Do they come much worse than this in U.S. poaching?

Nicholaus Rodgers, an assistant hunting guide, was fond of capturing cougars and bobcats and deliberately injuring them before releasing them. Then he would take hunting clients to the field to make it easy for them to kill the wounded animals. The clients may or may not have been knowledgeable of the details, though many obviously knew they were doing some things illegally, such as being taken hunting without a license.

The crimes took place in the Book Cliffs in the border of Utah and Colorado. Perhaps more than fifty cougar were killed this way.

Rodgers wasn’t alone, however, his employer, Loncarich Guides and Outfitters, was well aware of the unethical and illegal practice.  In fact, Christopher Loncarich, the mastermind owner of the business had already been sentenced to 27 months in prison and then 3 years of probation.

Earlier too Caitlin and Andie, Loncarich’s daughters, pled guilty of breaking the federal Lacey Act (illegal interstate wildlife transport).  They got a year of probation, some community service, and $500 and $1000 fines. Others in the Loncarich operation have already received fines from $500 to over $3000 plus some probation time.

Rodgers just got six months of home confinement plus a $5,000 fine, three years on probation and mandated community service. He helped kill eleven mountain lions.

In terms of punishment, the sentence for Rodgers, and especially for his employer, was heavy for wildlife crimes, but wildlife crimes are almost never punished to the degree that those with less important offenses receive. These were not just one, but multiple wildlife crimes.

– – –

The Pacific Standard has a lengthy article on these scofflaws and on wildlife crimes in general.

Knowledge of this particular bit of criminality keeps spreading and there is a major new article about it.  Lion poaching case along Utah-Colorado border ‘most egregious’ state wildlife investigator has seen. Deseret News. March 21, 2015.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

37 Responses to One of the last cougar-maiming, Colorado poachers sentenced

  1. avatar Pamela W says:

    Given the miniscule penalties, there seems to be tacit approval of such crimes by the wildlife “management” agencies as well as our legal system. The defective human beings who commit these crimes are a menace to all who live on this planet. They should be treated like the pariahs they are and should be forced to register everywhere they go, as is required of child molesters, so that all their neigbors know what kind of monsters they are. Frankly, I put them in the same category as child molesters. These men and women got off practically free in spite of all the torture and suffering they caused. There should be a public hall of shame for worthless defectives like this.

  2. avatar WM says:

    Some might find that taking this jerk and his accomplices out back behind the barn and for the cost of a couple .38 cartridges this part of the West would be a better place, and UT and CO might not have to spend so much on legal process and collecting fines.

    Did I really write that?

  3. avatar Yvette says:

    Everyone involved should have their hunting privileges removed for life; listed on a national poacher’s list like the sexual offender’s list; all state F&G must check the list before issuing any licenses; and they should be blackballed from all aspects of the hunting industry, and placed on an international poacher’s list.

    “Six months home confinement plus $5,000 fine”. That is shameful. It won’t change until we citizens demand change. Even then it would be a hard fight, but really, six months home confinement? I agree with Pamela W. They should be pariahs.

    • avatar mikepost says:

      Yvette, RMEF has a policy that any member, volunteer, or staff member who is guilty of a wildlife crime is automatically removed from any status with RMEF. Hunters, which are only about 70% of RMEF members, agree with you.

    • avatar Louise Kane says:

      +1 as always in agreement with you

    • avatar JB says:

      If one of his clients was out-of-state, he could be charged with a Lacey Act violation and any equipment used in the crime (guns, even vehicles) could be confiscated.

      Personally, I’m not in favor of increasing prison sentences for such offenders (when they’re behind bars, we end up paying for their crimes). I’d rather see their guns confiscated, licenses taken away, and fines increased. And they should always do community service.

      • avatar Elk375 says:

        “If one of his clients was out-of-state, he could be charged with a Lacey Act ”

        One can only be charged with a Lacey Act violation if one imports an illegal animal into the US or transports it across state lines. If in doubt do not import or transport it across state lines.

        • avatar JB says:

          That is not the case, Elk. You should read the chapter in Freyfogle and Goble (2009) that covers Lacey Act violations. One violates the Lacey Act (criminally) when one…

          “travels in interstate or foreign commerce, or uses or causes to be used the mail or any facility in interstate or foreign commerce for the purpose of causing physical disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise…”

          The statute has been interpreted very broadly.

          • avatar Larry K says:

            These discussions re Lacey Act are pretty much on target, here is a synopsis of what it covers: The Lacey Act is violated when wildlife taken unlawfully is transported. Whether or not it needs to be across state lines depends on the underlying statute. Pretty much except for false labeling there must be an underlying violation of a conservation law before L.A. kicks in. If the underlying violation is federal such as ESA and others it must be moved (transported) 1/10 of a mm. If the underlying is state it must be transported across a state border. Underlying being a foreign law it must be in violation of regulation or law based on conservation in a foreign country as it enters this country.

