By Jill Burke
What began as a curious poaching incident last May on a remote Alaska island game sanctuary has evolved from a state-level investigation into a full-blown federal case, with two Alaska Native hunters accused in the wasteful killing and facing a quartet of federal charges.
One Monday in early May, 2011, Sixty Arkanakyak and Jessie Arnariak decided to motor their way from the village of Togiak 30 miles across Togiak Bay, located north of the pristine and world-class fishing waters of Bristol Bay. Their destination was Round Island, a massive summer haul out for male Pacific walrus who use the rocky beaches as resting spots between food binges. What the men did next – slaughtering a walrus for nothing more than its tusks and injuring other massive mammals in a spray of bullets – could land them in jail for a decade.
On Thursday, Arkanakyak told a federal judge during his arraignment that he was innocent, pleading not guilty to four charges: three misdemeanors related to an illegal, wasteful kill of a walrus and the removal of its tusks, and one felony for being a convicted felon in possession of firearms. Arnariak faces identical charges, stemming from an indictment against both men handed up in mid-December. The misdemeanors – violations of the Lacey Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act – carry a possible jail term of up to one year. The weapons charge has a maximum sentence of 10 years. According to prosecutors, Arkanakyak has a previous felony conviction for theft; while Arnariak has a prior assault conviction. More....