pleased with the cooperation that went into the investigation by agencies on both sides of the border.
The TIPP line number is 1-800-661-0525.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org