            The Lacey Act, carrying heavier penalties than most state statutes are often used when it applies to an investigation. It’s a little like a tag-team match, the deal is you can take on the state and settle up there or the charges will be filed in federal court. That’s a good line at the investigator level but an AUSA may not back up the deal if the case is one (s)he thinks is a little thin or not worth their time. (Earth Gods often think that way)

            The Justice Department McKitrick policy further screwed the Lacey Act. A quick search brought me relative info I wasn’t up on http://articles.latimes.com/2013/may/29/local/la-me-0530-endangered-species-lawsuit-20130530 that some of you may be more up to speed on than I at the moment.

            But in summary, it’s the unlawfully taken wildlife that has to be transported or possessed by a person (not necessarily the hunter) and the how far is predicated by the underlying violation. Nothing in the Lacey Act addresses the residence of the violator.

            It’s a very good law and certainly would never get passed in today’s right-wing idiot club.

          • avatar Ed-L@sbcglobal.net says:

            JB:
            I think this clause is not from the Lacey Act but is a clause in a law trying to get at animal-rights “terrorists”. I believe the law is called the “Animal Enterprise Protection Act – 1992”
            Maybe it started by also being in the Lacey Act – I don’t know (??).

        • avatar JB says:

          Here is the passage I was referring to (from p.189):

          “As revised the statute expressly states that an outfitter or guide engages in ‘sale’ of wildlife by offering or providing paid services, or by obtaining a hunting or fishing license for a customer that results in the ‘illegal taking, acquiring, receiving, transporting or possessing of fish or wildlife.’ Similarly a customer of an outfitter or guide engages in ‘purchase’ of wildlife if the services or license is for an illegal act. The effect of these [1988]amendments was to make outfitters and guides liable for the wrongful acts of their customers, at least (in the case of state law violations) when either the customer is from a different state or animals parts are transported out of state.” (emphasis mine)

      • avatar Brett Haverstick says:

        I like your approach JB.

    • avatar Logan says:

      Yvette,

      I agree that a lifetime hunting ban should have been part of the punishment for these crimes.

      It may interest you and others to know that there is a multi-state agreement called the “Wildlife Violator Compact” that prevents a violator in any one of the participating states from hunting in any of the compact states. Currently 44 states are a part of the agreement. The only states that are not part of the agreement are:
      Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey and North Carolina.

      If you have your license suspended in any one of the participating states, you will be banned all of them.

  4. avatar Larry K says:

    For the most part, wildlife poachers have a long list of character flaws that come to light when an investigation is initiated. But the character flaws usually can be grouped into the category of “self-aggrandizing”. Often they seek monetary reward and for those already rich they seek prestige in trophy hunting clubs by increasing their ownership of heads/rugs/tusks. During 34 years of wildlife law enforcement I never met any wildlife criminal that showed awe at the wonders of nature. All those that I knew just wanted the hunt quick and dirty with the spoils in his possession as soon as possible. Transactions were almost always in cash and as such you know are never reported as income. Few poachers are very concerned about being caught, so few game wardens that hunters know the chance of being checked in the field are miniscule. Most large scale wildlife operations are not discovered in the field, it’s through some other venue that may not even be related to wildlife. Sometimes the poacher brags about his wildlife operation during the course of another illegal side-line he has going. Usually it has to do with his big mouth or the big mouth of one of his clients that tips someone who passes the tip on to a wildlife agent.

    Judges differ in their handling of wildlife cases as is shown in the statistics. Some take those crimes very seriously, Judge Lodge, U.S. District Court for Idaho is one that shows no quarter. Usually farther up the ladder the more seriousness the matter is given. It is hard to transfer the disgusted feeling we have for guttural, disgusting and contemptuous attitude poachers have for nature in a manner that isn’t seen by a judge to be an agent’s personal attack on the criminal. Sometimes there are recordings that reveal the criminals true nature. Most of those times turn into plea agreements because the criminal doesn’t want the embarrassment of his recordings played in open court.

    Times are achangin’ though. But much too slowly. I can still say, I never met a poacher I liked. Some will say I paint with a broad brush and am biased when I say that predator hunters are two types, either convicted wildlife poachers or wildlife poachers not yet convicted.

    • avatar WM says:

      ++… Judge Lodge, U.S. District Court for Idaho is one that shows no quarter. ++

      The problem is, from my knowledge and experience, most of these infractions/cases if contested wind up in state court (unless there is a federal crime or the defendant is from another state-called diversity jurisdiction). So, that means a locally elected trial court judge (jury if they are to be finder of fact) gets the case, ruling on state law over state residents or out of staters if they do not challenge jurisdiction – so local culture and values may prevail to some degree (unless infractions have scheduled fines or there the facts and law are very clear so that no successful defense could be mounted on “close calls.”), and the quarter you/we seek not to be given often is given.

