Appeals court upholds Colorado poaching conviction

Former Meeker outfitter who was convicted of baiting deer and elk with salt claimed his confession was coerced

Bull elk in morning sun, Rocky Mountain National Park.
A grazing bull elk in northern Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — A convicted northern Colorado poacher will remain in prison after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals last week affirming the 41-month prison sentence and fines the former outfitter received in early 2013 for illegally baiting deer and elk with salt.

Dennis Eugene Rodebaugh, 73, of Meeker, Colorado, had appealed his conviction based on a series of legal technicalities, claiming that his confession was involuntary. The appeals court denied those claims after reviewing records of the investigation and questioning by investigators.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigators, between 2002 and 2007, Rodebaugh and an associate used large quantities of salt to attract elk and mule deer to an area in the White River National Forest where he had installed tree stands, enabling their clients to easily kill the animals.

In September 2012, a 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, applicable because most of his clients came from out of state.

“Our investigation was thorough and accurate and the original sentence was fair and equal to the crimes committed by this individual,” said CPW District Wildlife Manager Bailey Franklin of Meeker, who led the investigation. “We believe the Court made the right decision on the appeal.”

Officials say Rodebaugh earned approximately $250,000 from the illegal hunts over the five-year period of the investigation; however, authorities believe he may have earned much more from his illegal activity over the approximately twenty years he operated his now dissolved outfitting business, D & S Guide and Outfitters.

“Because he was baiting big game, Rodebaugh advertised a 90-percent success rate, attracting hunters from across the country,” said Franklin. “He did this for pure greed, making quite a bit of money operating in this manner.”

In addition to the prison term, the Court affirmed other portions of Rodebaugh’s original sentence, including the payment of $37,390 in restitution to the state, the forfeiture of two all-terrain vehicles and a trailer, and his post-release ban from outfitting, guiding, and using hunting stands.

“Those who unlawfully poach or aid in poaching of wildlife can have significant effects on local populations of wildlife, which in turn affects opportunities and success of law abiding hunters.  This is especially true when commercial profit is involved, such as in this case,” said   U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Special Agent in Charge, Steve Oberholtzer.

Wildlife officials say that in addition to being illegal and unethical, there are other serious consequences of using salt for baiting big game, including causing wildlife to gather in tight groups leading to an increased possibility of transmitting diseases.

Franklin adds that the large quantities of salt placed by Rodebaugh, estimated at thousands of pounds over time, led to significant environmental damage in the Rio Blanco District of the White River National Forest.

“Rodebaugh willfully violated numerous laws, put his clients in legal jeopardy and damaged habitat,” said Area Wildlife Manager Bill de Vergie, of Meeker. “The court’s affirmation confirms what we knew all along –  justice was appropriately served in this case.”

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.

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