Elk killing case highlights ranchers' frustrations

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Two Northwest Colorado ranchers, apparently frustrated by foraging elk eating hay intended for livestock, now face thousands of dollars in fines and multiple felony charges for allegedly killing 34 elk.

Rodney Heath Culverwell, 41, and Kenneth Wolgram, 43, have been charged with 18 and 16 felony counts, respectively, of willful destruction of wildlife. Each was charged additionally in Moffat County District Court on Tuesday with 18 and 16 respective misdemeanor counts of illegal possession of wildlife. If convicted, each felony count carries a sentence of up to two years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Officers of the Colorado Division of Wildlife said they found the dead elk on property owned by Culverwell, listed as Rio Ro Mo Land Company, and at Wolgram's property. Both are located about 15 miles west of Craig. DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said officers completed a six-week investigation into the shootings and made the charges.

"We don't typically see that level of charges," Hampton said. "This is a significant case."

According to a search warrant affidavit, officers began investigating Culverwell's property Jan. 28 after two passersby notified the DOW they saw three dead elk - a bull, a cow and a calf - in the pasture.

Months earlier, on June 12, 2007, Culverwell had e-mailed a DOW officer about concerns of elk eating cattle feed and asking permission to kill the wildlife.

"If I have not heard from you within 2 weeks I will assume that you do not care and these matters must be taken care of by other means," Culverwell wrote, according to the affidavit.

Officers said they found a stack of elk carcasses in Culverwell's yard and noticed a cab full of spent, small-caliber, rifle casings in Culverwell's vehicle after executing a search warrant Feb. 22. The DOW said it began investigating Wolgram on Feb. 18 after finding elk carcasses near his property north of U.S. Highway 40. When questioned by wildlife officers, Wolgram denied shooting the animals, saying he didn't own a shotgun, according to an affidavit obtained by the Craig Daily Press. Officers found shotgun shells, ammunition, 13 elk carcasses, two coyotes, 63 packages of noncommercial meat and several weapons, the Daily Press reported.

A brutal winter

A brutal winter in Northwest Colorado prompting elk to venture into lower elevations to find food has been an ongoing issue for ranchers, longtime rancher Darryl Steele said Wednesday.

Steele, who runs 200 head of cattle west of Craig, near Maybell, said elk herds this winter have mixed in with the cattle, causing him significant losses of feed. Northwest Colorado boasts the nation's second largest migratory elk herds, Hampton said, reaching 22,000 strong last year.

Hampton said the DOW would like to reduce the Bears Ears herd size to 11,000 to 15,000, and the agency issued thousands more hunting licenses since 2000 for that reason.

"The elk are coming in by the hundreds," Steele said. "If a guy has only enough hay to winter his cows, then it's a pretty tough case. As a rancher and a farmer, you don't know what to do. If you can't get help, it's much more frustrating."

Steele said he was subsidized by the DOW for 18 tons of hay, but he figures he lost 37 tons of feed to elk. Steele said he's not so much concerned with elk eating the hay as elk pushing around cattle and causing them to lose their unborn calves.

Hampton said ranchers who receive less than $100 in payments from hunters to hunt wildlife on their property can receive subsidies to mitigate problems caused by wildlife. The agency has established "baiting areas" or feed zones for elk in an attempt to minimize damages to ranchers' feed stocks.

Hampton added it's common for landowners in Northwest Colorado to charge thousands of dollars per hunter for rights to hunt on private property. He said he couldn't say whether Wolgram or Culverwell charge for hunting rights or whether they had any former wildlife violations. Neither Wolgram nor Culverwell returned calls for comment Wednesday.

Hampton said ranchers can get help from the DOW with cracker shells or noisy rounds that are shot out of shotguns to scare off elk. The agency also offers fencing or reimburses ranchers with cash for their losses, if they qualify for the programs. He said these options were explained during a public meeting in Maybell last month.

"I can tell you the DOW has spent thousands and thousands of dollars in reimbursing ranchers for losses this winter," Hampton said. "This year, because of the nature of winter, we've dealt with quite a few situations."

Comments

weallnutz 6 years, 5 months ago

All I know is I just put in my applications for the 2008 hunting season, I better draw if they really want the herds reduced, give out lots of licenses.....or let the ranchers deal with it.

