By Sarah Elmquist Squires
The Ranger Via Wyoming News Exchange 

'The world is watching.' WGF Commission over wolf case


April 18, 2024

RIVERTON — State troopers and regional law enforcement agents staged barricades and a decontamination unit at Riverton City Hall and stood poised to intervene if the dozens of death threats lodged against state wildlife officials were realized.

And while speakers filed up to the podium and zoomed into the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission’s meeting in Riverton Wednesday with decorum, the topic of the day was one of violence – what’s been described as the torture of a young female wolf allegedly run down by Cody Roberts earlier this month, its mouth then bound by tape as it was paraded to a Daniel bar before being taken out back and put out of its misery.

The story – along with images and video – has garnered international attention.

But the brunt of the matter has been the state’s response: a $250 fine and officials lamenting that’s all that can be done.

Wednesday’s public comments spanned hours and included people from across the country, many of whom said they would no longer support Wyoming tourism until regulations are changed that would prohibit running down wolves and other wildlife with motorized vehicles and cruelty against them.

“I traveled 1,800 miles to be here from South Carolina because I’m devastated from what has occurred here,” said Lorraine Finazzo, who said she and her family frequently visit Wyoming but would not support tourism in the state until something changes.

“We come to see wildlife. We love wolves and grizzlies. Knowing the state permits snowmobiles to run over animals as a wildlife management tool is appalling … We love spending time here, however this incident has tarnished the beauty. The laws must change,” she said, echoing many: “The world is watching.”

Jim Laybourn, who described himself as a third-generation Wyoming hunter, said many hunters feared that the actions of Roberts will affect hunting rights for everyone, and that he’s decided he won’t “give another dime” to Wyoming Game and Fish until something changes.

“What happened down there in Daniel is just so disgusting I can’t stop thinking about it,” he said. “If nothing happens Wyoming hunters will forever be associated with the likes of the wolf torturer … It’s a disgrace. It’s a disgrace to Wyoming. It’s disgusting and it has to end.”

The regulations – or lack thereof

After Game and Fish investigated the incident, Roberts was fined $250 for violating a law prohibiting the possession of wildlife. The agency remained tight-lipped about the case, and details slowly emerged following open records requests – which sparked further outrage.

In several videos and images, Roberts appears to have taken the female wolf who was allegedly severely injured after being run down by a snowmobile both to a residence and to the Green River Bar, where he posed with the animal, beer in hand.

The wolf was killed in a “designated predator zone,” which encompasses about 85% of the state. Within the zone, there’s no requirement for a license to kill a wolf and no restrictions on how the animals may be killed.

Because of that, officials have said they’re hamstrung to bring animal cruelty or other charges against Roberts.

Wolves were previously under federal protection in Wyoming, but that was lifted a handful of years ago; similar efforts are underway to delist grizzlies in the greater Yellowstone area from endangered species protections.

Many at the hearing called for specific reforms in Wyoming: First, they called for state leaders to prohibit running down animals with motorized vehicles – which is currently legal for dispatching predators like red fox, coyotes and wolves within the predator zone. Second, they called for animal cruelty provisions to be applied to predators.

Many of the demands fall outside the Game and Fish Commission’s authority and would require legislative action.

Dave Stalling, founder and executive director of Hunters and Anglers for Wildlife Management Reform, said gray wolves and the way they are managed aren’t based on science, but on negative views about the animals.

“There is this culture of hatred for wolves throughout the hunting community,” he told the commission. “The way we manage wolves isn’t based on science, it’s based on politics driven by fear, lies and hate … It violates the public trust.”

Keith Nelson likened the Daniel incident to a PR disaster, one that, had it happened in the private sector, would have prompted changes and action to handle it.

“Here, I see finger pointing,” he added. “We need all hands on deck … Protect these critters.”

Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris guide Jocelyn Stokes said wolves and grizzly bears are some of the most prized animals for visitors who travel from all over the world to see in Wyoming, and those tourists bring the state billions.

“The whole world is now looking at us to see how we’re going to actually protect our apex predators in a sustainable, thoughtful and moral way,” she said, adding, “This is not a one-time thing. This has been happening; this is going to continue to happen if we don’t address it seriously.”

“This happened on public land,” noted Nick Gevock, Sierra Club Northern Rockies field organizer. “This is everybody’s land, everybody’s wildlife.”

More blowback

The Wyoming Office of Tourism’s Facebook page is normally peppered with colorful photos and videos of wildlife and landscapes that tourists flock from near and far to see.

But lately, comments there fall into two categories: Those demanding heavier prosecution for the alleged wolf torturer, and those vowing not to set foot here.

“Do your research before traveling to Wyoming,” one poster advises. “There is no way I will set foot in your state until that psychopath is prosecuted for animal abuse,” states another.

The Daniel incident has produced headlines and memes shared across the globe, and tourism officials fear the story may impact an industry that brings more than $2 billion to the state’s economy annually.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Jack Bales warned the commission that the uproar was far from over.

“This will be the event that defines Wyoming for a generation,” he said, adding that officials can expect outrage plastered to “every billboard coming into Wyoming.”


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