Rodney Culverwell responds to questions Wednesday morning from Jeremy Snow, deputy district attorney for the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office, during cross-examination. Culverwell is on trial for charges of poaching elk.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Rodney Culverwell responds to questions Wednesday morning from Jeremy Snow, deputy district attorney for the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office, during cross-examination. Culverwell is on trial for charges of poaching elk.

Culverwell case closer to resolution


Trial at a glance

• Moffat County rancher Rodney Culverwell, 41, is charged with 80 poaching crimes for allegedly killing 16 elk this winter, including 16 class 5 felonies and 64 misdemeanors.

• His defense attorney said Culverwell acted in defense of his property because the elk continually destroyed hay and fencing this winter.

• The 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office maintains Culverwell did not exhaust legal remedies before shooting elk.

Colorado Division of Wildlife policies were again at the forefront of testimony and questions in the case of local rancher Rodney Culverwell on Wednesday.

Culverwell, 41, is on trial for 80 poaching crimes, including 16 Class 5 felonies, in the deaths of 16 elk found on or near his property in February.

There are too many wild animals, Rodney Culverwell repeated on the witness stand, because the DOW does not adequately manage herd sizes.

"I just wish we had more (hunting) licenses to bring on more hunters," Culverwell said.

After questions from Jeremy Snow, deputy district attorney for the 14th Judicial District, Culverwell admitted he did not know all the facts surrounding local licenses.

Snow asked whether the defendant was aware any person could go to City Market in Craig right now and buy elk or antelope licenses without entering a draw.

No, Culverwell said.

Snow asked whether he knew there was unlimited bull hunting in this area, or whether he knew there were cow and doe elk licenses left unsold in every season last year.

In both cases, Culverwell said no.

However, none of that changed his perception that the DOW is needlessly hard to work with and offers little to no help for problems faced by ranchers.

Culverwell said he decided to lease land to hunters because he could recoup more loss that way, get animals off his property and not have to deal with the DOW to file any reimbursement forms.

The paperwork to keep track of game damage claims is daunting, he said.

"They make it difficult enough, they don't want you filing claims," Culverwell testified. "And even if they do reimburse you, it's only for 10 cents on the dollar."

The DOW on trial

Culverwell's defense attorney, Pamela Mackey, contends Culverwell killed six elk this winter because of the DOW's ineffective policies.

To protect his hay and property, and put "suffering" animals out of their misery, Mackey has said Culverwell took illegal action and killed the elk because no legal avenue presented a reasonable solution.

The prosecution has stated it sees Mackey's questions and arguments as an attack against the DOW itself.

"The idea of putting the Division of Wildlife on trial for their policies is not a defense," Snow said.

Testimony heard in the state's case against Culverwell centered around whether the rancher availed himself of every option the DOW offered for game damage, or whether Culverwell made up his mind not to work with the DOW before actively trying to do so.

Whether the jury will be instructed to consider defense of property a viable defense has been a question presented to Chief District Court Judge Michael O'Hara since the trial began.

After a discussion with the attorneys outside the jury's presence Wednesday evening, it seems O'Hara is closer to an answer.

O'Hara said he is "leaning" toward instructing the jury to consider if Culverwell acted in defense of property and should be acquitted of charges on that ground.

The judge added, however, the right to defend property is not unlimited, and jurors likely will have to decide amongst themselves if Culverwell's actions were reasonable given the circumstances.

Explaining himself

Culverwell did not deviate from his assertion that defending his hay crop and his family's safety were the only considerations he had when he chose to shoot elk on his ranch.

"It was all about protecting the hay," he said about four elk he shot.

In the other two cases, Culverwell said he intended to put suffering animals out of their misery and also prevent potentially deranged animals from attacking him or a family member.

He said he did not know how 10 other elk - seven on his property and three across U.S. Highway 40 - were shot and killed.

