GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Two federal wildlife employees and two other men have pleaded guilty in connection with poaching a high-quality trophy elk on the Western Slope, Colorado Parks and Wildlife said.
Officials said the men were part of an illegal hunt after trespassing onto private land on the Roan Plateau outside of Rifle two years ago. Wildlife officials became aware of the poached elk after one of the men posted a photo online of himself with the animal.
Investigators “recognized landmarks in the background of the snapshot confirming that the bull was killed in an area well into private property and closed to all hunting,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife said in a news release.
Thad Bingham of Fruita was the last of the four to be sentenced last month after reaching a plea agreement with the Garfield County District Attorney’s Office. He pleaded guilty to trespassing and illegal possession of wildlife.
He was ordered to pay more than $200 in fines and another $5,000 in a donation to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Before the plea agreement, Bingham was facing more than $12,000 in fines and several charges.
Illegally killing an elk with at least six points on one antler can yield up for an additional $10,000 fine. The elk that was poached had six points on each antler.
Brian Scheer, 45, Barrett Rowles, 48, and Josh Fitzsimmons, 45, all from the Western Slope, also participated in the illegal hunt. They pleaded guilty to criminal trespass and were fined $86 each.
Bingham and Scheer are employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and work at the Horsethief Canyon Native Fish Facility Ponds near Fruita.
“Poachers come from all walks of life but everyone is subject to the same rules and regulations. Colorado Parks and Wildlife will prosecute anyone to the full extent in cases like this one,” area wildlife manager JT Romatzke said in a news release.
“Rather than setting a good example as employees of a federal wildlife management agency, these two individuals and their accomplices instead chose to violate the law in an egregious manner, and that is a real shame.”
The four men could have their hunting and fishing privileges in Colorado and 43 other wildlife violator compact states suspended for five years at a future hearing.
“This was good work by all officers involved,” Romatzke said. “We say this over and over, and we cannot stress this enough, if you commit a wildlife crime, no matter who you are, we are going to do what we can to find you. Colorado Game wardens know every rock, tree and canyon in the state and are constantly on the lookout for people that ignore our wildlife laws. We will use our expertise and extensive knowledge of Colorado’s backcountry to bring poachers to justice.”