Testimony advances Culverwell trial | CraigDailyPress.com

Testimony advances Culverwell trial

Collin Smith

Trial at a glance

• Moffat County rancher Rodney Culverwell, 41, is charged with 80 poaching crimes on suspicion of killing 16 elk this winter.

• 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.

• DOW officials testified Tuesday and Wednesday that they offered Culverwell every option he asked for that was within legal limits.

• The defense challenged whether the remedies offered by the DOW when the Culverwells asked for help in early February were useful.

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Three more Colorado Division of Wildlife officials testified Wednesday in the case of a Moffat County rancher charged with poaching elk on his property this winter.

Resident Rodney Culverwell, 41, who owns part of Rio Ro Mo ranch between Craig and Lay, pleaded not guilty to 80 wildlife crimes earlier this month, including 16 Class 5 felonies and 64 misdemeanors.

His defense attorney, Pamela Mackey, of Denver, has said Culverwell had no other reasonable alternative than to kill the animals, which she said destroyed hay and other property belonging to Culverwell this winter.

Mackey also said in her opening argument Tuesday that Adrian Archuleta, DOW district wildlife manager, offered Culverwell’s wife noisemakers and other assistance he knew would not work to keep elk off the couple’s land.

“Of course, as he gives this advice, Adrian Archuleta knows these will not be successful,” Mackey said to the jury. “He’s been giving this advice to people all through January.”

Mackey’s cross-examination of three DOW officials, including testimony by Wildlife Officer Garett Watson continued from Tuesday, focused more on what help the officials provided for property damage this winter than on evidence collected on 16 dead elk found in February on or near Culverwell’s ranch.

After questions from Mackey, Watson testified he did not approve special “kill permits” for the Culverwells because he is not authorized to do so. Kill permits allow a landowner to shoot an animal, but they must harvest the meat and give it to the DOW, which then donates the meat to needy residents.

Watson added he never offered kill permits because the Culverwells asked specifically for wood cattle panels to reinforce their fences. Rodney Culverwell knew about kill permits and had been granted them before, but he never asked for them, Watson said.

His testimony continued that he offered to bring wood panels to the Culverwells’ ranch and help put them up, but each time he was refused.

Then, in March, DOW officers began driving elk off the Culverwells’ property themselves and placed bait hay piles on government lands to draw the elk away, Watson said.

Watson spent about 60 hours a week this winter helping landowners with a range of issues, he said.

“The majority of my time spent was helping landowners this winter,” he said.

When Archuleta took the stand Wednesday afternoon, Mackey questioned why he would recommend that residents use noisemakers and try to herd elk with snow machines when his experience suggested neither worked.

She brought up five examples of Yampa Valley residents whom Archuleta described in DOW reports. In each case, Mackey said, the residents complained that herding elk away was only useful for a day or two, and then problems continued.

Archuleta said herding is an effective method, but it’s not something that is a one-time cure.

“In different areas, we had different measures of success,” Archuleta said. “Where we saw more success in keeping the elk off property is when landowners kept at it.”

Some landowners also used only one kind of noisemaker provided by the DOW, he added. In Archuleta’s experience, he said, it’s best to use all different kinds, which make different noises the elk don’t become used to hearing.

As per Mackey’s question, however, Archuleta said fencing panels are commonly the best approach to keeping elk from eating crops or damaging property.

The trial is set to resume at 8:30 a.m. today.

Trial at a glance

• Moffat County rancher Rodney Culverwell, 41, is charged with 80 poaching crimes on suspicion of killing 16 elk this winter.

• 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.

• DOW officials testified Tuesday and Wednesday that they offered Culverwell every option he asked for that was within legal limits.

• The defense challenged whether the remedies offered by the DOW when the Culverwells asked for help in early February were useful.

A possible witness

Connie Long, the ex-wife of Moffat County rancher Rodney Culverwell, appeared at her ex-husband’s trial Tuesday, outside of the jury’s presence.

Culverwell is charged with 80 poaching crimes for allegedly killing 16 elk on his ranch this winter. His defense attorney, Pamela Mackey, has said Culverwell had to shoot “some” elk because the animals were destroying his property, and the state did not do enough to protect him.

Long, however, told a different story about Culverwell.

If the defense requests the jury be instructed to consider defense of personal property in the case, the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office will be allowed a rebuttal to all testimony given in that regard.

In that case, Long said she would testify that from 1990 to 1996, when she was married to Culverwell, she commonly saw him meet up with friends on the Culverwell ranch and shoot animals with automatic rifles.

She said this happened whether Culverwell or his friends had hunting licenses or if there was a hunting season in effect at the time.

In that time, Long said Culverwell and his friends shot about 300 antelope and 30 elk.

“It was normal in the summer months,” Long said. “It was mostly entertainment for him and his friends. It was time to go out with the boys and drink.”

Mackey argued Long had an agenda with her testimony because she and Culverwell went through a “hotly contested,” two-year divorce. The two also had a squabble as recent as July 2008.

Chief District Court Judge Michael O’Hara ruled the court was not in a position to judge Long’s character, and her testimony would serve a “valid purpose,” that being whether Culverwell shot wildlife in defense of property or for other reasons.

Before Long left the stand, she said she reported Culverwell’s actions to the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office and DOW, but, to her knowledge, no investigation was ever started.

When Mackey objected to what she called “inflammatory” remarks by Long regarding law enforcement, O’Hara said it was not surprising.

“Unfortunately, it wouldn’t surprise me that there was no investigation, to be honest,” the judge said. “I see things that appear to occur here that seem to go away.”