Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jeff King's Trial More About Border Disputes than Moose

Yesterday marked the second day of Jeff King's trail on charges of poaching and operating a motor vehicle inside the boundary of Denali National Park and Preserve. According an article in today's Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the magistrate hearing the case was tempted to dismiss the charges, but ultimately decided to let them stand.

Apparently King killed a moose during his hunt last year, gutted it out (of course) and took it home without realizing the moose had died 200 yards inside the Park boundary. The location of the moose at the moment Mr. King dropped the hammer is apparently unclear.

What is clear is that the park boundary is not well marked in that area. Even NPS Rangers responsible for that district have difficulty finding the metal monuments used by surveyors to mark the line, and when asked at the scene to show the boundary, the ranger involved pointed to an area well beyond the kill site. It was only later than the Ranger realized the moose was inside the park, and decided to take action.

Maps of the boundary provided by both sides of the issue, as accurate as they may be, show the boundary with a line of varying widths, but the width of the ink makes a huge difference, as I learned during a public hearing regarding a trail dispute here in Two Rivers. Is the boundary marked by the edge of the line? Which edge of the line? Is it the center of the line?. If the line on a map is only a fraction of an inch in width it may represent as much as a few hundred feet or even a couple of miles difference.

This trial is all about drawing a line in the snow. Jeff King decided to hire an attorney and dispute the violation notice and in response the government decided to prosecute the case to the fullest extent. Once lawyers get involved there is no stopping the juggernaut that passes for a judicial system in our State and our Nation.

Meanwhile, Alaskans seem to be divided into two camps. There are those who, with validity, feel the hunter should know exactly where his is in relation to the boundary within a fraction of an inch and not risk shooting a moose that might then wander over the boundary in the process of death. The other camp, with equal validity, feels the park service has a responsibility to clearly mark and define the boundary on the ground so there is no longer any question about the location of an imaginary line on a map.

I can't claim to know Jeff King. He's one of those guys who I've met but only casually and for a short time. In the hiarchy of dog mushers he's so far above me in the food chain that I can't even see that high up. Nonetheless he has a reputation of being an honorable and law-abiding man and he's chosen to defend that reputation even against a relatively minor allegation.

Meanwhile, the government is strongly enforcing their point that Denali National Park is Sacred Ground and not to be used by Alaskans without the blessing of U.S. Almighty (bow now, if you please).

Both sides will present closing arguments in writing between now and September 28 and the magistrate will rule shortly afterward. Like I say, the moment lawyers get involved there is no foreseeable end to the process, and no foreseeable end to the controversy.

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