Colorado big game poacher fined $4,000

According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, poaching continues to be a serious problem. By some estimates, nearly as many animals are killed by poachers as by legally licensed hunters. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

‘Egregious’ case in Craig involved a poacher killing wildlife for trophies

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A Craig man has been fined $4,000 for poaching big game animals in one of the most egregious cases the state wildlife agency has investigated in recent years.

Floyd Gutierrez, 63, pleaded no contest to willful destruction of wildlife — a Class 5 felony. In addition to the fine, a judge ordered him to make a $5,000 donation to Operation Game Thief, the non-profit organization that pays rewards to help solve poaching cases in Colorado.

Gutierrez was also sentenced to four years of supervised probation and could have his hunting privileges permanently revoked pending a review by a Division of Wildlife hearing examiner. His supervised probation could be reduced to one year if he complies with court requirements.

“Shooting an animal and only taking the trophy parts is a very serious crime that is essentially stealing from all of the people of Colorado,” said Craig District Wildlife Manager Mike Swaro, who led the investigation. “Like this one, many of the cases we investigate come to us through tips from members of the public who are concerned about poaching.”

The case was initiated by a tip received by Swaro in November 2008 and culminated in a search of Gutierrez’s home and work shop early last year. During the search, investigators found hides, animal parts, antler racks, buckets filled with animal tissue, and meat stored in a freezer. DNA tests identified multiple animals and trophy parts but minimal meat harvested from those kills.

“This is one of the most egregious cases I’ve worked on so far in my career,” Swaro said.

Throughout the investigation, Gutierrez denied the charges, despite the DNA evidence proving that he had only a few pieces of meat from three mule deer bucks and two pronghorn bucks. “We’d gotten quite a few previous tips that raised our suspicions so it was good to finally get the pieces that brought this case to a successful close,” added Swaro.

Before his plea of no contest, Gutierrez had faced 11 other serious charges, including one count of aggravated illegal possession of wildlife. That particular charge could have added an additional $10,000 Samson law enhancer to Gutierrez’s fines.

The Samson law was passed by the state legislature in 1998 after a poacher’s small fines for illegally killing a well-known trophy elk in Estes Park stirred public outrage. It adds mandatory surcharges for poaching trophy game animals in addition to the normal fines. The added amounts range from $4,000 for a trophy-sized antelope up to $25,000 for a bighorn sheep.

Poaching continues to be a serious problem in Colorado. By some estimates, poachers may be taking nearly as many animals as legal hunters. The exact number of poaching incidents is impossible for authorities to pinpoint because poaching frequently occurs in remote areas.

“We encourage the public to call us, or Operation Game Thief, if they see or suspect poaching,” Swaro said. “Even though we may not be able to act on someone’s suspicion right away, we will keep the information and, as we did in this case, use it in the future when more pieces of the puzzle come to our attention.”

Since 1981, Colorado’s Operation Game Thief has received information on more than 2,400 poaching incidents, resulting in more than 700 convictions. These convictions have netted over $600,000 in fines and have resulted in the seizure of more than 1,300 illegally-taken animals. During this period, almost $130,000 in rewards has been paid to citizens who reported suspected illegal activity.

The Division relies on tips and public information to help enforce hunting regulations, and citizens are encouraged to report illegal activity to Operation Game Thief.  You can call toll-free within Colorado at 1-877-COLO-OGT. Verizon cell phone users can dial #OGT.

For more info go to:  http://wildlife.state.co.us/RulesRegs/LawEnforcement/OperationGameThief/

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