echo ''."\n";
| News |

Nicholaus Rodgers Gets Probation in Mountain Lion Poaching Case

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

A five-year effort to prosecute a hunting-guide operation responsible for the illegal killing of close to fifty bobcats and a dozen mountain lions came to a muted close in federal court in Denver yesterday, as the last defendant in the case was sentenced for his part in the scheme. Nicholaus Rodgers, 31, was sentenced to 36 months of probation, including six months of home detention, after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, a federal anti-poaching law. 

The plea and the sentence didn't entirely convey the grotesque scope of the case, something that U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello was quick to acknowledge even as she imposed the light sentence. "I've been pretty lenient with you, and that's mostly because you have been cooperative with the government," she told Rodgers. "There was a lot of cruelty to animals that was involved in this case.... This conduct occurred over a significant period of time. This defendant played a significant role."

Rodgers had worked for Christopher Loncarich, an outfitter on the Western Slope who collected as much as $1,500 for bobcats and $7,500 for mountain lions killed by wealthy, so-called sportsmen. But as we reported last year, the hunts were usually rigged to guarantee an easy kill. Rodgers, Loncarich, and others involved in the scheme would capture the big cats in advance in leg traps or cages, then hobble them in some fashion — usually by shooting them in the foot or the stomach. The maimed cats would then be released, to be picked off by the just-arrived clients during outings in the Book Cliff Mountains in western Colorado and eastern Utah.

At least one lion was trapped and fitted with a radio-tracking collar, allowing the guides to trap it again when needed months later. They put the lion in a cage and held it for a week at Loncarich's home in Mack, Colorado, waiting for the client to arrive from Missouri. The lion was then boxed and transported by snowmobile to a place where the client was sure to find it.

One veteran wildlife officer described Loncarich's operation as one of the worst poaching cases he'd seen in forty years on the job. Loncarich was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for masterminding the illegal hunts. Court documents suggest he devised the guaranteed-kill approach because his clients expected to be coddled, were too out of shape to hike and track game, and "just wanted to shoot animals without having to hunt them."

In an emotional statement to the court before his own sentencing, Rodgers, who has no prior felony record, apologized for his role in capturing and wounding the cats. "I still can't believe I was involved in such unethical behavior," he said.

At the time he got involved with Loncarich, he explained, he was deeply in debt and about to lose his truck. He grew increasingly concerned about the poaching and agreed to cooperate with authorities several years ago; since that time, he's built his own business in Oregon and is raising a family. A turning point for him, he said, came with the capture of his last mountain lion, a "beautiful animal" that had outwitted him for three years. The plan was to keep the lion in a cage for two weeks, until the Utah season opened, but Rodgers persuaded the others to let the lion go. "I just hope he made it," he said.

Dozens of other bobcats and lions didn't make it. Rodgers attorney Lisa Wayne contended that her client would be adequately punished by having a felony conviction and not being able to possess a firearm for the rest of his life. But Judge Arguello responded that poaching was a serious crime, though it's not often treated that way. "If he hadn't cooperated, I probably would throw the book at him," she said.

As part of the conditions of his probation, Rodgers must complete 50 hours of community service and pay a $5,000 fine. Two daughters of Loncarich and another assistant hunting guide also received probation.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.