Culverwell takes the stand | CraigDailyPress.com

Culverwell takes the stand

Prosecution rests in poaching trial

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.

Rodney Culverwell admitted to killing six elk on his ranch this winter during almost four hours of testimony Tuesday afternoon.

As his defense attorney’s first witness, Culverwell testified he shot five elk and ran over another with his tractor. He also shot at other elk at least twice, but he said he was uncertain if he killed them or where they might have died.

Culverwell, a 41-year-old Moffat County rancher, described an early February scene where elk lay tangled and dying in fences protecting his hay and others were malnourished to the point of near-starvation.

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Of the five elk he knows he shot, Culverwell said three were trapped in fences, one was a starving calf he “put out of its misery” and another calf was an accident. He had meant to hit a bull elk stuck in a hay stackyard fence, but hit another calf instead with a .45-caliber handgun, he said.

The 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has charged Culverwell with 80 poaching crimes in the deaths of 16 elk this winter, including 16 class 5 felonies and 64 misdemeanors.

Prior to Culverwell taking the stand, the prosecution’s last witness testified he heard the defendant admit to killing 21 elk early this year.

Bruce Seely, who said he had been a Moffat County rancher for 60 years, testified he spoke with Culverwell and local resident Tom Mikesell earlier this year outside City Market.

“I asked (Culverwell), I said, ‘All those rumors that are floating around about you, are they true?'” Seely said. “He said, ‘Yes, it’s true. I shot them.'”

When Culverwell took the stand, he denied he ever said that to Seely or anybody.

“No, I don’t have any idea what he’s talking about,” he said.

Culverwell said he did not kill any elk this winter out of “simple frustration,” as his attorney, Pamela Mackey, phrased the question.

“No, I felt sorry for the animals,” Culverwell said. “No, part of my feelings of being a rancher is a love for animals.”

It was important to get elk out of his fences because the entrapped animals held the fence down, making it possible for other wildlife to easily jump into his hay pens and eat his crops, he said.

Culverwell testified he did not want to cut them loose because that would put him in harm’s way of a large, scared animal.

“If you have an elk hung up in a fence, it’s too heavy to lift that fence back up,” Culverwell said. “I’m not going to cut a live elk loose and sit there and get stomped. I don’t feel that animal had much life left after laying there, struggling in the fence.”

During Snow’s cross-examination, Culverwell stated at no point during the three to four days he shot elk – between Feb. 6 and 9 – did he attempt to call the Colorado Division of Wildlife to tell them he had elk stuck in the fence or that he had to put any down.

Snow then asked if Culverwell “really” didn’t like the DOW and did not want them on his land.

“That’s correct,” Culverwell responded.

He also affirmed Snow’s questions that he is “not a fan of government in general” and does not want anyone to interfere with him being a rancher.

Culverwell could not provide many details about the days between Super Bowl weekend, when elk problems initially began, and the afternoon of Feb. 9, when he and his wife bought enough fencing material to protect their hay.

He could not say when he shot most animals – with the exception of the calf he put out of its misery – and he could not say which animal he shot first.

The trial is scheduled to continue at 8:30 a.m. today. Snow estimated he could continue his cross-examination of Culverwell for up to another hour.

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

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.

Culverwell’s account of ranching, wildlife

Rodney Culverwell, 41, said he first saw an elk on family’s land, the Rio Ro Mo Ranch west of Craig, when he was about 12 years old.

Now, he said while on the witness stand Tuesday defending himself against 80 poaching crimes related to the deaths of 16 elk this winter, there are so many wild animals in Moffat County that ranchers have a hard time keeping up.

Culverwell testified he invested in about 300 pivot sprinklers to water his fields, which can cost between $33,000 and $76,000 each, because of wildlife grazing on his land.

“We have come under too much competition from wildlife, so we can’t use dry-land fields anymore,” Culverwell said, adding the sprinklers allow him to grow enough crops in one field to sustain his livestock and make allowances for wildlife.

Although testimony showed he leases his land to a local hunting guide for $80,000 each year, Culverwell said that does not equal what he could make from an extra 250 head of cattle, which his land could sustain without grazing wildlife.

Culverwell said hunters also damage about $4,500 worth of property each year, a figure that does not include labor costs.

He added that when all is said and done, he would rather be a rancher than have anything to do with hunters.

“I’d rather have the cows, myself,” Culverwell said. “That’s part of the thrill of being a rancher, I guess, is raising food for people.”