Silverthorne mountain lion kill leads to poaching penalties
Hunters face big fines, loss of hunting privileges after extensive investigation
By Bob Berwyn
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado,
SUMMIT COUNTY — A pair of local hunters and their out-of-town friends were tagged with hefty fines, probation and a loss of hunting privileges after pleading guilty to numerous poaching charges related to the out-of-season killing of a mountain lion in 2007.
According to court documents in a case that wrapped up just last month, San Diego resident Harry George shot the lion in self defense in October of 2007. George then conspired with Edward Kaupas of Silverthorne, Daniel McCrerey of Frisco and Todd Metz of Fraser to mislead the Colorado Division of Wildlife about the date of the kill so they could keep the head and hide as a trophy.
“We do take this very seriously,” said Tom Kroening, formerly the Summit County area manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Kroening, the lead investigator in the case, said the hunters had the chance to do the right thing.
“The issue was, they didn’t call us,” he said.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said the nature of the offenses almost rose to the level of an environmental crime.
“We felt there was a pattern of egregious violations,” said Hurlbert, discussing the charges and sentences.
Sentences in the case were handed down between last August and December, and Division of Wildlife officials only recently disclosed details of the case.
In addition to covering up the mountain-lion kill, pictures showed members of the hunting party with a red fox killed illegally out of season. Another photo showed one of the hunters with a dead spike elk, in violation of regulations for that area.
The photos led to additional charges being filed against the hunters.
The case began developing in October of 2007, when Kaupas called wildlife officer Shannon Schwab to inquire about a menacing mountain lion.
On Dec. 3 of that year, Kaupas brought a mountain lion skull and hide to the division’s regional office in Hot Sulphur Springs and told wildlife officers that he had killed the lion Dec. 1 on national-forest land near his home in the Pioneer Creek neighborhood north of Silverthorne.
“Mr. Kaupas indicated he had been hunting with several other individuals, and he had harvested the lion,” said division spokesman Randy Hampton. Kaupas signed a form indicating that he had taken the lion as he explained it.
“But some of the things we were told really didn’t add up,” Hampton said.
Based on those suspicions, Kroening started to investigate. He visited the site where Kaupas claimed to have killed the lion and determined there was not enough evidence to support the claim.
During a subsequent interview with wildlife officers last March 17, Kaupas admitted that he didn’t kill the lion on Dec. 1. Kaupas said the lion was shot by his hunting partner, Harry George, in self-defense during the first elk season in October of 2007.
On the same day, wildlife officers interviewed McCrerey, who said the hunters had discussed what to do with the lion. Kaupas told the other hunters that he wanted to keep the hide and the skull and that he would put his license on it later, McCrerey told the investigators.
Kaupas did not want to comment on the case.
McCrerey acknowledged that the hunting party made poor choices.
“We exercised poor judgment in the field. It was an unfortunate incident for everyone involved,” McCrerey said.
If a mountain lion is shot in self defense, the proper course of action is to notify the division and turn the carcass in to the agency, Kroening said.
In this case, the hunters agreed to deceive wildlife managers as to the timing of the kill, faking a legal mountain lion hunt at the start of the legal season.
“He (Kaupas) admitted in court that he got greedy and wanted to keep the lion. He knew what he was supposed to do and tried to get around it,” Kroening said.
Kaupas pleaded guilty in Summit County district court to forging a government document, willful destruction of wildlife and hunting red fox out of season.
He also was charged with illegal possession of a mountain lion, waste of wildlife for not preserving the meat for consumption and illegal possession of an elk.
He was sentenced to four years of supervised probation, $16,291 in fines, court costs and a donation to Operation Game Thief and 40 hours of public service. Additionally, he cannot possess firearms nor hunt for four years, and he has to pass a hunter-education course.
McCrerey was sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation, barred from hunting for an unspecified amount of time and ordered to pay $3,500 in fines and a donation to Operation Game Thief.
George pleaded guilty to willful destruction of wildlife and illegal possession of a mountain lion. He was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay $2,800 in fines.
Metz of Fraser, who pleaded guilty to illegal possession of a mountain lion, hunting elk without a proper license and illegal possession of an elk. He also had been charged with illegal possession of a red fox. He was ordered to pay $2,800 in fines.
“We don’t want to discourage people from self-defense, but there is a procedure to follow,” Kroening said.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org