The DNR's biggest illegal trapping case ever only yields a suspended sentence

Carcasses of what were believed to be pine martens were among those found on Roderick Kottom's property in northern Minnesota in January.

Carcasses of what were believed to be pine martens were among those found on Roderick Kottom's property in northern Minnesota in January.

In November 2002, DNR Conservation Officer Marty Stage was called out to investigate a report of a fisher in a snare caught outside of trapping season.

Stage would actually find two fishers. Neither of the traps had identification, as mandated by state statute. 

Stage set up a surveillance camera three days later. The following day he reviewed the video. It showed a man exiting a Ford pickup and retrieving a fisher in a snare.

According to court records, "The license-plate number belonged to a Ford pickup registered to…Roderick R. Kottom."

Officers executed a search warrant at Kottom's home in northern Minnesota about five weeks later. They seized almost 40 fisher and pine marten pelts. Although trappers are required to identify the animals caught, none of the seized "showed any evidence of tagging or registration and none of the packages were plainly marked with ownership information or the number and species…," court documents read.

Kottom would be charged with six crimes, including possession of prohibited wild animals. He was convicted of three. The harshest of his punishment, according to state records, was two years of supervised probation.

Despite the convictions, Kottom would appeal, arguing, "that the state failed to authenticate the [videotape] evidence."

He'd lose. 

Kottom would be convicted of possession of a mounted Canada lynx, a threatened species, the next year. He'd be convicted of failure to check traps daily in 2013. 

Kottom will again be in court come late July. 

His most recent run-in with wildlife enforcement stems from what the DNR has called one of the biggest illegal trapping operations its ever encountered.

In 2014, an Iron Range game warden received a report of a live wolf in a snare. Absent on the wire loop trap snagging the animal was an identification tag.

To keep trappers accountable, state law mandates traps be marked with an owner ID. 

More unmarked snares were found in 2015 an 2016 within a couple of miles of where the wolf was discovered. Wildlife officials eventually uncover 638 illegal traps spread out across four counties.

Kottom's reputation would precede him. A DNR official would eventually notice him, along with Douglas Marana, another Chisholm resident, at a department fur registration in Hibbing.

Earlier this year, Christopher Kunze, owner of Keewatin Taxidermy, decided to give Kottom up, saying Kottom would often barter pelts for taxidermy work.

A search of Kottom's home and vehicle produced the carcasses of foxes and pine martens, among other creatures.

Kottom and Marana were both slapped with the same four charges, the most serious of which was illegally taking or possessing otter, fisher, wolverine, or pine marten, a gross misdemeanor.

Marana's plea deal from earlier this week means he admitted guilt to all four, but won't have to do time. His 120-day jail sentence will be stayed in lieu of two year's probation. The 70-year-old's trapping rights will be revoked for one year.

The 68-year-old Kottom is undoubtedly hoping for similar treatment in St. Louis County District Court on July 27.

Kottom couldn't be reached for comment.

Rep. Josh Heintzeman (R-Nisswa), serves as vice-chair of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He believes Marana's admission of guilt to one petty, two misdemeanors, and one gross, are commensurate with his crimes.

What Heintzeman is not supportive of is when criminals like Marana and Kottom escape the full punitive weight of the law.   

"My feeling is, if you break the law, you should receive the punishment it says you're supposed to get," he says. "I think what this shows is Minnesota has some real problems in its sentencing guidelines when it comes to cases like these — and many others as well, I would argue."