Craig man pleads no contest in alleged poaching case

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A Craig man has pleaded no contest to willful destruction of wildlife, a Class 5 felony, following an investigation by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the agency reported in a news release Thursday.

The investigation revealed the man’s part in a “large poaching case,” the DOW reported.

Floyd Gutierrez, 63, was ordered to pay nearly $4,000 in fines and court costs by Michael O’Hara, chief judge of the 14th Judicial District.

He was also ordered to make a $5,000 donation to Operation Game Thief, a nonprofit organization that provides reward money to help solve poaching cases in Colorado.

Gutierrez was also sentenced to four years of supervised probation and could have his hunting privileges permanently revoked pending a review by a DOW hearing examiner. His supervised probation could be reduced to one year if he complies with court requirements.

“Shooting an animal and only taking the trophy parts is a very serious crime that is essentially stealing from all of the people of Colorado,” said Mike Swaro, Craig district wildlife manager and the officer who led the investigation. “Like this one, many of the cases we investigate come to us through tips from members of the public who are concerned about poaching.”

The case, initiated by a tip Swaro received in November 2008, culminated in a search of Gutierrez’s home and workshop early last year.

During the search, investigators found hides, animal parts, antler racks, buckets filled with animal tissue and meat stored in a freezer, according to the release.

DNA tests identified multiple animals and trophy parts but minimal meat harvested from those kills.

Throughout the investigation, Gutierrez denied the charges, according to the release.

Before his plea of no contest, Gutierrez had faced 11 other serious charges, including one count of aggravated illegal possession of wildlife. That particular charge could have added an additional $10,000 Samson law enhancer to Gutierrez’s fines, according to the release.

The state legislature passed the Samson law in 1998 after a poacher’s small fines for illegally killing a trophy elk in Estes Park stirred public outrage. It adds mandatory surcharges for poaching trophy game animals in addition to the normal fines.

“Poaching continues to be a serious problem in Colorado, and some people estimate that poachers may be taking nearly as many animals as legal hunters,” the DOW reported. “The exact number of poaching incidents is impossible for authorities to pinpoint because poaching frequently occurs in remote areas.”

“We encourage the public to call us, or Operation Game Thief, if they see or suspect poaching,” Swaro said. “Even though we may not be able to act on someone’s suspicion right away, we will keep the information and, as we did in this case, use it in the future when more pieces of the puzzle come to our attention.”

Since 1981, Colorado’s Operation Game Thief has received information on more than 2,400 poaching incidents, resulting in more than 700 convictions, the DOW reported.

These convictions have resulted in more than $600,000 in fines and the seizure of more than 1,300 illegally taken animals. During this period, nearly $130,000 in rewards has been paid to citizens who reported suspected illegal activity, the agency reported.

The DOW relies on tips and public information to help enforce hunting regulations, and citizens are encouraged to report illegal activity to Operation Game Thief. The number is 1-877-COLO-OGT.

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