When you read a story like this, you never know if there is something about the case that you are not privy to. On the other hand, I been close to a few cases where I have become seriously cynical about the motives of the enforcement agencies and the crown prosecutors.
When pilot and big-game guide David Haeg strayed outside the boundaries of a wolf control area near McGrath in 2004 to slaughter some wolves, there is little doubt he thought he was doing the right thing. Everyone involved with the wolf-killing program for which the state had permitted Haeg understood the objective was killing wolves to increase the survival chances for moose.
And even if Haeg and gunner Tony Zellers were technically outside the control area, they were still operating within the boundaries of state Game Management Unit 19D, and the state calls these things “Game Management Units” for a reason.
What were Haeg and Zellers doing anyway but helping to manage the game in Unit 19D?
Unfortunately the state didn’t see it that way. Under fire from animal activists upset about the aerial gunning of wolves, the state saw in Haeg a chance to demonstrate that you can’t just let wolf-control run wild, to spin an old phrase from former Gov. Wally Hickel.
Where it went out of control:
Where the issue turned ugly was in deciding what punishment fit the crime. This is the reason the case is still making its way through the Alaska court system.
The state wanted make an example of David Haeg. It was supposed to be pretty simple:
They’d bust him. They’d make a big show of it by playing the press like a trophy king salmon, something at which law enforcement officials in this state are good.
Wolves shot 20 to 30 miles outside the control area became wolves shot up to 80 miles outside the control area. Haeg was portrayed as a rogue, out-of-control aerial wolf hunter to make it appear the state was keeping a close watch on these hunts, which is the biggest fraud in all this.
Haeg was supposed to take the publicity hit, hire a fixer to negotiate a plea deal and then just wait for everything to fade away.
That’s the way these cases usually go down.
Whether the government decided that they could deflect the heat they were taking from the animal rights crowd by hammering a big-game guide, or the prosecutor on his own ramped up the case to look like an avenging hero, or whether the law enforcement agency felt the need to make a big score, it would appear as though Haeg was the patsy.
Of course what they did to him after he started to fight the charges seems to be par for the course with prosecutors everywhere. They made up a bunch more charges to intimidate him.
But then, we all might be if you consider what happened to Haeg after the plea agreement went bust.
The state used what Haeg said in a five-hour, plea-agreement interview to put together a bunch of new charges. They didn’t just go after him for violating the terms of the aerial wolf-control permit. They went after him for the crime of aerial hunting.
(Haeg makes an interesting argument that someone engaged in state-permitted wolf control isn’t “hunting” because the state, in permitting the aerial gunning, specifically says it isn’t hunting.)
The prosecutors saw it differently. To them, it looked like hunting, and they tried to tie it to the game management unit in which Haeg guides to make it appear he was doing wolf control to further his hunting business.
A trooper testified that Haeg killed the wolves in the game management unit where he has his hunting camps, but eventually recanted that testimony on cross-examination at Haeg’s trail.
Haeg’s case has been in the Alaska courts now for 4 years. Whatever his level of guilt it certainly doesn’t look as though anyone in the enforcement, political or legal encampments is concerned about justice. It looks more like winning at all costs and to hell with the damages that are inflicted.