Reports from Colorado
A Fremont County judge has ordered a 35-year-old man from Cañon City, to pay $12,000 in fines for poaching elk. Colorado Division of Wildlife officers charged the man after learning he used a rifle to hunt at night during archery season.
Division of Wildlife investigators heard about the illegal hunting on a tip from the Cañon City Police Department. The police officer was looking for the man for failure to appear in court on a domestic violence case. When the officer entered the man's residence, he noticed several trophy deer and elk heads mounted on the walls. The police officer asked the man's wife about the trophies, and she said some of them were not legal.
Once informed of this, the Division of Wildlife launched an investigation and interviewed several of the man's relatives and acquaintances who detailed his poaching activities.
A check with other states indicated that New York revoked the man's hunting privileges and he also had hunting violations in Utah and Arizona.
When confronted with the charges, he confessed that he purchased Colorado archery elk licenses, but hunted at night with a rifle. After he shot the elk, he tagged them with the archery licenses and took them to taxidermy shops to have them mounted.
Charges against the man included illegal possession of elk, failure to comply with provisions of a hunting license, unlawfully taking big game and hunting before legal hours.
In addition to the $12,000 in fines, the man had to forfeit the elk mounts and several firearms. He was also assessed 45 points against his hunting and fishing rights. As a result, he faces a possible lifetime suspension of hunting and fishing privileges in Colorado.
Two other Fremont County men received deferred sentences for their involvement in the poaching incidents. They also face license suspension hearings that could result in a loss of hunting and fishing privileges for up to two years.
Gathering evidence in a poaching case can be a tedious and time-consuming effort. Even though there are times when some poaching cases are open and shut, many investigations require diligence and patience. A couple of examples of how a wildlife officer's persistence paid off occurred in Leadville recently when new ballistic evidence surfaced that led to the issuance of felony citations in two poaching cases that happened three years ago.
Both cases occurred in 1996 and involved elk that were shot and left in the field. "We won't close an investigation as long as there is a glimmer of hope that we might catch the person or persons responsible," said Tom Martin, District Wildlife Manager in Lake County.
On October 28, 1996, Martin was patrolling on Mt. Zion near Leadville when he discovered six dead elk and evidence that two other elk had been killed and removed from the site. He spent the next three days taking photographs and collecting evidence, including spent rifle cartridges and slugs found in the carcasses. In the ensuing weeks, Martin followed several leads but failed to develop any solid suspects.
Almost three years to the day, Martin got a break in the case. While on routine patrol he came across a hunting party that had just gotten two elk. During the process of checking the hunters' licenses, Martin found evidence that indicated that the firearms the hunters were carrying might be the same as those used to slaughter the eight elk in 1996.
A check of past hunting records showed that two of the people in the group, one from Idaho Springs and one from Empire, Colo., were in fact issued permits to hunt the Mt. Zion area in 1996.
A search warrant was issued, and on October 21, two rifles were confiscated. Once in possession of the guns, ballistics experts from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation determined that at least one of the confiscated firearms was one of the same weapons used in the poaching incident three years earlier.
Based on the evidence gathered over the three-year period, a felony citation was issued and a court appearance for the accused man is scheduled for December 2 in Lake County District Court.
In a separate case, a 67-year-old man from Leadville, was recently charged with a felony count of willful destruction of wildlife stemming from an incident on November 2, 1996. On that date, Martin got a report of an elk killed and left in a sagebrush flat west of Crystal Lake. Martin's investigation turned up a few clues, but not enough to make a case at that time. Martin's first break came two years later when the man was convicted of illegally shooting elk in another location in Lake County.
Martin compared ballistics evidence from both cases and discovered a match. Over the next several months Martin conducted interviews with the man, and others, and eventually concluded that four elk were shot that day. One was a cow elk, which the man had a permit for. The others were two spike bulls and a calf that were shot and left in the field.
On November 4th of this past year, the man agreed to plead guilty to lesser charges. He was fined $1,300 plus $499 court-costs, and the court ordered him to forfeit the firearm used in the incident. In addition, he was docked 30 hunting license suspension points. If a person accumulates 20 suspension points over a five-year period, they can lose their hunting and fishing privileges.
"We owe it to the legal and ethical hunters in Colorado to not allow the waste of our natural resources to occur," said Martin. We understand that the majority of Colorado sportsmen and sportswomen are beyond reproach, but when people go outside the bounds of legal hunting, we are going to work long and hard to catch them, he said.
"These cases represent the determination our wildlife officers put into catching violators," said Tom Spezze, an area supervisor with the Division of Wildlife. "Tom Martin deserves a lot of credit for paying attention to detail and working hard to solve these cases," he said.
"We also need the assistance of concerned citizens who want to help us protect their resources," Spezze said. The Colorado Division of Wildlife urges people to call Operation Game Thief at 1-800-332-4155 if they have information about illegal hunting or fishing. Callers may remain anonymous if they wish. Operation Game Thief offers a reward if the information leads to issuing a citation.
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