Prey maimed for an easy hunt
Two men, including a big game outfitter from Mack, organized illegal hunts of mountain lions and bobcats over three years near the Colorado-Utah line and would maim animals to make hunts easier, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Wednesday.
Christopher Loncarich, 55, of Mack, and Nicholaus Rodgers, 30, of Medford, Ore., were charged Tuesday in a 17-count indictment with conspiracy to violate to the Lacey Act, interstate felony transportation and sale of unlawfully taken wildlife, and felony creation of false records concerning wildlife sold in interstate commerce.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which announced the charges in a press release, alleged a scheme between the men between 2007 and 2010 operating in western Colorado on the Utah border.
Loncarich outfits and guides hunts for mountain lions and bobcats in the Bookcliffs range.
Authorities allege Loncarich and his assistants trapped the cats in cages prior to hunts, then released them when their clients were nearby. Loncarich, Rodgers and others would stay in touch via radio to ensure their clients were taken to the location of the release.
Loncarich and others would sometimes shoot cats in the paws or legs, or attach leghold traps, toward making the hunts easier, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Many of the paying hunters did not have proper licenses to hunt the animals, which were brought back to Colorado after kills. Records were allegedly falsified to Colorado wildlife authorities, who approved transporting the cats to the hunters’ home states.
To date, four assistant hunting guides have pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme, federal prosecutors said.
Marvin Ellis, of Grand Junction, was ordered last June by U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer to serve three years probation and pay a $3,000 fine stemming from his guilty plea to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act. As a condition of probation, Brimmer prohibited Ellis from any “hunting activities/hunting groups,” while ordering him not to kill any animals while on probation.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Wednesday did not release a copy of the grand jury indictment in the investigation. It wasn’t immediately clear if Loncarich or Rodgers were in custody, or free on bond.
Attempts to reach Loncarich at his Mack home were unsuccessful.
Ron Velarde, Northwest Regional Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said the case was among the worst he’s seen over a four-decade career.
“When people go outside of established laws, they jeopardize wildlife populations but more importantly the public trust in hunting to be part of the responsible management of wildlife,” Velarde said in a release.
The case was investigated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.