MEEKER, Colo. – A months-long Colorado Parks and Wildlife investigation of a private hunting ranch near the northwest Colorado community of Dinosaur began with the discovery of several prohibited exotic sheep species on the property and ended with last month’s conviction of the business owner from Utah.
On June 19, Vernal resident Michael Gates, 34, owner of DJ Rams LLC pleaded guilty to his crime in a Rio Blanco County courtroom. He received a one-year deferred judgment sentence for possession of prohibited, non-native sheep. In addition, he must pay fines and court costs totaling over $1,400 and perform 60 hours of useful public service. He was also assessed five suspension points against his hunting and fishing privileges. In the future, he must comply with all CPW and Colorado Department of Agriculture inspections and requirements or risk additional fines and the potential loss of his operation.
Officers say Gates illegally imported and possessed several exotic sheep species for his clients to hunt, including Mouflon sheep hybrids, Texas Dall sheep and Painted Desert sheep, all prohibited in Colorado.
“Based on our investigation, Mr. Gates knew these sheep were prohibited but that did not stop him,” said Wildlife Officer Nate Martinez. “He decided to risk the health of our native wildlife and local domestic sheep simply for profit.”
Wildlife officials say the prohibition is needed to protect native wildlife from hybridization with non-native species, avert the potential spread of disease to native sheep populations and prevent severe damage to habitat.
“If they had escaped, these prohibited sheep could all survive in Colorado’s harsh climate,” said Martinez. “The disease issue is a major concern, as well as the potential impacts to native habitat and all of the native species that depend on it.”
Martinez says the