A Vernal, Utah, man has pleaded guilty and sentenced for possessing prohibited, nonnative sheep at his private hunting ranch near Dinosaur.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife says the investigation into Michael Gates, 34, owner of DJ Rams LLC, began based on a tip last summer from an informant who saw a social media post of illegal sheep Gates brought to the ranch. 

The agency said in a news release that Gates illegally possessed and imported several exotic sheep species for clients to hunt, including Mouflon sheep hybrids, Texas Dall sheep and Painted Desert sheep, all prohibited in Colorado.

CPW says the prohibition protects native wildlife from disease and hybridization with non-native species, and also protects domestic sheep and prevents damage to habitat. CPW wildlife officer Nate Martinez said in the release that had Gates’ sheep escaped, they could have survived Colorado’s harsh climate and particularly threatened native Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in nearby Dinosaur National Monument, and domestic sheep in neighboring sheep-grazing allotments.

Gates pleaded guilty June 19 in Rio Blanco County and received a one-year deferred judgment sentence. He also must pay more than $1,400 in fines and court costs and perform 60 hours of useful public service, and he was assessed five suspension points against his hunting and fishing privileges. CPW said he must comply with all CPW and Colorado Department of Agriculture inspections and requirements or risk additional fines and potential loss of his operation.

Gates declined to comment Friday.

Last Oct. 31, Gates posted a video to the Facebook page for DJ Rams LLC describing a raid by CPW in which he said the agency raised the concern about the presence on the ranch of Mouflon-hybridized sheep, killed five rams and seized his phone. At that point he indicated he hoped to work with the Department of Agriculture to resolve the matter.

“I think that they (CPW officials) are completely in the wrong in this and I think a lot of other people do too,” he said at the time.

He also said then that his hunting ranch has operated in a public way, with pictures of every animal brought onto the ranch and killed there being posted on the Facebook page.

“So we’re not hiding anything,” he said.

A 2015 Craig Daily Press story on his business mentioned Painted Desert rams as being among those available to hunt.

Martinez said in the CPW release, “Based on our investigation, Mr. Gates knew these sheep were prohibited but that did not stop him. He decided to risk the health of our native wildlife and local domestic sheep simply for profit."

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