Alaska reality TV star and Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher Jessie Holmes appears to have set some sort of record this winter by killing at least four moose in defense of life and property (DLP), according to state officials.
Widlife biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, both present and retired, say they can’t recall anyone DLPing, as wildlife self-defense shootings are termed in the 49th state, four big-game animals of any kind in one year.
“I don’t know that I even DLPed four in one winter,” said Ted Spraker, who years ago retired as Fish and Game’s wildlife manager for the moose-filled Kenai Peninsula where part of his job involved dispatching troublesome moose.
The 1,000-pound animals can get very cranky in winters with deep snow that make it difficult for them to get around to find food. In such conditions, they often become reluctant to leave snowmachine-packed trails mushers use to train their dogs.
Holmes, one of the stars of the reality TV show “Life Below Zero,” would appear to have been plagued with troublesome moose.
“The Alaska Wildlife Troopers are aware of four Defense of Life and Property incidents involving Jessie Holmes from this winter,” a spokesman for the agency emailed when queried about reports of Holmes shooting moose.
Spraker, who was appointed to the regulation-setting Alaska Board of Game after his retirement from Fish and Game and eventually became the Board chairman, said it’s easy enough to understand why someone might have to DLP a moose in Alaska in the winter to protect himself and or his dog team.
Especially around dogs, Spraker said, “moose can panic and go crazy.” But the wildlife biologist added that killing four moose does raise questions.
“I’d go find another spot to train dogs,” he said.
Details on Holmes’ moose shootings are nonexistent. Fish and Game officials said they could find no DLP reports filed by Holmes although state law says that a “person taking game under this (DLP) section shall notify the department of the taking immediately, and within 15 days after the taking shall submit to the department a completed questionnaire concerning the circumstances of the taking.”
They added that it is possible that an Alaska Wildlife Trooper could have talked to Holmes and filled out the standardized questionnaire required after these sorts of killings and that the form could still be in the hands of the Department of Public Safety. But the trooper spokesman referred questions on details about the moose shootings to Fish and Game, the agency responsible for cataloging DLP reports.
Holmes did not return several messages left on his cell phone asking him about the winter’s moose shootings.
Since placing a best-ever third in the Iditarod in March, the 39-year-old musher has had more than his share of public-relations problems. Not long after the race ended, he let some of his sled dogs loose in the parking lot of a Wasilla hotel only to have them run off and maul to death the small pet dog of a woman who lived nearby.
In early April, Wasilla officials said they expected to issue Holmes multiple citations in connection with that incident, which attracted global attention, but to date there is no indication those have been filed.
Other mushers have said Holmes was not the only one involved in DLP kills of moose this winter along the snow-covered, summer-only Denali Highway, but Fish and Game officials said they could find no reports of DLPs from that area.
It is generally well-known among outdoor-active Alaskans that DLP reports are required to be filed after any big-game animal is killed in self-defense, and the form on which such kills are to be reported to the state says very clearly at the top that it should be completed in 15-days and mailed to the Fish and Game office in Anchorage.
After Matt Failor, another Iditarod musher, was forced to kill a young moose with a knife as it tried to stomp his dog team on a trail near the community of Willow in February, he promptly filed such a report.
Failor, whose knife-weilding assult on the moose to protect his dogs can only be described as heroic, also made a point of salvaging the meat of the animal.
“Game taken in defense of life or property is the property of the state,” Alaska wildlife regulations say. “A person taking such game shall immediately salvage the meat or, in the case of a black bear, wolf, wolverine, or coyote, shall salvage the hide and shall immediately surrender the salvaged meat or hide to the department. In the case of a brown bear, the hide and skull must be immediately delivered to the department.”
Holmes moose kills came to the attention of craigmedred.news after a resident living in the Cantwell area near the west end of the Denali mentioned that it appeared the musher had shot several moose over the course of the winter and instead of salvaging them as required by law left them for birds and predators to scavenge.
That individual in mid-April reported that “as of about three weeks ago, the partially-scavenged carcasses were quite visible from the groomed trail. Initially, we assumed they were over-winter kill because of the record snow depths out there. It has definitely been a hard year for moose along the Denali.”
