Colorado Man Guilty After 8 Year Investigation

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A Colorado man with a history of wildlife violations pleaded guilty to numerous wildlife related crimes in a New Mexico district court on June 23.

Kirt Darner, 69, of Crawford, has been convicted of wildlife violations in Colorado dating back to 1994. In 2000, Colorado Division of Wildlife officers started investigating Darner as a suspect in the theft of two bighorn sheep heads from a Montrose taxidermist. In Cibola County, N.M., on Monday, Darner pleaded guilty to transporting wild elk and receiving stolen property - specifically, the two Colorado sheep heads. At the time they were stolen, the sheep heads were estimated to be worth more than $20,000 each.

"We've worked on this case for more than eight years and cooperatively with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish for the past three. I can't give them or the Cibola County District Attorney's office enough credit for their hard work and diligence." said Eric Schaller, an investigator for the DOW. "This case also shows that the Colorado Division of Wildlife will continue to pursue these tough cases for as long as necessary."

Darner could serve four years in jail and pay a minimum of $10,000 in fines and restitution for the New Mexico charges. A sentencing hearing has not been set. As part of the plea agreement, Darner agreed never to hunt, fish or possess a firearm again. He also is prohibited from working as a guide or outfitter in Colorado and New Mexico.

Previously, in Colorado, Darner was convicted of illegal possession of wildlife in 1994. In 1999 he was convicted of second degree tampering with evidence and careless driving in an incident in which he was serving as an outfitter. DOW officers observed Darner's client shoot at an elk decoy in a game management unit for which the client didn't have a license. In 2008 Darner pleaded guilty to making a false statement in order to purchase a license. He had applied for land owner vouchers with the DOW but did not own enough property to be eligible for the program.

While executing a search warrant at the Darner property in 2005, New Mexico wildlife officers discovered a desert bighorn sheep head and a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep head inside Darner's vehicle. Further examination of the heads indicated they were the same sheep heads that were stolen from a Montrose taxidermy shop in 2000. The DOW had offered a $5,500 reward for information about the sheep-head thefts.

Darner, a nationally known big-game hunter and guide, and Paula Darner were co-owners of the 40-acre Lobo Canyon Ranch north of Grants when they were indicted in New Mexico in 2006 on 41 felony and misdemeanor charges. Among the charges, the Darners were accused of receiving stolen property and of illegally moving three state-owned elk from the Lobo Canyon Ranch to the Pancho Peaks ranch and game park in southeastern New Mexico in 2005. Charges against Paula Darner are still pending.

If you have information about a wildlife crime, please call Operation Game Thief at 1-877-265-6648. Tips can be made anonymously and rewards are possible.