Idaho County Judge sends strong message to “others in your situation”
A lifetime hunting ban, jail time and thousands of dollars in penalties are the price a Nampa man must pay for last year’s poaching of a trophy bighorn sheep along Idaho’s Main Salmon River.
Appearing in Idaho County Court on June 6, Paul Cortez (53) of Nampa stood silent as District Court Judge Gregory FitzMaurice handed down the poaching sentence. In addition to a lifetime hunting license revocation, Cortez received 30 days in jail, a $10,000 civil penalty, fines/court costs totaling $753 and four years of probation.
On November 6, 2015 while on routine jet boat patrol along the famous river, Fish and Game conservation officers Roy Kinner, Craig Mickelson, Dennis Brandt and Brian Perkes contacted Cortez at his hunting camp. Cortez’s hands and forearms were bloody, and after a brief conversation, Cortez admitted to shooting the bighorn ram from his camp as the animal came to the river for water. He then field dressed and stashed the carcass among rocks above the river. The poaching location is in Hunt Unit 19, where the bighorn sheep season closed on October 13.
Perkes then cited Cortez for unlawfully killing a trophy big game animal, possession of an illegally taken bighorn sheep, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. An April plea agreement with Idaho County Prosecutors allowed Cortez to plead guilty to one felony count of unlawfully killing a trophy big game animal, which included 15 days in jail. The second felony count and other charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.
In his comments during sentencing, Judge FitzMaurice noted that, “It’s my view that you’ve been given fairly lenient treatment. My view is that a signal needs to be sent out to others in your situation.” At his discretion, Judge FitzMaurice then doubled Cortez’s jail time to 30 days. Cortez addressed the court only briefly, stating that he “made a huge mistake in my judgement. I regret it.”
Cortez also asked the Judge not to revoke his hunting privileges for life, but the request was ignored. “The [illegal] killing of animals, especially rare animals, has serious consequences in this state,” Judge FitzMaurice said.
Only a remnant herd of bighorn sheep now traverse the rocky canyons above Idaho’s Salmon River. As such, lawful hunting is highly regulated, with only four bighorn tags allotted in Hunt Unit 19. “Only a handful of those applying for one of these coveted tags got their chance at a bighorn sheep during the 2015 hunting season,” Perkes noted. “This poaching crime robs legal hunters of next year’s opportunity to pursue this prized nine-and-one-half-year-old ram.”
Persons with any information about suspected poaching activity are encouraged to call the Citizens against Poaching (CAP) hotline at 1-800-632-5999, twenty-four hours a day. Callers can remain anonymous and cash rewards are often paid for information leading to the successful conclusion of a case.