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nikobesti 6 years, 5 months ago

weallnutz, you can always get a cow tag over the counter. DOW can't give those away fast enough. Or do you need that trophy bull? The problem with the low harvest last season wasn't that DOW didn't give away enough tags. It was because hunters didn't have great success because the animals were still up in the high country due to the Indian summer.

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ColoradoNative 6 years, 5 months ago

They don't hand Cow tags out over the counter. Only Bull tags on public land as far as I'm aware of.

Maybe there is some private land over the counter tags I don't know about nikobesti?

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popcan 6 years, 5 months ago

Due to most Elk being in the high country last year during the late season harvest, why couldn't the DOW allow hunters that didn't fill their license to hunt in a POST Season in December to reduce the herd and of course not charge them again, but use the unfilled licenses. Many years ago the DOW would open a POST season to give hunters another chance. Sounds like a helpful solution to me.

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nikobesti 6 years, 5 months ago

Sorry, ColoradoNative, you're right. I was referring to leftover licenses.

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MtnWarlock 6 years, 5 months ago

This really disgusts me! I know ranchers have a hard time feeding their live stock much less, having elk and deer feed on the hay you save for ranch operations. It's a long time fact around here! There are a lot of those ranchers who charge hunters high dollars, to hunt their lands for elk and deer. Those guide ranches, need to save and order more hay with all those profits! The DOW gets paid well to manage these herds of animals for all of us. It is my opinion that "we" (the taxpayer) and license holders, pay the DOW to manage these herds mostly for the outfitters and ranchers! Most of these herds are on private land, most of the time! A hunter without private land access most of the time, is a hunter that usually is unsuccessful filling a tag! Try hunting on BLM or state land adjacent to private land! You'll get harassed allot of times by land owners, as wild game is harboring on their private land! It is also my opinion that big game hunting is a scam in NW Colorado! If special hunts on private land for game damage were allowed on these ranchers property, it would of helped this problem. The DOW does this for ranchers. I would of volunteered! I need the meat! I don't care for antlers too much. There too tough. Cow elk are better. The outcome of this will be interesting to see! I don't hunt here like I used to. It's not worth it!

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dave reynolds 6 years, 5 months ago

yep..catch 22..where I grew up we all worked together for this very same problem..easten montana

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seabirth 6 years, 5 months ago

since they have no respect for a PUBLIC resource, maybe they shouldn't be allowed to use it. DOW should ban hunting on their land for a specified period and if these ranchers graze their cattle on public land, that priviledge should be taken away until they show some respect for public resources.

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grannyrett 6 years, 5 months ago

googled Rio Ro Mo Hunting-Oh my gosh! $80.000 minimum bid for trespass lease. You got to be kidding! Buy hay for the wildlife Rodney. You can afford it. 21,000 acres is no small dirt farm. I had no idea the ranch was that big.

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colobob 6 years, 5 months ago

For what this clown gets for a trespass lease he should be paying the DOW, not the DOW reimbursing him. Not only should they fine him for each animal taken illegally but they should make him repay any subsidy that he was given. The DOW should also put a cap on what a land owners can charge for a trespass lease in order to qualify for any subsidy. You go over the cap......., you absorb the loss. These guys are a disgrace not only to hunters but to the entire ranching community. Another black eye to the ethical hunter by a couple of game thiefs.

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just1more 6 years, 5 months ago

Ahhh...keyboard courage. I know one of the men and the situation is not killing for fun or satisfying some stupid killing sickness. It wasn't about hunting, it was about protecting the livelyhood of a small local cattle ranch. There are a lot of factors to this and I know they do not feel good about the shooting but when they go out after feeding cattle and cows are looking at you like "Those Elk ate our dinner AGAIN" the frustration level becomes too much. This is the first winter in decades that this area has snow bound elk doing more damage than "normal". The DOW does not make it easy to work out these problems and this is not first time we have heard this nor limited to this area. It is country-wide. If these elk were not eating the cows hay they would be starving and I find the shooting way more humane than the thought of them starving which is what would have happened if these ranchers had the 8 foot fence the DOW informed (after the fact) could be provided. In fact there are a lot of carcasses all over from starved elk not to mention road kill. I don't hunt and I couldn't shoot anything that looks at me but I do understand protecting your investment. This is bigger than there is time to write all the facts about but there is blame all the way around. The DOW makes it EXTREMELY difficult to control these herds and what is on paper is not what is encouraged. The days of elk becoming extinct are over and these laws need to be updated. The DOW needs to work with ranchers with an open langauage to help in these areas. A lot of people could have been fed, the ranchers livelyhood protected, had this been made easier to rectify. This is a wakeup call to help all parties make a living without the worry of losing it all to either elk or outdated laws and DOW with hands tied. These men are not criminals and I find it sickening that people who kill people will get less of a charge, that our government will bail out big companies who break real laws and ruin peoples lives but won't help the people who feed us! This is a perfect opportunity to bring a problem out and fix it as it is fixable now, for the future and need not be criminal. Help these people and all small ranchers, make sure this won't happen again and more community good will be done than prosecuting our local ranchers with outdated felony laws that have no gray area to this situation.

