They can appear innocent enough, sitting out in the open in tourist gift shops. Some are even "priced to sell."
But offering to sell bear parts, such as the dozen skulls seized from Wooly Mammoth Gifts during the summer, is a crime.
Wooly Mammoth's owner went to court Tuesday in the second case this fall of a downtown gift shop convicted of selling illegal bear parts, said Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Steve Hall, supervisor for wildlife-enforcement officers in the northern part of Southeast Alaska.
Alaska Fur Gallery was fined in September after pleading no contest to accusations that the business offered bear skins for sale at its Juneau and Ketchikan stores. Another case from this summer is still pending against a Skagway business, Hall added.
"I think it's ignorance," Hall said.
In all cases, officers followed up on tips that the illegal remains from bears were openly displayed for sale at the stores.
State fish and game regulations state "a person may not purchase, sell, barter, advertise or otherwise offer for sale or barter ... any part of a bear."
There are a few exceptions, including handicrafts made from bear fur. Also, a licensed taxidermist may be permitted to sell a finished skin or trophy that has been unclaimed for at least one year, the rules state. The state also can sometime sells bear remains.
The regulations "take the commercial incentive out of killing bears," said Matt Robus, director of wildlife conservation with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The protections against selling bear parts "have been in effect a long, long time - since statehood or shortly thereafter," Robus said.
It is the responsibility of a business to know the law, he said.
In the Wooly Mammoth case, business owner Larry Lynd, a 50-year-old Anchorage resident, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Juneau District Court to unlawful sale or advertisement of black bear skulls.
The plea agreement requires Lynd to pay $1,250 of a $2,500 fine with the rest suspended, along with two years on probation. Lynd also forfeited the 12 skulls, which troopers seized in June.
Hall said Lynd told officers he bartered for the skulls at a trade show. In the gift shop they were priced at $35 to $350.
In September, Alaska Fur Gallery was ordered to pay a $1,500 fine after pleading no contest to similar charges involving rugs made from the skins of black bears. The rugs were seized from its stores in Juneau and Ketchikan after an investigation that began in June. The rug on display in the window of the Juneau store, folded with a bear's head on top of it, was priced at $3,500, marked down from $6,900.
Robus, who was trained as a wildlife biologist, said bears are top-of-the-line predators. "Brown bears in particular are slow to reproduce. We have to manage them carefully."
Black bear populations are denser in Alaska, but even in a place like Juneau where people may consider them to be a nuisance there is no advantage to providing people a financial incentive to kill them, Robus added.
When bears are hit by cars or have to be killed in defense of human life, they become property of the state.
"A lot of times, they have to be disposed of," he said.
But when the animals can be salvaged, their parts can be loaned out for educational or cultural uses and even sold by the state sometimes.
Seized and salvaged bear parts are sold at auction once a year with proceeds covering the cost of wildlife management programs, Robus said.
Tony Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
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