      • avatar Larry K says:

        In my above comment I say that the farther up the ladder (of justice)the more the wildlife offense is taken seriously. The system isn’t perfect but it’s the best we’ve got. Even in federal court in Spokane we lost a helicopter/bighorn sheep case from Asotin County. A jury of peers often translates to “a bird of a feather” or “been there, done that myself” (better cut this ‘ol boy some slack). The instances where the hammer falls the hardest, in my experiences, has been where the case was laid in federal court and the defendant agreed to a plea deal before the judge. With the jury out of the picture the judge, such as Judge Lodge, swings a very heavy hammer.

      • avatar JB says:

        “…so local culture and values may prevail …”

        Folks should connect the conversation WM and I were having the other day about “all politics [being] local”. In case after case, the larger environmental problem/crime doesn’t seem like a problem/crime at the local scale. Thus, good ol’ boys culture prevails; local ‘wants’ prevail; and the negative impact on the environment is shrugged off. The ‘tragedy of the commons’ at a regional scale. 🙁

  5. avatar skyrim says:

    Thank you for your perspective Larry, and thanks for your efforts in the cause.
    I had an acquaintance in high school who, even at that age, worked undercover in logging camps building cases against poachers.
    I wish the agency had larger budgets for such programs today.

  6. Not all wildlife serial killers are outfitters.
    Way back in the 1970s, I took some graduate courses in wildlife management at the University of Montana.
    Two of the professors invited a group of us students to their homes.
    I was shocked to find the walls of their homes covered with the mounted heads of animals they had killed. Their house were either bought or built with high vaulted ceilings in order to have high walls to display their kills.
    One of them claimed to have killed one of every species of antelope in the world. His walls were covered with he mounted heads of antelope.

    • The antelope killing prof did his doctorate study on the fetal development in the pronghorn antelope. He killed over a hundred pregnant female pronghorns to obtain fetuses at various stages of development. Many of them were killed in Yellowstone.

      • avatar Nancy says:

        That doesn’t surprise me Larry. I know an emergency room doctor who’s cabin (high vaulted ceilings) is filled with an assortment of mounted heads and hides.

        How does one, dedicated to saving life, find enjoyment, in killing life, as a pastime?

        • avatar Elk375 says:

          Nancy you do not have to look farther than Jackson Hot Springs Lodge. There is an assortment of Southern African game and about 30 elk horns.

          • avatar Nancy says:

            I know Elk. Big Game hunter marries local ranching gal- insert trophies heads, hoping to impress 🙂

            The JHS lodge is barely keeping it’s head above water these days, due to years of lousy management.

            • avatar Elk375 says:

              I was served my first beer at the tender age of 15 in JHS. In those days if you were big enough to belly up at the bar, you were served. I was working on a ranch and went in with the ranch hands. How things have changed.

              • avatar Nancy says:

                Were you part of a hay crew Elk?

                Way, way back, ranches use to hire bums, drunks, hobos passing thru, to hay their fields. That supply of cheap labor dried up and ranchers turned to kids, near and far, for a summer experience they’d never forget.

                Kids as young as 10, 12 years old, running around on tractors and cutting equipment. Long days in the fields, bunk house accommodations, mess hall meals and once a week, these kids were turned loose on the local community, with absolutely no supervision.

                Can’t recall what finally put an end to the practice of hiring children, the accidents or round baling, in the land of 10 Thousand Haystacks.

  7. avatar monty says:

    What town do these jerks live in? It would be nice if the High Country News published this. What does this say for all of their “Clients”?

    • Clients that are happy to shoot cougars or bobcats that have been chased up a tree by a pack of hounds are not too concerned about fair chase. Most of them probably stayed at their motel rooms until they were called to come and shoot the treed cat.

  8. avatar rork says:

    I suggest passing new laws that make the fines heavier. In MI our new law trying to stop trophy poachers is 2000$ plus $500 per antler “point” and $750 per point if it’s more than 11 points. Last guy to be hit by the law paid 15,500 in addition to court costs and fees. Another man got a 12,000$ fine for a pair of bucks. For the guides who repeatedly break rules out west the costs should be much higher.

  9. avatar Ralph Maughan says:

    Knowledge of this particular bit of criminality keeps spreading and there is a major new article about it. Lion poaching case along Utah-Colorado border ‘most egregious’ state wildlife investigator has seen. Deseret News. March 21, 2015.

    • avatar Ed Loosli says:

      Ralph:
      The federal and state authorities seem pretty satisfied with the way this poaching case went:
      “These convictions send a clear message that unlawful commercialization of wildlife will not be tolerated,” Oberholtzer said.”

      Personally, I do not think probation and light fines sends much of a “clear message”. The fault in this case as in many poaching cases is with the judges in the court system who keep handing out pathetically light sentences to these criminals.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

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