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colobob 6 years, 5 months ago

I agree with some of what you have said, especially the way or the difficulty which the DOW places on the land owner to handle nuisance animals. The sticking point is the price some of these individuals get for a trespass lease. The revenue that they make more than offsets the amount of feed these wandering elk consume. Add that to the subsidy paid out by the DOW for the damage or loss and it all adds up to abuse of the system. By your logic an elk munching on my shubbery is fair game, sorry but that just doesn't fly. If a hunter takes an elk illegally he or she is prosecuted for the act and the DOW doesn't pay them for the priviledge to hunt or manage the elk herd. On the contrary hunters pay $big $bucks to be able to harvest an animal. The laws are in place for a reason and taking the law into your own hands is just plain wrong. If the laws are antiquated then they should be changed. Would these or other land owners allow hunters to fill nuisance tags without a fee for a trespass lease? Doubtful give the fees charged for the priviledge to do so. This is nothing more than a "cake and eat it too scenerio." The solution that these individuals used was at best poor judgement.

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forreal 6 years, 5 months ago

please bear in mind that we are the only country in the world ( for the most part) that will go hunting on a full stomach. what kind of worthless piece of crap would kill a beautiful animal for the rack and leave the rest behind. oh yeah, stupid rich people.

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Stephen Blinkenberg 6 years, 5 months ago

If The DOW would just herd all the ek to Marabou they (the elk) would have all the feed they could stand. The "Ranchers" at Marabou would have enough hay left to feed both all the elk in Colorao as well as all their cattle since I hear that they have a way to grow grass year-round there, and it comes with a "naturally" high sugar content that would sustain the elk all winter. If DOW has a hard time finding Marabou they could just follow all the Ford excursions with out of state plates and eventually they would find one of the "Ranchers" that "live" there. If not Marabou how about Storm Mountain or any of the recently developed "Ranches" in Routt County?
Surely, with all of the new cowboy hats I see being worn around there must be more than enough feed for cattle.

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just1more 6 years, 5 months ago

I didn't say it was right and yes they did use poor judgement. Simply, these people are not criminals in the felony sense. A poor judgement sentence should be donating one cow for every 5 elk to a non-profit organization, donate a calf to a kid wants to be a 4-H'r NOT a life ruining stack of felony charges. They did not shoot out of some perverted desire to see an animal suffer and bleed. Those are the people who should be prosecuted because they have festering murder issues. My point; This exact situation is a problem for many, not just these guys and this makes an opportune time for finding a reasonable solution to the problem so it doesn't continue to be a problem for otherwise law abiding, productive to society...people. Some can afford to feed elk...some can't. Our government pays farmers to NOT grow certain crops, maybe they could pay ranchers to let the elk eat their cows dinner. Seems to me if the DOW cared whether they starved or not they would have made state hay available to ranch areas where it was a problem. Hey, could that be a future solution to spend, what would have been, legal expense money on hay instead of courts. In the future can a rancher call & say "These elk are trying to starve my cattle could you send a hay truck over so I can feed them all?" We do it for welfare people and they eat a lot more than a grumbly stomach.

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justathought 6 years, 5 months ago

$80,000 minimum bid for trespass lease, to hunt animals that do not belong to them, and then to slaughter the animals because they are hungry and they are cheap SOB's that will not use some of the 80,000 for hay to feed them, THROW THE BOOK AT THEM! They would have eventually received help from DOW had they seriously kept trying. I hope they get convicted of felonies, lose all rights to own a firearm, maximum fines, and restitution of at least one cow per elk slaughtered. I wish there was some way to prevent them from ever leasing hunting rights again. Slaughtering hungry animals after you have made that kind of money off of them during hunting season, is not only illegal and immoral, it's just plain stupid.

