Outfitter Dennis Eugene Rodebaugh sentenced to 41 months in prison for numerous wildlife violations
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — In a classic tale of poacher versus game warden, a Meeker man apparently carried on a hunting business using illegal baiting to lure wildlife for his out-of-state clients, perhaps for as long as 20 years.
After other local residents tipped them off, state and federal agents launched an eight-year investigation that culminated last week, when U.S. District Court Judge Christine Arguello sentencing Dennis Eugene Rodebaugh, 72, owner of D & S Outfitters of Meeker, to 41 months in federal prison. He must also pay $37,390 in restitution to the state and forfeit two all-terrain vehicles and a trailer used in the commission of his crimes.
In September 2012, a federal jury in Denver found Rodebaugh guilty of six felony violations of the Lacey Act, a federal law that prohibits the transportation of illegally taken wildlife across state lines.
Baiting wildlife is illegal in Colorado and most of Rodebaugh’s clients were out-of-state hunters. As part of his sentence, Rodebaugh must also pay a $7500 fine that will go to the Lacey Act Reward Fund.
“This individual showed grievous disregard for wildlife laws, a considerable lack of ethics and he never expressed remorse,” said lead investigator Bailey Franklin, district wildlife manager in Meeker. “It took tremendous resources and man-hours to bring him to justice and we are very satisfied with the sentence.”
Judge Arguello also ordered that Rodebaugh terminate his outfitting business and pay for the reclamation of more than 40 sites in the White River National Forest where the salt he placed caused damage to the environment. In addition, he will face a hearing with state wildlife officials that could result in a lifetime suspension of his hunting and fishing privileges in Colorado and 37 other states.
State and federal wildlife investigators said that between 2002 and 2007 – the years that the investigation covered – Rodebaugh and his employee, Brian Douglas Kunz, 56, of Wisconsin, used hundreds of pounds of salt to attract elk and mule deer to an area where the outfitter had installed tree stands. They then guided their clients to the area where hunters shot the big game from the stands.
According to the indictment, Rodebaugh earned nearly $250,000 from the illegal hunts during the period of the investigation. However, wildlife officials believe that he may have earned much more from his illegal activity over the approximately twenty years he operated his outfitting business.
“This outfitter advertised a 90-percent success rate and drew numerous archery and rifle hunters from across the country,” Franklin said. “He made a substantial amount of money from his illegal activity.”
Charged as an accomplice, Kunz pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of violating the Lacey Act. He received one-year’s probation and ordered to pay a fine of $2,000.
According to the indictment, most of Rodebaugh’s clients were unaware of the illegal activity but wildlife officials did charge two individuals for knowingly taking wildlife over bait while hunting with D & S Outfitters.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife investigators first learned of Rodebaugh’s activities in 2005 when local sheep and cattle ranchers reported finding large salt deposits under tree stands in the White River National Forest.
Acting on the tip, CPW officers and USFWS investigators began the two-year investigation of Rodebaugh and his outfitting operation, serving him with a search warrant in September of 2007.
“The public should know that our officers are dedicated and diligent,” said Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde, of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We are grateful to hunters and outfitters who follow our wildlife laws, but we will make every effort to bring violators to justice.”
Wildlife officials say that in addition to being illegal and unethical, there are other serious consequences of using salt for baiting big game. It congregates wildlife in tight groups leading to an increased possibility of transmitting diseases and the accumulation of thousands of pounds of salt placed by Rodebaugh over several years has led to environmental damage in the Rio Blanco District of the White River National Forest.
“This individual risked the health of wildlife and caused damage to their habitat,” said Velarde. “He willfully violated numerous laws and placed his clients in legal jeopardy. Our officers worked very hard to solve this case and we believe justice was served.”
Velarde says that the substantial assistance from local sheep and cattle ranchers in this case illustrates the importance of the public’s help is in solving wildlife-related crimes.
To report a possible wildlife violation, contact your local Colorado Parks and Wildlife office or if you wish to remain anonymous, contact Operation Game Thief at 1-800-265-6648. Rewards are available for tips that lead to an arrest or citation.
For more information about Operation Game Thief, please visit: http://wildlife.state.co.us/RulesRegs/LawEnforcement/OperationGameThief/Pages/OGT.aspx