ANCHORAGE — U.S. and state law enforcement officials Saturday arrested six big-game guides and outfitters charged with illegally taking wildlife, including protected grizzly bears and wolves, in one of Alaska's largest sting operations ever.
The arrests came amid national outrage over a plan by Alaska's game managers to use airborne hunters to shoot hundreds of wolves for the purpose of boosting caribou and moose populations in certain areas.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said about 70 state and federal officers spread out across the West to make arrests and seize aircraft, snow machines and trophies.
The undercover probe, code-named "Operation Brooks Range" after the Arctic mountains along Alaska's northern flank where some of the state's legendary big game roams, spanned Alaska, Washington state, Idaho, Texas and Arizona.
Search and seizure and arrest warrants were issued in all five states, including the far-flung Alaska communities of Kotzebue, North Pole and Palmer.
The six individuals were indicted on multiple counts such as the use of airplanes or snow machines to kill gray wolves and grizzly bears, which are protected under the 1973 Endangered Species Act, and wanton waste of big game such as moose and caribou.
Donald Troutman of North Pole, Alaska, and Arizona was charged with 16 counts, including seven felonies, and Jordy McAuley of Alberta was charged with 10, half of them felonies, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
Also arrested were Lloyd Harvey of British Columbia, Thomas Sullivan of Idaho, John Walker of Kotzebue, Alaska, and Simon Mawson of Anchorage, all of whom face three to six counts, including at least two felonies each.
Officials of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation identified Mawson as a high-ranking manager in their agency, appointed under Alaska Gov. Walter J. Hickel to oversee the trans-Alaska pipeline and the final cleanup last summer of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Mawson was not available for comment.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Stephen Cooper said the six face maximum penalties of one to five years and $100,000 to $250,000 for each count.
Agents seized eight airplanes worth $340,000.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said all of those arrested were licensed guide-outfitters or licensed assistants. The service said the investigation continued and that further charges were expected.