"There was more elk in there than what I shot," Culverwell testified. "I don't know who or why, but there were more elk than I had to do with."

The trial continues at 8:30 a.m. Mackey said she may rest her case today, in which case the prosecution could use Friday to present any rebuttal evidence to a defense of property claim.


DOWFAN 8 years, 6 months ago

The DOW manages the game by whatever creates the most revenue. They make it so hard to receive damages that most people won't apply for it. Everything they stand for is about $$$. The "Wildlife Officers" of today are treehuggers fresh out of College. They are instructed to write tickets.They do not have a clue what it takes to manage a sheep or cattle operation.The media spokesmen for the DOW will say whatever sounds good at the time. ie. The "Bear Problem" is caused by the drought. Then we have a great snow year and they always say "frost has killed the berry crop." Another good one is the ariel game survey. " I see 2 deer, so that means 200 deer," because we only fly certain areas. I don't know Culverwells, but I have delt with the DOW, ie Dorks on Wildlife.


grannyrett 8 years, 6 months ago

DOWFAN--It isn't the DOW that is on trial here. It's Rodney Culverwell. He admitted he broke the law. He knew when he did it that it was illegal. What is the question? When you break a law and admit it, then you are guilty.


DOWFAN 8 years, 6 months ago

granny, The DOW is hiring! Check out their website. You would make a fine addition to their staff. There are circumstances leading up to the illegal activity, if you step back and look at the whole picture (10 years worth). I don't condone what Rodney did, but I know why he did it. If you are getting beat on by your husband and the "law" doesn't do anything about it, you might take the law into your own hands.huh?


WileyWapiti 8 years, 6 months ago

I gotta stick with granny on this - if it walks like a duck and looks like a duck, the probability that it is a spotted barn owl are pretty slim.


allen13 8 years, 6 months ago

DOWFAN - If granny was getting beat up on by her husband and she took the law into her own hands, that would be "Self Defense" which is not illegal. If she waited for him to go to sleep and shot him in the head, now that would be premeditated murder and she would go to prision, for what? For breaking the law! Poaching is breaking the law. Rodney's been poaching for years - what was it someone said (think it was sickandtired) what goes around comes around. Hmmm, guess maybe Rodney will be getting his come around now. About time!


bigrred1576 8 years, 6 months ago

Craigites, think about if he gets off, what about the deer in town. The homeowners are just protecting their property. Give the DOW a week to get the deer out of town, or else. I hope not.


allen13 8 years, 6 months ago

Just a quick question from one of yesterday's posts... So I guess it is not ok for the ranchers to have to deal with elk on their property and eating their livestock's hay -- but it is ok for the ranchers to put their livestock on BLM and forest lands so that their livestock can eat the elk's food, huh? And for the record, I might sound like I'm stereotyping "ranchers" and lumping them together, but I'm not - I'm from a ranching family and not all ranchers share the opinion of Culverwell's supporters.


grannyrett 8 years, 6 months ago

Bravo!-allen13. Wow! you just brought up a really good point. I hate going into the high country or anywhere on public land and steping out of my camper into a fresh pile of $h!+. Public land should be for us to enjoy. Not for some rancher to pay almost nothing to run his livestock-cows and sheep-on. That belongs to our wildlife too, and when it is grazed by domestic animals, it leaves less for the deer and elk. P.S.----Not only that, but it ruins the natural spring waters.


wyodolly 8 years, 6 months ago

Granny you need to realize that the deer and elk don't eat everything. The cattle and sheep that are "permitted" by paid permits graze the forests and eat what the elk and deer don't and help to keep the balance. There is a balance needed everywhere and the BLM and forest service people know this and therefore permit cattle and sheep to graze on blm and forest lands. Watch where you step.


irishbrat 8 years, 6 months ago

The next time the big white dogs come into my camp to get my dogs i'm going to load em up. I had 5 of them chasing my truck in whiskey park, one so big it put teeth marks on the mirror of my truck.


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