Courts & Crime

Alaska river guide Karen Jettmar indicted in mammoth tusk smuggling case

A longtime Alaska river guide faces charges that she helped a client smuggle a 10,000-year-old, federally protected mammoth tusk out of the state in 2007, according to a Dec. 16 indictment.

Karen Jettmar, author of "The Alaska River Guide" and director of Equinox Wilderness Expeditions, is charged with two felonies: conspiracy and removing a paleontological resource from federal land. Jettmar allegedly guided an unnamed co-conspirator on a June 2007 river trip on the Kokolik River in Northwest Alaska, during which they removed a mammoth tusk valued at about $4,000, according to the indictment. The conspirator later took the tusk to Pennsylvania, the indictment says.

Jettmar is a former National Park Service ranger with more than 30 years of experience in the backcountry, according to a biography on her guiding company's website. Her past training in law enforcement on federal land, as well as a section of her book detailing regulations on the collection of fossils, indicated that Jettmar should have been well aware it was illegal to take the tusk without a permit, the indictment says.

At some point in their investigation, federal Bureau of Land Management investigators were made aware of emails between Jettmar and the conspirator after the 2007 river trip. In one, Jettmar discussed the "safety" of the tusk in Pennsylvania and said the man "would not want BLM coming after him," according to the indictment. In October 2008, Jettmar wrote the conspirator that "she knew about a river in Alaska that contains many 'bones, ivory, teeth, etc.,' and stated a July or early August trip 'could be really amazing, as long as we have a pilot who is willing to haul some booty back,' " the indictment says.

It's unclear if the unnamed conspirator is charged with any crime, if he is working with federal investigators or when the investigation started.

According to the indictment, the conspirator spoke about the tusk with an undercover BLM special agent while on another trip with Jettmar in 2009. The conspirator said he was pictured on the Equinox website holding the tusk, something the investigation verified with a visit to the website, the indictment says.

During the 2009 trip, on the Utukok River, Jettmar found another fossil, this one valued at less than $500, which she put into her canoe and removed from federal land, the indictment says.

Jettmar could not immediately be reached for comment.

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