Culverwell case closer to resolution | CraigDailyPress.com

Culverwell case closer to resolution

Collin Smith

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.

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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.

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.