But he then recounted a meeting with a wildlife trooper on a snowmachine along the highway “hauling out meat from another DLP, I asked him about the carcasses and he told us those were unsalvaged Jessie Holmes DLP kills. It sounded like there may have been at least one other Jessie DLP that was properly salvaged and reported. The trooper told us that Jessie claimed he didn’t know that he was required to salvage the meat which seemed pretty bogus given his rugged Alaska outdoorsman persona. Interestingly, the trooper told us he hadn’t heard of Life Below Zero until Jessie pointed out that he was a member of the cast.”
Troopers, however, eventually concluded that Holmes acted legally.
“None of the DLPs are considered suspicious,” the spokesman emailed, “and there is no active Alaska Wildlife Trooper inquiry into these incidents.”
Holmes was at the time of the shootings training dog teams out of a camp he maintains near Brushkana Creek along the Denali. The summer-only highway gets buried beneath snow in winter is a popular training ground for many long-distance, sled-dog racers.
“There was some initial confusion regarding the DLP process between our public safety dispatchers and Mr. Holmes,;’ troopers said in their statement, “however that has since been resolved.”
Holmes bills himself on his Facebook page as a “subsistence resident of the Tanana River (country), but appears to support himself mainly by acting in the National Geographic Network TV series.
Subsistence residents of Alaska are generally people living off the land in rural areas of Alaska. Few are worth a half-million dollars.
Without the state’s Permanent Fund Dividend, the annual payment to all Alaskans as their share of earnings on investments from taxes collected on oil, the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research has estimated about one in every five rural residents would be living in poverty.
The annual PFD lowers the number to about 12 in every 100, though the PFD is usually less than half of what Holmes is reported to earn for an episode of Life Below Zero. The Alaska Legislature appears this year ready to boost the payment to $2,550 by adding a $1,300 “energy credit” onto a $1,250 PFD.
Given the high costs of living in rural Alaska and the many people barely scraping by, it is understandable why some in the Cantwell area might be upset about Holmes shooting moose and failing to salvage the meat, which when salvaged is donated to low income Alaskans per state policy.
Power of celebrity
If the story is true that Holmes pointed out to a trooper that he was a member of the cast of Life Below Zero, he might have had a reason.
NatGeo, which airs the show, has a long history with troopers. For five years, the network was home to the “Alaska State Troopers” reality show.
Troopers put the show on what they called a “hiatus” in 2014 in the wake of the shooting deaths of troopers Scott Johnson and Gabe Rich in the remote, central Alaska village of Tanana.
At the time, then Trooper Col. James Cockrell e-mailed his staff to say the agency “needed to step back, take a break from filming and re-evaluate the consequences of our agency.”
A deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, which oversees troopers, expanded on that by telling the New York Daily News that the decision to stop filming had been made in consultation with the “show’s producers (and) the agency left the meeting saying they’d be interested in bringing the series back if the interest was still there, but not for a while,” the newspaper reported.
“Alaska State Troopers,” the TV show has continued to air in reruns on cable TV since its hiatus. And troopers have in the past described the show as one of their best recruiting tools.
Some troopers were fans of the show; others thought it interfered with the job they were supposed to do.
Reality TV became a big deal in Alaska in the 2010s. There were reported to be “more than 20” shows filming in the state in 2015. But since then, the number appears to have shrunk to about a dozen now.
Still, the Alaska shows remain popular.
Life Below Zero appears to be among Nat Geo’s top rated shows, but it is no match for the Dicovery Channel’s “Gold Rush,” which attracted `1.9 million viewers in January, according a listing compiled by Ratings Ryan. Below Zero’s best show in the same week was clicked on by slightly less than half as many viewers.
Whether Life Below Zero captured any of Holmes’ DLPs on video is unknown. Other mushers training along the Denali last winter said there were unusual numbers of moose concentrated along the snowmachine down the road because of unusually deep snows.
“This was an incredibly challenging winter for wildlife across Alaska due to a variety of weather factors which resulted in an unusually high number of DLPs across the state,” troopers said.