Explanations as to why Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher Jessie Holmes felt it necessary to shoot four moose in self-defense in the space of a week in February remain unavailable, but Alaska Wildlife Troopers have now cited the star of reality TV’s “Life Below Zero” for failing to fill out the paperwork required to justify those defense-of-life-and-property (DLP) kills.
The charges add to the growing image problems facing the 40-year-old musher since April when it was learned his dog team bolted out of a Wasilla parking lot and ran off to invade the yard of Lucky – an unlucky, 15-pound Havanese. There they attacked and killed the little dog as its terrified owner watched helpless to stop the carnage.
Officials in Sarah Palin’s old hometown of Wasilla have since issued Holmes 10 citations for failing to restrain his dogs and one for animal cruelty in the death of Lucky. Holmes is looking at $1,520 in fines in relation to those citations.
News of the Wasilla attack led to the public discovery of Holme’s moose-killing exploits. A reader of this website posted a comment on the story about Lucky’s sad demise and questioned just how many moose Holmes had shot and killed along the Denali Highway over the course of the winter.
When Troopers were contacted about those dead moose late last month, they reported they were aware of at least four killed by Holmes but said they had concluded that the Iditarod musher acted legally.
Holmes did not respond to repeated messages left on his phone asking him for details as to the moose shootings, and when asked for copies of the DLP reports that are required by law to be filed to explain such shootings, Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials said they could find no such reports or any record that the reports had ever been filed.
What exactly happened afterward is unclear, but troopers over the weekend disclosed that “although the four takings of moose were found to be legal under state regulation…Holmes failed to file the required DLP forms to the Department of Fish and Game within 15 days of the takings. On May 21, Holmes turned in the DLP forms at the request of AWT and was issued multiple citations for failure to submit a required report.”
The last time Holmes got into trouble like this was for failing to file his subsistence fishing report in 2017. That cost him $1,300, according to state court records, but the fine and fees came after he failed to appear in court to answer to the charge and a judge had to issue a warrant for his arrest.
A request to troopers for copies of the DLP reports has now apparently filed has gone unanswered. By law, the reports are to be submitted to Fish and Game, a separate agency. The statute laying out the reporting requirements dates back to early statehood to when Fish and Game employed wardens to enforce fish and wildlife laws.
Most law enforcement responsibilities were long ago transferred to the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the troopers. All troopers now receive the same training, but the agency is split into the AST (law enforcement troopers) and the AWT (fish and wildlife enforcement troopers), although the latter are regularly called into service to assist the former.
Meanwhile, many employees of Fish and Game are also deputized under state law so they can enforce hunting and fishing regulations. Fish and Game spokesman Rick Green said Monday that he was still trying to determine if a trooper might have accepted the DLP reports in person in Cantwell, near where Holmes was living at the time of the shootings, or if the reports had been sent to Juneau.
Shooting any type of potentially dangerous wildlife in defense of life and property is legal in Alaska, but some justification is required. The state makes a “Defense of Life or Property Game Animal Kill Report” available online.
People are there asked to “explain why this animal was killed and what, if anything, was done to prevent killing it.
“Persons shooting game under this DLP regulation also must salvage the skull and hide (for bears, wolves, etc.) or meat (for moose, caribou, etc.) and surrender it to the state….The report should be completed by the person who killed the animal. If that person cannot complete the form, the agency official (ADF&G staff person, FWP (Fish and Wildlife Protection, now AWT) officer, police officer, etc.) who talks to the person who shot the animal, or who initially receives information from the shooter should complete this report.”
Many DLP shootings involve bear attacks and bear maulings, and sometimes the victims of the latter are in no condition to complete the report themselves. Some people have been similarly injured in moose attacks and a few have died, but there have been no indications Holmes suffered any injuries in his encounters with moose.
He did, however, have a busy week with big deer in February.
Troopers now say he reported killing two moose on Feb. 20 “while dog mushing near the Denali Highway,” another on Feb. 22 and a fourth on Feb. 27. State wildlife officials, both present and retired, could recall no one shooting four moose in defense of life and property in one winter let alone four in one week.
It must be noted, however, that confrontations between dog teams and moose are not uncommon on the winter trails of Alaska. Moose instinctively defend themselves against wolves by standing their ground and using their feet as weapons, and dogs look just like wolves to a moose.
During this year’s Iditarod, musher Matthew Failor was forced to shoot a moose on the trail near Galena in central Alaska after it tried to stomp his team. And in one of the most famous incidents in Iditarod history, musher Dewey Halverson in 1985 shot a moose that was ravaging the team of the late Susan Butcher.
The moose killed three of Butcher’s dogs, injured several others and forced her out of a race many had given her a good chance of winning.
With Butcher sidelined, Libby Riddles went on to win and attract international attention as the first woman champion in the history of the 1`,000-mile race from Anchorage to Nome. Butcher won her first Iditarod the next year and followed that up with three more victories before a surprise retirement in 1994 at the age of 39.
She suffered no more moose attacks but did take to carrying a firearm – as many if not most Iditarod competitors do – just in case another moose got into her team. A considerable number of mushers have been forced to shoot moose over the years, but it is rare to hear of anyone shooting more than one moose in a winter.
Shooting two in one day and four over the course of a week, as troopers report Holmes did, is unusual to the point that none of a variety of mushers and wildlife biologists contacted could recall anything like this happening before.
Several mushers did note that heavy snows on the south slope of the Alaska Range concentrated moose along the Denali in unusual numbers this winter, leading to regular encounters and plenty of problems. But Fish and Game officials said they had received no reports of DLPs other than those of Holmes, who was operating out of a camp along the summer-only highway near the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Brushkana Creek campground about 30 miles east of Cantwell on the George Parks Highway.
His move to a sled-dog training area there was featured in 2020 on “Life Below Zero” in which Holmes is one of the stars. The National Geographic production later highlighted his construction of a one-room cabin on the site.