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Guide pleads guilty to stealing mammoth tusk

Posted: May 20, 2012 - 11:03pm

FAIRBANKS — An Alaska river guide and former National Parks Service ranger has pleaded guilty to helping a client smuggle a 10,000-year-old mammoth fossil out of Alaska.

Karen Jettmar is author of “The Alaska River Guide” and the director of Equinox Wilderness Expeditions. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported that she pleaded guilty on Friday to theft of government property, a misdemeanor.

Jettmar had been accused of two felonies and faced a trial in Fairbanks. Under the terms of a plea agreement, she must pay a fine of $30,000 and is on probation for three years.

She also must add an explicit warning to the website of her business, Equinox Wilderness Expedition, saying it is illegal to gather fossils or archaeological objects on federal lands.

Jettmar’s client, who is described in the indictment as a co-conspirator but not named, took the mammoth fossil to Pennsylvania, investigators say. Agents later searched the client’s house and seized the tusk.

Alaska is a desirable destination for paleontologists, archaeologists and other prehistoric artifact sleuths. The state has more than 15,000 archaeological sites. During the past 50 years, more than 30 sites have been found statewide that date back more than 10,000 years.

It is illegal to collect or sell mammoth fossils found on federal or state land in Alaska without a permit.

The indictment said Jettmar posted a description of the Kokolik River trip on the company’s website and included a link to a photo of the client holding the mammoth tusk.

After a 2007 trip, Jettmar sent an email to the client that said she knew about a river in Alaska that contained many “bones, ivory, teeth, etc.” and “could be really amazing, as long as we have a pilot who is willing to haul some booty back,” the indictment said, adding that she suggested a summer 2009 trip.

Early that year, the client emailed Jettmar asking about returning to Alaska and advising her to leave room on the return flight for mammoth tusks and other fossils, the indictment states.

In one email, it says, the client talked about constructing a room big enough to hold a mammoth skeleton, if he should find one.

BLM investigators said Jettmar had completed law enforcement training with the National Park Service in May of 1984. Her guide book outlines federal regulations for collecting archaeological, paleontological and cultural resources.

Her company website describes her as a former park ranger and assistant regional director for The Wilderness Society. The website says she has guided expeditions to remote areas of Alaska and Canada for more than 30 years. The site also offers 10-day trips to the Kokolik and Utukok rivers for $2,300 and $2,200, plus airfare.

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