By MIKE KOSHMRL
WyoFile.com 

Wyoming cites law to justify secrecy about wolf's alleged torture; but it may not apply

 

April 11, 2024



Twelve-year old law was intended to protect the identity of legal wolf hunters, and that doesn’t fit the description of a Sublette County man who broke the law by taking possession of a live wolf.

Wyoming wildlife officials on Thursday released their first public statement about a wolf that was illegally taken captive and then subjected to alleged abuses that have generated outrage around the world.  

The statement from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department stretched for only six sentences and included no names, dates or locations. The brevity and ambiguity were explained by a statute that the state agency summarized.  

“Per Wyo Stat. Ann. 23-1-304 (d)(vi) any information regarding wolves taken in Wyoming is not a public record,” Game and Fish officials told the public in the brief statement. 

That’s not what the 23-1-304 section of Game and Fish’s governing statute says, though. Arguably, it’s an oversimplification and misrepresentation of the law. 

The statute specifically applies only to legally killed wolves. 

“Information identifying any person legally taking a wolf within this state is solely for the use of the department or appropriate law enforcement offices and is not a public record…,” the statute reads. 

Cody Roberts, a Daniel resident, violated the law when he took possession of a live wolf on Feb. 29 before killing it. Records from the Sublette County Circuit Court show that he paid a $250 fine for violating a chapter of Wyoming Game and Fish Commission regulations that govern the possession of live, warm-blooded wildlife.

In the past, the statute was rendered moot when wolf hunters broke the law. Records have been released, leading to detailed accounts about poaching — a problem that plagues Wyoming wolf management. 

Game and Fish’s handling of Roberts’ situation so far suggests that the state believes the statute still comes into play if a wolf hunter engages in illegal activity in conjunction with later legally killing a wolf. 

It’d be difficult to illegally kill a wolf in Wyoming’s predator zone, where Roberts did, because virtually anything goes. There are no seasons, license requirements or restrictions on how wolves can be killed. Even bludgeoning wolves by striking them with snowmobiles — which is allegedly how Roberts acquired the wolf — is totally legal, so long as the animals are killed or left wounded in the wild. Brutalizing wolves with snowmobiles and then taking possession of them while alive, however, is not legal. 

Bruce Moats, a retired Wyoming attorney who specializes in government records, said that it appears Game and Fish is construing the statute “very, very broadly in favor of keeping information from the public.” 

“And really the purpose of this — protecting the person — can’t be accomplished here anyway,” Moats said. “The whole premise of this is supposedly privacy, right? Saving people from being heckled, things like that. And you do this in a public bar. To me, it isn’t a legal thing, but this guy wasn’t looking out to hide.”

The law protecting the identity of legal wolf hunters traces to 2012, the year Wyoming gained jurisdiction over the species. A broader bill about wolves passed by the Wyoming Legislature in that year’s session included the provision. The language was added in the aftermath of an Idaho wolf hunter’s identity being posted online, which led to harassment.

Game and Fish officials did not respond to interview requests for this story. A call to a member of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission who works as an attorney also went unreturned before this story was published. 

Wyoming’s wolf statute has attracted publicity before. Game and Fish cited the statute last year as cause for ceasing communications with the state of Colorado when wolves crossed the state line and were killed in Wyoming. In that instance, state officials argued that merely confirming a wolf killing in a Wyoming county — or even the southern half of the state — violated the statute because that information could somehow identify the person who pulled the trigger.

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

 
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