Colorado Man Guilty of Bighorn Baiting

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A La Plata County man pleaded guilty in May to putting out bait to attract Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in an area northeast of Vallecito Reservoir that is popular with hunters and wildlife watchers. Baiting big game wildlife in Colorado is illegal and can cause long-term problems for animal herds.

Dave Hall, 52, who lives in the Vallecito area, pleaded guilty to one count of baiting - a misdemeanor - and was fined $156.50. He also was placed on probation for one year and his hunting privileges have been suspended for one year. He was originally charged with two counts of wildlife baiting and two counts as an accomplice in the illegal take of two bighorn rams. The plea was entered in Hinsdale County Court, the county where the violation took place. The district attorney's office for that area negotiated the plea agreement.

Hall admitted to spreading more than 1,000 pounds of salt during the last two years in at least four areas northeast of Vallecito Reservoir. He told Colorado Division of Wildlife officers that he placed salt blocks and spread granular salt in numerous areas because he believed the bighorns needed extra nutrition.

Animals find natural salt licks and don't need artificial supplements, DOW officials said.

Unfortunately, the salt is a major attractant for big game animals and has served to concentrate an unusually high number of bighorns in a small area. Concentrating animals causes numerous problems: animals that are bunched up can easily pass diseases and parasites to each other; they become easy prey for mountain lions and easy targets for hunters. There are only three hunting licenses issued for this area and two rams were killed at one of the bait sites during the 2009 season. The hunters did not know the sites were being baited.

"Once animals get on salt they won't leave, they get addicted to it. Bighorns naturally migrate in and out of areas and this has significantly interrupted their patterns," said District Wildlife Manager Cary Carron, the DOW officer who investigated the case. "The other big problem is that the salt is now imbedded in the soil and will attract bighorns to those areas for the next five years or more. There's nothing that can be done to get all of it out of the soil."

The Pine River herd numbers about 100 animals.

The investigation started in August 2009 when Carron was participating in a standard bighorn population count. While walking along a ridgeline he noticed signs that showed an unusually high number of bighorn sheep were using the area. Eventually he came upon two 50-pound salt blocks that had been placed there.

In the course of the investigation he talked with a U.S. Forest Service biologist and a hunter who had noticed an unusually high number of sheep staying in the area.

Carron and other DOW investigators started doing surveillance in the area when bighorn hunting season started in late August 2009. Numerous interviews with informants led them to Hall.

During an interview with Hall in early September 2009, he first denied any knowledge of the salt licks. Upon further questioning he admitted that he had placed the salt. Hall did not have a hunting license for that area and said that he did not guide hunters or receive any money for his actions. He accompanied one hunter who harvested a ram in 2009, but the hunter didn't know about the salt.

Hall was served with a court summons in February.

Baiting of big game is a problem throughout Colorado. If you hear about someone baiting or notice salt licks in an area where there is no apparent livestock grazing, contact a local DOW office, or call Operation Game Thief at 1-877-265-6648.

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