DENVER (AP) — Federal authorities have accused a Colorado man and a guide from Oregon of illegally capturing and maiming mountain lions and bobcats as part of a scheme to make hunting the cats easier for their clients.
The U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday that Christopher Loncarich, of Mack, Colo., and Nicholaus Rodgers, of Medford, Ore., have been indicted on charges including transportation and sale of unlawfully taken wildlife.
Authorities say Loncarich is a big game outfitter who operated in Colorado on the Utah border. Court records did not indicate if the two men had attorneys. A woman who answered the phone at the Loncarich home said Wednesday he was away and would not have any comment.
The indictment alleges Loncarich and Rodgers trapped the cats and released them when clients were nearby. Authorities said guides sometimes shot the cats in the paws or legs or attached leg-hold traps to hold them.
The Justice Department said Wednesday the 17-count indictment includes several felonies.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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.
Authorities said Loncarich outfitted and guided hunts for mountain lions and bobcats in the Bookcliffs Mountains, which span the Colorado-Utah border.
Wildlife officials said mountain lions and bobcats are difficult to hunt. The hunting seasons for the cats stretch from November to March when snow is likely to be on the ground. Guides usually release trained dogs to track the cats after footprints are discovered.
Hunting dogs follow the cat's scent in the snow, then tree, corner or bay the pursued cat. At that point a hunter arrives and kills the treed cat.
Authorities said Loncarich and his assistant guides devised a scheme whereby they would trap the cats in cages prior to hunts and release the cats when the client was nearby. They said Loncarich, Rodgers and other guides would communicate by radio to ensure that they took their clients to the location where the cats had been released.
According to authorities, many of the clients did not have proper tags or licenses to take mountain lions or bobcats in Utah.
The indictment says Loncarich, Rodgers and other guides brought the animals killed in Utah back to Colorado, where Loncarich often took clients to check in the illegally taken mountain lions with Colorado wildlife officials.
They said Loncarich provided false records to obtain proper records for the hides. Many of the cats were then sent to the clients' home states.
The Justice Department said four assistant guides have already pleaded guilty to crimes related to the conspiracy. They have not been identified.