National Park Service rangers caught two men who they say illegally shot a bull moose inside Denali National Park and Preserve north of Healy.
Delmar Neeley, 54, of Anderson and Robert Maxfield, 22, of Nenana were contacted on Monday after three park rangers flew by helicopter to the site of a hunting camp located about two miles inside the northeast corner of the 6-million acre park.
Rangers seized a 43-inch bull moose, weapons and other evidence, including a GPS unit the hunters were using that clearly showed they were inside park boundaries, said park spokeswoman Kris Fister.
"Their GPS unit showed they were well inside the park," she said.
The area the hunters were in is about eight miles west of the Parks Highway. The hunters accessed the area on four-wheelers via Rock Creek, just north of Healy.
The area is part of the 4 million acres that was added to the 6-million-acre park in 1980 and is open to hunting only by federally qualified subsistence users, said ranger Dan Fangen-Gritis.
With only a handful of qualified subsistence hunters, park rangers have a good idea of who's hunting where, especially since subsistence hunters must get permits from the park service and divulge where they're hunting.
Rangers received a tip on Sunday that there was a sport hunting camp in the area. A park pilot flew over the area, located the camp and observed a moose kill site, as well as evidence that the hunters had used four-wheelers to access the area.
Park officials are working with the U.S. district attorney's office to determine what charges will be filed. The park service will pursue Lacey Act violations against the hunters, according to Fister.
A call to Neeley's home in Anderson went unanswered Friday and Maxfield's number was not listed.
One of the two four-wheelers used by the hunters was driven out and the other was removed using a sling load and helicopter to prevent any further damage to the terrain, Fister said. As it is, the hunters did scar some of the landscape, she said.
"At least in one area there's some resource impact," Fister said.
No charges have been filed, but a number of charges are being considered, according to Fangen-Gritis. They include using ATVs off designated trails and hunting in a closed area, he said.
"Hopefully we'll be able to develop this case in such a fashion as to discourage future incidents and encourage hunters to have a better idea where they are," Fangen-Gritis said.
Illegal hunting inside Denali Park is an ongoing problem. In the three years Fangen-Gritis has been at the park, there have been three cases prosecuted and several others in which charges weren't filed, for one reason or another, the ranger said. In addition to moose, there have been cases involving bears, Dall sheep and wolves, he said.
But increased funding and staffing the past few years has enabled park rangers to clamp down on illegal hunting activity, said Fangen-Gritis. In addition to increasing ground patrols, the park service now has an aircraft and pilot dedicated for aerial patrols.
"We haven't had the staffing and the necessary equipment to develop these cases successfully in the past," the ranger said. "We'd find out about incidents so late that other than confirming they took place, there wasn't much we could do about it.
"We're getting better and more efficient at responding to these," he said.
Asked if the hunters were surprised to see park rangers show up, Fangen-Gritis said, "You could say that."
News-Miner staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.