GRAND JUNCTION – Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources announced last week the indictments of outfitters Christopher W. Loncarich, 55 of Mack, Colo. and his assistant guide Nicholaus J. Rodgers, 30, of Medford, Ore. for allegedly conspiring to lead clients on illegal hunts in western Colorado and Utah between 2007 and 2010.
According to the indictment, the pair is accused of illegally capturing and caging mountain lions and bobcats, often incapacitating them by shooting them in the paws or keeping them in place with leghold traps. Then, with the aid of radio communications, the outfitters brought their clients to the area where the maimed or restrained animal was released, ensuring a kill for their clients.
"These are very serious accusations that these men are facing," said Ron Velarde, Northwest Regional Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "If they are found guilty of these charges, it is easily among the worst cases I have seen in my 40-plus years in wildlife management."
The indictment also states that Loncarich and Rodgers took several clients on illegal hunts in Utah without the proper tags, then would bring cat's hides back to Colorado to 'check-in' with CPW using falsified records to obtain the required seals. Many of the hides were then transported to the clients home state, a violation of the Lacey Act – a felony, federal law prohibiting the transportation of illegally taken wildlife across state lines.
To date, four assistant guides have also pleaded guilty to offenses arising from the conspiracy.
Velarde added that he appreciates the hard work of local CPW officers and officials from the USFWS and UDWR in the investigation.
"Hunting is an important wildlife management tool," said Velarde. "When people go outside of established hunting laws, they jeopardize wildlife populations but more importantly they jeopardize the public trust in hunting to be part of the responsible management of wildlife. We appreciate the work of the state of Utah, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Justice Department in this case.”
Like all regulated hunting activity, lion and bobcat hunting are conducted with population management as a priority. Wildlife officials stress the importance of ethical hunting and keeping to the tenets of fair chase, ethics and established hunting rules and regulations.
"It is critical that the everyone understands that what these men are accused of is not hunting, it is criminal activity," said CPW Area Wildlife Manager JT Romatzke. "We are working hard to stop the illegal take of wildlife and remind the public that we always welcome their help by reporting any suspicious incidents immediately.”
Wildlife violations can be reported anonymously to Operation Game Thief at 877/265-6648. Rewards may be available if the information leads to a citation. An indictment is an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service FWS Office of Law Enforcement, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and is being prosecuted by the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.