The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was on Monday actively moving to quash any rumors of favoritism in the award of a grizzly bear hunting permit to Donald Trump Jr., the 42-year-old elder son of the President of the United States.
Trump Jr., an avid hunter, won the permit to hunt the Seward Peninsula in Northwest Alaska by entering a December drawing the results of which became available online Friday.
The random, computer-generated lottery has been the source of some controversy over the years with unsuccessful hunters, especially resident hunters, suspicious of state employees who draw permits or high-profile hunters who draw multiple permits.
Some of the permits – particularly those for bison, coastal brown bears and Dall sheep – are highly coveted, and the results of the draw are closely watched by thousands of Alaska hunters. Thus it didn’t take long for someone to spot the name of one “Trump, Donald” from New York, NY on the list of permit winners.
The Alaska Landmine was the first to report that on Friday, Tweeting that “our hunting friends informed us that this is an expensive hunt, and there is almost always less applicants than tags available.”
The latter claim was, in the case of this particular hunt, inaccurate, but the first was wholly true.
All nonresident, grizzly hunters in Alaska are required by law to hire an Alaska big game guide, and they don’t come cheap. Two reliable sources said Trump is planning a spring hunt with Tom Gray, owner of Alaska NW Adventures in Nome, a Bering Sea coast community on the west end of the Seward Peninsula.
Gray charges $15,500 for a seven-day hunt based out of the remote villages of White Mountain or Council.
Reached by phone in Nome on Monday, he refused to say if Trump was a client or not.
“You need to call Donald Trump and talk to him,” he said. “Everyone’s got a lot of gossip flying around.”
Gray sounded afraid to talk to a reporter, which is understandable. Most of them don’t hunt, and any story involving a Trump is in these days explosive.
News, news, news
The Trump-hunt story is now bouncing around the internet like a pinball with the inevitable strange ricochets.
Alaska state records indicate a kill of about 1,500 brown/grizzly bears per year in the 49th state, and the number of hunters engaging in trying to make a kill is many times that, according to state officials.
Permits for hunts for trophy-size coastal brown bears – animals which grow to 10-feet tall and can weigh more than 1,500 pounds – are much in demand. The same was not so for the permit for which Trump Jr. applied.
Anyone who read the permit drawing application for grizzly bear hunts on the Seward Peninsula would have seen that putting in for a non-resident permit there is a shoo-in, said Eddie Grasser, the state’s Director of Wildlife Conservation. Most years there are significantly more permits than applicants.
This year, Trump was one of only three non-resident hunters to apply for 27 permits, said Fish and Game spokesman Rick Green. Hunters are limited to one permit.
The Seward Peninsula bears are not especially big, but there is a large and healthy population of them. The Alaska Native residents of the area have more than once complained there are too many asked the state to allow a bigger annual kill.
Four years ago, the Nome Eskimo Community requested the Alaska Board of Game to extend the resident grizzly season to run from Aug. 1 to May 31 and allow a harvest of a bear every year, arguing that “muskoxen have been driven into the city limits and on to the airports, in large part by a need to escape bear predation on calves.
“The Unit 22C moose population is depressed again due in part to bear eating calves. The local reindeer herds are also feeling the effects of predation. More bears are being taken as defense of life and property culls.”
State wildlife managers have traditionally managed grizzly/brown bears very conservatively with relatively short seasons in spring and fall and hunters limited to but one bear every four years because of the low reproductive rate of bears and the several years it takes them to reach breeding age.
That has sometimes put them at odds with rural residents who have to live with animals that on average now kill more than one Alaskan per year and hospitalize more than eight people per year, according to the Alaska Section of Epidemiology, while scaring the bejesus out of many, many more.
As state wildlife biologists are quick to point out, most human-bear encounters end without an incident, but many people remain fearful of the animals or worried they will steal subsistence food stores of fish and wildlife.
Just back from a Game Board meeting in Nome, Grasser said he expected the residents of the historic mining town would be ” excited as hell” to learn the younger Trump planned to remove a grizzly from their backyard.
The state was hoping for more like him. The drawing permit hunts are a big money maker for the the fish and wildlife agency.
“I think we did OK; we raised $2 million on the drawing system” this year, Grasser said. Hunters pay $10 per hunt to enter the drawing, and non-resident permits winners are an especially big plus for the state.
Those who win a bear hunt need to buy a $1,000 locking tag and a $160 general hunting license before they take to the field, making their total payout to the state $1,170. The 23 non-resident permits which went unissued because no one applied would have brought the state more than $28,000.
The money from license fees is used to match federal funds collected on hunting supplies to support state wildlife management program.
No sooner was the news of Trump Jr.’s hunt out than a petition was launched to “demand that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game put an end to all grizzly bear hunting!”
It had been signed by 36,000 people by Monday night and “liked” by 1.7 million.
The petition claimed Trump Jr. “just bought the right to hunt an innocent, beloved animal recreationally. Trophy hunting is a cruel and unnecessary sport, the endgame of which is the grotesque collecting and displaying of a murdered animal’s body parts, and Don Jr. is looking to add a grizzly bear head to his vast hoard.”
The petition was topped by a photo of a sow grizzly bear with two cubs of the year. Alaska trophy bear hunters are specifically forbidden from shooting sows with cubs. An Alaska guide could lose his license for letting someone like Trump Jr. shoot such a bear.
And Green noted that if Trump had wanted, he probably could have avoided paying the $10 to enter the drawing for a permit.
The governor has 50 permits at his disposal that he can give hunters to promote the state. Trump Jr., a valued member of Safari Club International which has helped fund widlife research projects in Alaska in the past, might have been able to get Gov. Mike Dunleavy to give him a free permit if he’d asked.
But he never asked.
“We didn’t know about it until it came out,” Green said.
And as of this time, none in the Alaska media seem to have noticed the other significant political name that pops up among the drawing permit winners this year –
Dunleavy, Michael J.” from Wasilla.
That would be Alaska’s governor, who drew a far more popular permit than Trump. Dunleavy was awarded one of 200 antlerless moose permits available for the southeast portion of the Susitna Valley. That is not a trophy hunt, but a straight-up meat hunt.
Straight records show Dunleavy paid Fish and Game $70 to apply for seven permits in all, but only won the one. He lost in the drawings for permits to hunt Kodiak brown bear, an elk on Raspberry Island, a mountain goat on Kodiak Island, a Delta bison (the state’s most hotly contested permit), a Tok area Dall sheep (another extremely popular draw), and a Nunivak Island muskox.
Trump Jr. applied for only the one hunt.