Christopher W. Loncarich, 55, of Mack, Colo., and Nicholaus J. Rodgers, 30, of Medford, Ore., were charged yesterday in the District of Colorado with conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, interstate felony transportation and sale of unlawfully taken wildlife, and felony creation of false records concerning wildlife that was sold in interstate commerce. The 17-count indictment was based on the pair’s practice between 2007 and 2010 of illegally capturing and maiming mountain lions and bobcats as part of a scheme to make hunting the cats easier for their clients.
The indictment alleges Christopher Loncarich is a big game outfitter and hunting guide who operates mainly in western Colorado on the border with Utah. Mr. Loncarich outfits and guides hunts for mountain lions and bobcats in the Bookcliffs Mountains, which span the Colorado-Utah border. Mountain lion and bobcat hunting are labor-intensive pursuits. The hunting seasons for the cats stretch from November to March when snow is likely to be on the ground. Guides commonly release highly-trained dogs on the track of the cats after the guides discover a track in the snow. The process is for the hunting dogs to 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.
The allegations include that Mr. 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. Mr. Loncarich, Mr. Rodgers and other guides would communicate by radio to ensure that they took their clients to the location where the cats had been released. In order to keep the cats in the areas of potential hunts Mr. Loncarich, Mr. Rodgers and other guides would sometimes shoot the cats in the paws or legs or attach leghold traps to them. Many of the clients Mr. Loncarich and Mr. Rodgers guided did not have proper tags or licenses to take mountain lions or bobcats in Utah. Despite knowing that the clients were hunting in Utah without proper licenses or tags, the pair continued to guide the hunts. Ultimately, Mr. Loncarich, Mr. Rodgers and other guides brought the animals taken in Utah back to Colorado. Mr. Loncarich often took the client to “check in” the illegally taken mountain lions with the Colorado Division of Wildlife (now “Colorado Parks and Wildlife”) where Mr. Loncarich would provide false records to obtain seals for the hides. Many of the cats were then transported back to the clients’ home states. To date, four assistant guides have pleaded guilty to offenses arising from the conspiracy.
An indictment is merely an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
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.