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Hunter escapes steep penalty

ASPEN – A longtime hunting guide is outraged that a Basalt man who faced $11,500 in fines for illegally killing a trophy elk escaped with a $100 fine and a $2,000 donation to an elk conservation group.Dick Piffer, who has been a hunting and fishing guide for 31 years, contends the Colorado Division of Wildlife had more than enough evidence for prosecutors to win a conviction against Raymond Seelbinder under Colorado’s Sampson Law.The Sampson Law created stiffer penalties for poaching trophy-sized game. The law was enacted in 1998 after a large bull elk, named Sampson by people who had become used to his seasonal visits to Estes Park, was poached and turned into a trophy.Had Seelbinder been convicted on all three of the original charges brought by the DOW, his hunting license also could have been assessed 35 points. Under the plea agreement, he received 20 points against his license and will find out next month what suspension, if any, he will get.On Sept. 23, 2004, wildlife officer Kelly Wood cited Seelbinder, 51, for unlawfully hunting a bull elk that had at least six points on one antler, a violation under the Samson law that carries a $10,000 fine. Wood also ticketed him for illegally taking the elk, which carries a $1,000 fine, and unlawfully entering private land to hunt wildlife without permission. With the surcharges, he faced a total fine of $11,507. The last charge, essentially trespassing, is what Seelbinder pleaded guilty to in June, along with 20 points against his license.Along with the $100 fine, Seelbinder agreed to make a $2,000 donation to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a wildlife conservation group.Steers declined to comment about why the two more serious charges were dropped, and she referred questions to the district attorney’s office.Seelbinder had been hunting on the Lawrence Ranch property in the upper Missouri Heights area. Dick Piffer, who has been a hunting and fishing guide for 31 years, said two hunters who had hired him came upon Seelbinder and the elk carcass.The hunters talked with Seelbinder, then took note of their location with a global positioning device, Piffer said. “They knew he was trespassing,” he said.Seelbinder bragged of his hunting prowess to Piffer’s clients, Piffer said, and offered to be their guide in the future. For contact information, he gave them the top half of his hunting license, Piffer said.Seelbinder, who was using a bow, said he didn’t know he was on private land until he saw a fence as he and his daughter packed the animal out of the area. “I had a legal license, (it was) a legal season, I shot the animal on legal property, but it crossed over into private property,” he said.He admitted that Wood later found bones from the elk inside the ranch’s property line.Piffer and the hunters turned the information over to Wood, who used the GPS coordinates to find the elk’s skull, went to Seelbinder’s home and matched it “perfectly” with a set of horns found at the residence, Piffer said.DNA tests also confirmed that the rack had come from the skull Wood found, Piffer said.”The DA then turns around and plea bargains the thing down to a slap (on the wrist),” he said. “Just unbelievable. When you’ve got all the evidence, come on, you can make the case.”Seelbinder’s attorney, John Van Ness, said that justice was done. The donation to the elk foundation was substantial, he said, and his client did not deserve a draconian punishment.”They pass these killer laws with maximum penalties, (and) people who have a reasonable, commonsense view of the world just say it’s not necessary to get the maximum every time,” he said. “I don’t think this is an unusual deal.”Van Ness said that “sometimes you know where you are and sometimes you don’t. You’re out in the woods, you don’t have signs or fences.”Piffer said the Lawrence Ranch is well-marked with signs and fences. He added that private lands don’t have to be marked and it is the hunter’s responsibility to know where he or she is. He said it was one of the more blatant violations he has experienced.It isn’t clear whether his hunting license will be suspended at a DOW hearing next month. Seelbinder said it could be suspended for five years. Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said a 20-point penalty doesn’t equal an automatic suspension of a hunting license. And the trespassing charge is a property infraction, not a wildlife crime, he said.Seelbinder will have to go through the division’s administrative hearing process to decide how long his license is lifted, Hampton said. He is still able to hunt as he awaits the process.He said it is difficult to say if the wildlife agency was upset by the outcome.”It depends on what happens at all levels of (the case) making its way through the court system,” he said. “We write (citations) based on what charges there may be in the field. By the time it goes to a prosecutor, a judge or a jury, there’s a lot of different things that can come out the other end.”If Seelbinder’s license is suspended, 20 other states would honor the suspension.Assistant District Attorney Vince Felletter said he wasn’t familiar with the case and wasn’t sure if Steers had consulted with the DOW’s Wood about the plea agreement. That latter step is particularly important in wildlife cases, which he called a “sub-specialty.””The best thing to do is to talk with the DOW officer,” Felletter said. “They understand all the intricacies of what effect this has on the person’s hunting status, what’s really serious, what isn’t.”Felletter did say he thought the $2,000 donation and 20 points were significant.Along with the donation, Seelbinder checked “yes” on a form asking if he wanted to become a member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. He will receive six issues of Bugle magazine, a membership card and a window decal.


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