Montana man pleads guilty to breeding giant sheep hybrids

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The goal was to create larger, more valuable species of wild sheep to sell to shooting preserves, primarily in Texas, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

VAUGHN, Mont — A Montana man faces up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines after pleading guilty in a nearly decade-long scheme to create giant sheep hybrids to sell to captive hunting facilities.

Arthur “Jack” Schubarth, 80, of Vaughn, Montana, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to two felonies; conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and substantively violating the Lacey Act, the U.S. Department of Justice said. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison up to $250,000 in fines.

The Lacey Act prohibits interstate trade of wildlife that has been taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of federal or state law. It also prohibits the interstate sale of falsely labeled wildlife. 

Schubarth is the owner and operator of Sun River Enterprises LLC, also known as Schubarth Ranch, a 215-acre ranch.

The ranch engaged in the purchase, sale and breeding of so-called “alternative livestock” including mountain sheep, mountain goats and various ungulates. The ranch’s primary clients were hunting operations, also known as shooting preserves or game ranches.

Court documents show that Schubarth conspired with at least five other individuals between 2013 and 2021 to create a larger, hybrid species of sheep. The goal was to sell the larger, more valuable species for higher prices to shooting preserves, which were primarily located in Texas, the Department of Justice said.

Schubarth bought parts of the largest sheep in the world, the Marco Polo argali sheep, from Kyrgyzstan without declaring importation. 

The average Marco Polo can weigh more than 300 pounds with horns and can be more than five feet long. They are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which is locally covered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. They are prohibited in the state of Montana to protect native sheep from disease and hybridization.

The Department of Justice said Schubarth sent genetic material from the Marco Polo sheep parts to a lab to create cloned embryos that he implanted into ewes on his ranch, resulting in a single, pure genetic male Marco Polo argali that he named “Montana Mountain King.” 

Schubarth worked with the other unnamed coconspirators to use Montana Mountain King’s semen to artificially impregnate various species of ewes, all illegal in Montana, to create hybrid animals.

To move prohibited sheep in and out of Montana, Schubarth and others forged veterinary documents falsely claiming the sheep were permitted species. Schubarth also occasionally sold Montana Mountain King’s semen directly to sheep breeders in other states.

Schubarth also illegally obtained genetic material from wild-hunted Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, violating Montana law prohibiting the sale of game animal parts within the state, and prohibiting the use of Montana game animals on alternative livestock ranches.

Schubarth transported and sold the bighorn parts through interstate commerce, the Department of Justice said.

“This was an audacious scheme to create massive hybrid sheep species to be sold and hunted as trophies,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). “In pursuit of this scheme, Schubarth violated international law and the Lacey Act, both of which protect the viability and health of native populations of animals.”

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Montana man pleads guilty to breeding giant sheep hybrids

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