The case that involved the illegal trapping and holding of mountain lions and bobcats to be released for paying clients in Colorado has ended in the sentencing of the final defendant indicted in the case. Assistant hunting outfitter and guide Nicholaus Rodgers was sentenced last week to 6 months home confinement, a $5,000 fine, 50 hours of community service and 3 years probation for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife protection law. During his probation he is prohibited from hunting or fishing.
On January 7, 2014, a Grand Jury in the District of Colorado returned a 17-count indictment charging Rodgers and Christopher Loncarich, Rodgers’ employer at Loncarich Guides and Outfitters, with illegally capturing and maiming mountain lions and bobcats to make taking the animals easier for paying clients to pursue. Loncarich outfitted mountain lion and bobcat hunts in the Bookcliffs Mountains on the Colorado-Utah border north and west of Grand Junction. The investigation uncovered approximately 18 clients, since 2004, who had taken part in the illegal killing of more than 30 mountain lions and bobcats.
“This is easily among the worst cases of illegal taking and poaching of wildlife I have seen in my 40-plus years in wildlife management,” said Ron Velarde, Northwest Regional Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The investigation, conducted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, found that Loncarich and Rodgers devised a scheme in which mountain lions and bobcats would be located prior to a client’s arrival and then “hindered” or “shortened up” to make it easier and quicker to kill. Methods included trapping and holding the cats in cages then releasing the animals when the client was present, as well as shooting the animals in the paws, stomach or legs.
In once instance, the group collared a lion with a radio transmitter, recaptured it a year later, kept it in captivity for a week at Loncarich’s residence in Mack, then maimed it before releasing it near an out-of-state client.
The violations occurred between the 2007 to 2010 hunting seasons.
The investigation also found that Rodgers, Loncarich, and the other guides often worked to sneak the animals unlawfully taken in Utah across the state line into Colorado, and frequently communicated via radio using coded language in an attempt to evade law enforcement officers.
“The disturbing conduct uncovered during the course of this investigation is a reminder that even today, poaching remains a threat to the wildlife populations,” said Tony Wood, Law Enforcement Chief with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Loncarich, 56, was sentenced Nov. 26, 2014 in Denver for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act. He received 27 months in prison and 3 years of probation, during which he cannot fish or hunt, and must engage in mental and substance abuse counseling. Other participants in the illegal operation were sentenced in 2013 and 2014.
“Many of the violations committed by Mr. Loncarich and Mr. Rodgers appear to be the result of greed, unlawfully killing and maiming wildlife to increase his profits,” said USFWS said Special Agent in Charge Steve Oberholtzer. “The dedication and expertise of the state and federal investigators and prosecuting attorneys in bringing these persons to justice was outstanding. These convictions send a clear message that unlawful commercialization of wildlife will not be tolerated.”