Homer man will plead guilty to hunting in Denali National Park

A Homer hunter entered a plea agreement last week with the Alaska U.S. Attorney’s Office admitting he hunted illegally in Denali National Park. Michael J. Barth, 29, was one of four men charged last week with the illegal take, possession and transport of two bull moose taken in the park between Sept. 3 and 7, 2012.

In an agreement signed Nov. 21, Barth said he will plead guilty to a violation of the Lacey Act and that he did unlawfully hunt and take a bull moose in the park, unlawfully transported two moose to Anchorage, and knew or should have known transporting the moose was a violation of federal law. The agreement also sets out the details of the case.

Barth said on Monday that he had no comment on the case, and he deferred to his Anchorage attorney, Kevin Fitzgerald, for comment. Fitzgerald did not return messages seeking comment on his client’s behalf.

Barth and Charlie W. Hart, 55, Deric C. Hart, 33, both of Anchorage, and James C. Riggs, 58, of Wasilla, were all charged with one count each of the unlawful take and unlawful possession of wildlife in a national park. Riggs also was charged with the illegal possession of an unregistered silencer discovered during an investigation into the illegal hunting. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Skrocki presented the case to a federal grand jury which indicted the men last week.

According to a narrative in the plea agreement, Barth hunted with the other men, but did not actually take a bull moose during the hunt. The four men and an unnamed fifth person had permission to hunt on an inholding in the Kantishna area of Denali National Park. They also used electronic moose cow calls, a technique prohibited in Alaska. On Sept. 3, Deric Hart shot a bull moose outside the inholding and in the park. The hunters dragged that moose back into the inholding with all-terrain vehicles.

On Sept. 5, Riggs hunted on another inholding, but did not have permission to hunt there. Riggs shot a moose Barth had been stalking and allowed Barth to claim and tag the moose. The hunters used ATVs in an area closed to ATVs to drag that moose from park property about a half-mile to the inholding.

Federal officials became suspicious of the hunters when a road crew reported them for speeding on the Denali National Park Road as they left the park. A park ranger stopped and questioned them and realized the story the hunters told her didn’t match what she observed. The ranger went to the hunting scene and collected evidence. Federal law enforcement later got search warrants for the suspects’ homes and businesses. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management assisted in the investigation.

According to the plea agreement, the U.S. government agrees to recommend a sentence of two years probation, and Barth will pay a $2,500 fine and his share of $3,750 in restitution for taking two moose, valued at $7,500 each and $15,000 total; forfeit moose meat and antlers taken; and agree not to hunt or participate in a hunt anywhere in the world for one year beginning with imposition of sentence. Barth could have faced up to one year in jail and a maximum $100,000 fine.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.