‘It’s an addiction,’ says former wildlife manager
By Shannon Mullane Herald Staff Writer
A La Plata County man who has a 30-year history of wildlife violations was convicted this week of new game charges in Canada.
Robert Peck, former owner of Antler Meadows Outfitters near Ignacio, evaded Colorado wildlife officers from the late 1980s until 2009 when an intense investigation led to a conviction that banned him for life from hunting in the United States.
On Tuesday, Canadian courts convicted Peck of five new counts for wildlife law violations.
Peck, 73, who lives near Ignacio, faces $4,500 in fines and a two-year hunting ban in Canada. In a system where many wildlife law violations go undetected, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife investigation into Peck and his conviction was a success for wildlife law enforcement. However, his Canadian crimes underline the law enforcement branch’s continued concerns about wildlife crime in Southwest Colorado.
“It actually doesn’t surprise me, but that’s the way it is,” said Cary Carron, former division wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, after learning of the charges against Peck.
Carron was involved in the 2009 investigation into Peck. Officers suspected Peck for decades leading up to 2009 based on tips from community members. It was only because a confidential informant came forward with new details that the officers could launch a full investigation. Then, it took multiple state and federal wildlife departments, undercover investigators and hours of surveillance to build the case, Carron said.
In 2012, Peck pleaded guilty to seven counts of wildlife violations, and the 6th Judicial District Court in Durango ordered $18,000 in donations and fines and a hunting suspension until 2033.
In 2018, a year after his five-year supervised probation ended, Peck again faced charges – eight in two judicial regions of Alberta, Canada.
“Violating game laws is an addiction to people like this. They can’t give it up,” Carron said. “In my opinion, Bob Peck is one of those people.”
Peck pleaded guilty to five of the eight original counts: two counts of exercising authority under a license while under suspension, two counts of hunting wildlife (wolves) without a license and one count of possessing wildlife (a wolf) contrary to the Wildlife Act, according to the Provincial Court of Alberta.
The charges were similar to Peck’s crimes in the Ignacio area, where he led unlicensed hunters on hunts, killed an elk illegally, hunted deer offseason and more.
Peck was not immediately available for comment.
“There’s a lot of guys that never get caught,” Carron said.
The economic impacts of poaching in Colorado are tough to quantify, said Bob Thompson, head of the Colorado wildlife law enforcement branch, in an email. However, the Wildlife Traffic Institute estimated that the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife parts may be as high as $34 billion per year nationally.
“The three biggest motivators for people to poach are greed (money), ego and thrill killing,” Thompson said.
Poachers are effectively stealing wildlife from the public, he said. They can cause a reduction in the number of licenses available to law-abiding hunters, and they can unbalance carefully monitored wildlife populations.
One enforcement challenge is the sheer expanse of wilderness that the division monitors.
The wildlife law enforcement branch has 10 wildlife officers monitoring an area ranging from Wolf Creek Pass to Silverton to the Utah border, said Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in an email.
“That’s why we must rely on the public to report crimes or suspicious activity,” Lewandowski said. “Officers rarely happen upon a poaching incident by chance.”
Carron said most cases are made based on information that officers receive from the public.
“If people have information about stuff like that … it’s really important they contact the wildlife officers,” he said. “Because that’s the only way (poachers) are going to get caught.”