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sedgemo 6 years, 5 months ago

FWIW,

The "big" ranches aren't the biggest issue. The fellow I buy hay from does not (and cannot) allow hunting in his leased lands but has been feeding elk all winter and taking a huge hit financially in two ways.

First, the elk will chase the cows off the hay, and if you run the elk off they just come back. They are hungry and know where the food is. Elk fencing doesn't always deter them, and there's the additional problem of how to contain the cows inside them (which makes a huge mess for calving), when the leased pastures are the right place for cattle to roam and calve.

Second, the cows lose food and energy, and weight, and then calves.

Bottom line, hay prices are skyrocketing due to fuel costs, and the little guys are feeding the elk owned by all of us when the DOW doesn't effectively deal with the problem. They have (our) $ in the bank and sit on it without helping any more than a minimum when it concerns feeding wildlife. It's easier and quieter for the small ranchers to take the hit, then we all complain when the ranches are sold off to "Ranchers" with all hat, and well, you know the rest.

If I'm right, there are about 30,000 souls in Steamboat, if everyone pitched in $1 or one phone call we could help support our neighbors, who are feeding elk owned by US.

If you like to see them, and I don't mean dead on the road or stuck starved in the fences, and maybe like to eat them (as I do), we need to own up to the fact that our neighbors are going under taking care of OUR animals.

I suggest we step up and find a way to pay them for their losses AND put the heat on our DOW folks to do the job we pay them for.

It's simply not fair for the small ranchers to subsidize the DOW, and thus, US.

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colobob 6 years, 5 months ago

Just1more, 5 elk for 1 cow? I don't know where you get your figures from. Ever had an elk steak at the Ore House? I'm sure the DOW can provide you with more accurate figures of what a mature elk is worth in dollars and cents. I can assure you that your cost estimates are severely off the mark. That however isn't even close to the point. The point is that these guys stole from us, all of us. These elk no matter where they wander belong to all of us. The point is that these guys took the law into their own hands and for the sake of what, to save some feed hay or alfalpha for which they are reimbursed anyway or was there more to it than that? And one or two guys killing 13 elk to most people is most definately perverted, especially when you consider that a mature elk can weigh in excess of 1000lbs. That's a lot of meat! "Some can afford to feed elk.......some can't." 21,000 acres and the loss of some feed for which they are reimbursed and they can't afford the loss? Have you looked at real estate prices anytime in the last 10 years? Did you look at the link for the Rio Ro Mo web site to see the fee charged by these POOR ranchers for a trespass lease? We should feel sorry for these guys? Give me, no, give us all a break. Unbelievable!!

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MtnWarlock 6 years, 5 months ago

just1more, It's real hard to Sympathize with these guys under the image of "so called" hardships of ranching! Given the fact that they make money from trespass fees, DOW reimbursements for game damage and ample time to watch their live stock like good Sheppard's do, there is no room here for pity or reason for their actions! I believe that if theses men would have worked with the DOW to get special game damage tags for a special hunt and waived the trespass fees they charge to hunt their land, this would have remedied the problem! The way this story has been published, it sounds like these men took actions into their own hands in a blatant act of defiance, not desperation to save their existing live stock! During a time when national forest accesses are getting harder to obtain and elk herds are migrating from public lands because of food sources being more bountiful on private lands, hunting these animals successfully has decreased and made difficult! The land owners adjacent to the public lands are the ones who gain "big" from wild game that caters only to the "rich" who hunt mostly for ego, not food! To add insult to injury, our taxes and hunting tag fees help the herd management of these wild animals for these ranchers, which excludes many "poor" hunters from harvesting them. There are many, who like myself, are meat hunters. We hunt to feed our families because, beef is expensive! There are plenty who have hardships other than the poor old rancher, that are hunters! Ranchers are not "poor" in Routt of Moffat counties! I know a lot of them are not rich either! The numbers of those "poor" old ranchers who are selling out and moving are increasing in numbers, leaving the "rich" rancher to do their guiding and dude ranching for the urban "weekend" cowboy. Soon, the old rancher will be history, being replaced by the urban fashion rancher with their 15000 sq ft mini castles on 35 acres! That scenario is well on its way in Routt county! That's sad. Sympathy or empathy? No way! Justice needs to be served here!

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