Bighorn Ram Poachers Convicted
A recently resolved court case involving the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) highlights the serious nature of illegally killing big game animals. The case demonstrates the efforts of wildlife officers, prosecutors, and judges in attempting to stop the practice of illegally killing Colorado’s big game animals.
In December, Wildlife Officer Bailey Franklin was notified that a bighorn sheep ram had been seen in the Axial Basin area south of Craig. This was a significant sighting because the area is not near any significant bighorn sheep populations. Approximately a week after learning about the existence of the sheep, Franklin was contacted regarding the illegal killing of the animal. Franklin began an investigation and through numerous interviews developed a list of suspects in the case.
An interview with suspected poacher Shane Baker led to a confession about the bighorn’s killing and the whereabouts of the evidence. Baker stated that he had been hunting cow elk with his two cousins in the Axial Basin area on Dec. 6 when they spotted the bighorn ram. Baker said one of his cousins, Seth Campbell, shot and wounded that sheep, and that Baker had "finished the animal off" with his rifle.
The cousins loaded the dead animal into a pickup truck and transported it to the home of Shane Baker’s father, who lives north of Craig. Baker confessed that his father was very angry that the illegal animal had been brought on his property. Now frightened about the illegal killing, the cousins went about cutting up the ram in an effort to destroy the evidence. According to Baker, pieces of the ram were disposed of in the Moffat County landfill, while the ram’s horns and skull were cut up with a saw, crushed, and scattered along a county road. After several hours of searching for evidence through deep snow along the county road where Baker stated that he had disposed of the horns and skull, wildlife officers found pieces of the bighorn sheep.
Charges were filed against Shane Baker and Seth Campbell in January. On May 26 Baker and Campbell appeared in Moffat County District Court to accept a plea bargain agreement and were sentenced to the following charges:
CRS 33-6-109(1) – Illegal possession of wildlife;
CRS 33-6-119(2) – Waste of wildlife;
33-6-107(3) – Hunting without a proper and valid license;
18-8-610(1)(a) – Tampering/destruction of evidence.
Baker and Campbell were assessed fines of $15,599 each and may still face a lengthy loss of hunting privileges, at the discretion of the Colorado Wildlife Commission.
In addition to DOW efforts in this case, credit for the successful outcome also goes to the Wyoming Game and Fish Laboratory, and the Moffat County District Attorney’s Office.