Wrangell’s new wildlife trooper knows what it’s like to make a mistake

Wrangell’s state wildlife trooper, Chadd Yoder. (Sage Smiley/KSTK)

Alaska’s hunting and fishing rules are strict. They’re primarily enforced by the state’s Wildlife Troopers whose sworn duty, according to their motto, is to be “Protectors of People and Resources.”

But wildlife troopers can make mistakes and find themselves on the other side of the law.

Wrangell’s state wildlife trooper has been here on the job for about two months. Trooper Chadd Yoder came from Wasilla, where he spent six years — two as a trooper. The 33-year-old is originally from Pennsylvania but says he’s long been drawn to the rainforest.

“This is a post that I put in twice for. So I really wanted to be here in Southeast Alaska,” Yoder explains.

He arrived here on the ferry with his wife and three young kids — the oldest is eight and the youngest is two.

“Initially, when we pulled into port, my son — you know, it was a little bit overcast, the clouds were burning off — he’s like, ‘Dad, I don’t like it.’” Yoder says. “[I told him] ‘Buddy, you have to give it some time.’ Well, you know, an hour later, they’re all smiles, running around, introducing themselves to the kids that are walking down to school, kind of making arrangements for playdates and all that.”

As a trooper, it’s his job to live and breathe hunting and fishing regulations. But he says even a professional can make mistakes.

Last November, he was convicted of taking a moose that was too small during a September hunt in Unit 13, between Wasilla and Glennallen. Yoder says he has a passion for moose hunting — his personal schedule revolves around the season.

“I go with my wife, and we normally go for five or six days,” Yoder says, “And it’s a whole event. We go out there, we set up a grand camp that normally overlooks an expanse of land. And we have a great time, just hiking around inventorying the moose and photographing and hunting.”

They’d been at camp for a couple of days with his wife and her father.

“I was awakened by my father-in-law, who was exclaiming about two moose who are fighting right outside our tent. Two bull moose, that was very exciting. And, you know, he said the one definitely has potential. You know, it may be legal,” Yoder relates.

The three watched the fighting moose and talked it over. Should they take a shot?

“I’ve been through this before and passed up lots and lots of moose. And so we discussed: ‘Man, that one’s clearly bigger than the other and by golly, looks legal.’ We took our time actually, assessing the situation and we had probably 10 minutes to look and to gauge. And so it was a consensus that it was legal, and it was my turn to shoot a moose that was of, you know, trophy value or larger.”

It was a clean shot. The animal fell lifeless and Yoder says he walked over to measure the antlers. But they didn’t meet the width requirement or the brow tine requirement. He’d just broken the law he’s sworn to uphold.

“Of course, you have that sinking, sinking feeling only accentuated by my position, right?” Yoder said. “It went from a grand day and an awesome trip to ‘This is probably like, one of the worst things that has happened in my adult life.’”

Yoder says it never occurred to him to do anything else but cop to it. He took a video of his unlawful kill.

“Then we validated our harvest ticket, we complied with salvage requirements by taking all the edible portions of the meat even though I knew we weren’t going to be able to keep it — for the next person,” he said.

Then they made the 20-mile ATV journey out of camp toward Wasilla.

“As soon as I got within cell reception, I made that call to the Alaska Wildlife Troopers,” he said. “And of course, it went exactly like you’d think: ‘Hi, this is Chadd Yoder.’ ‘Trooper Chadd Yoder?’ ‘Yes, it is.’”

Yoder paid a $320 fine and received a ticket for the unlawful hunt. Troopers confiscated the antlers and meat — sub-legal kills are often donated to charities. He says he feels like the whole experience has made him more empathetic in his job as a wildlife trooper.

“When I tell people — it’s a common thing I say is like, ‘Hey, I know how you feel.’ And I will share my story with people, you know, and I’ve done that even last week. I truly do know how they feel,” Yoder said.

While the experience of killing a too-small moose was embarrassing, he says it didn’t have anything to do with his transfer to Wrangell. The Department of Public Safety, which oversees the troopers, told KSTK in a statement that it doesn’t punish troopers by transferring them.

“Trooper Yoder volunteered to accept the challenge of being the lone Wildlife Trooper for the Wrangell area. DPS does not transfer Troopers as a punitive measure for any reason. DPS does not comment on any personnel matters,” the department wrote.

Wrangell has had a fair bit of turnover at its one-person AWT post. The last wildlife trooper arrived in 2019 and left a little more than a year later. Yoder says he hopes to stick around longer.

“We intend to be here for a while — want to build trust with the community,” Yoder said, explaining that he and his wife bought a house here.

Compared to living in the Interior, Yoder says he most enjoys the proximity to the ocean and the fact that there aren’t long distances to travel.

“My son gets to walk to school,” Yoder said. “We don’t even have to walk with him, he walks to school, he comes home, he walks with the neighbor kids. Little League is just down to just down the hill. So everything’s close, we spend more time living life versus just running around in a vehicle.”

Yoder grew up in Lancaster, a town of about 60,000 in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. He says he initially came to Alaska on the invitation of a homesteading acquaintance and moved here with his family in 2015. He graduated from the Alaska State Trooper academy two years ago, which was a career change.

“I worked 14 years as a contractor, a handyman. Which I enjoyed, I really did like working with my hands. I liked doing those things. But I wanted a career that was challenging — something different, something that would stretch me as a person and professionally. And so I saw the troopers as an opportunity for that,” he said.

Yoder says his job requires him to be strict. If rules are broken: “You’re going to get a fine. I got a fine, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“If you make a mistake, own it,” Yoder says. “That’s what we ask of hunters. Like, if you shot a sub-legal animal, there’s a violation that occurred, it’s going to be addressed. But it’d be far better to go that route versus the other route of hiding it, and it’s discovered later.”

Yoder encourages people to stop by and bring their questions — the office is in the Kadin Building on Wrangell’s Front Street.

“If my truck’s there, I’m there,” he says.

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