Fairbanks man accused in ‘meat for heat’ case hires lawyer
FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks man who is accused of illegally trading moose meat for firewood is taking his case to court.
Chad Gerondale, 41, has hired well-known Fairbanks attorney Bill Satterberg to represent him in the “meat for heat” case, as it has been dubbed by online spectators.
“I’ve got a lot to say about it but (Satterberg) told me not to,” Gerondale told the News-Miner Tuesday morning when he returned phone messages left during the weekend.
Alaska Wildlife Troopers last week issued Gerondale a summons to appear in court on Feb. 3 to be arraigned on a misdemeanor charge of illegal barter of game meat. Troopers issued a news release Friday stating Gerondale had been cited for agreeing to trade 125 pounds of moose meat for two cords of firewood.
Buying, selling or bartering of game meat, except snowshoe hares, is illegal. The one exception is caribou meat in northern and western Alaska (units 22-26) may be bartered, but the meat cannot be taken out of those units.
Gerondale allegedly offered to swap moose meat for firewood on the radio show, Tradio, which airs on KFAR 660 AM.
“The allegations are the guy was on Tradio and said, ‘I need some firewood and I’m willing to trade some moose meat,’” Satterberg said.
Trooper Ken Vanspronsen contacted Gerondale to make a deal and then showed up at his house and issued him a citation, Satterberg said.
A short story that appeared on Page B1 of Monday’s News-Miner generated substantial interest — almost 10,000 views and more than 100 comments at last count — in the case. The story was picked up by The Associated Press and has attracted statewide attention.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook,” Gerondale said. “I’m getting calls from all over the state from people who can’t believe it.”
Because illegal barter of game meat is a misdemeanor and not a violation, Gerondale will be entitled to a trial by jury, Satterberg said.
“We’ll get to see what the public thinks about it and get right down to the meat of the matter,” the attorney said.
Satterberg said there was no criminal intent involved and the citation issued to Gerondale is the product of “very zealous Fish and Game agents.”
“Sometimes a good, solid warning for a person is sufficient,” Satterberg said. “If the intention of troopers is to educate the public, I guess this is one way to do it.”
Satterberg, a hunter himself, insinuated that trading game meat for fish and vice-versa is a common practice in Alaska.
“Most people don’t even think about it,” he said.
Sgt. Scott Quist with the Alaska Wildlife Troopers said trading game meat is illegal and troopers will investigate if they hear about it, whether it’s through Craigslist, Tradio, eBay or word of mouth.
“This is the commercialism of game taken under a sport hunting license and it’s not legal,” Quist said. “We don’t charge a lot of people with this, but if somebody is advertising it we will absolutely follow up on it.”
The value of two cords of firewood is somewhere between $500 to $600, which “puts a fairly significant per pound value on that moose meat,” Quist said. “It’s no different than if you were paying money for it. Alaska law says that’s not legal.”
While it is illegal to buy, sell or barter game meat, the same is not true for salmon caught by federally qualified subsistence users.
Under federal law, subsistence users can buy, sell or trade an undefined amount of salmon caught, as long as it’s caught in federal waters, Quist said. Subsistence fishermen cannot sell fish caught in state waters, he added.
As he reads the state statute, AS 16.05.920, Satterberg said even the offer of buying, selling or trading game meat is illegal.
“If you say, ‘I’ve got some moose meat; you’ve got some salmon, let’s trade,’ that’s a crime,” Satterberg said. “Simply making the statement is the crime. That’s a serious First Amendment question.”
What the law says
AS16.05.920. Prohibited Conduct Generally.
(a) Unless permitted by AS16.05-AS16.40, by AS41.14, or by regulation adopted under AS16.05-AS16.40 or AS41.14, a person may not take, possess, transport, sell, offer to sell, purchase, or offer to purchase fish, game, or marine aquatic plants, or any part of fish, game, or aquatic plants, or a nest or egg of fish or game.