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Prompted by Wyoming wolf incident, lawmakers tackle predator policy changes

In wake of worldwide outcry over small penalties for Daniel man who muzzled and paraded a live wolf, legislative group mulls fortifications in Wyoming law.

Allegations that a Wyoming man captured, tortured and killed a wolf have sparked outrage across the world and prompted a wave of social media posts. One image published by Cowboy State Daily purports to show the man, Cody Roberts, posing for a photograph next to a wolf with its jaws taped shut. (collage by Tennessee Watson/WyoFile)

by Katie Klingsporn, WyoFile

A legislative working group on Tuesday drafted fortifications that tweak and clarify penalties regarding treatment of the state’s predators. The actions come in the aftermath of worldwide outrage over a Wyoming man who only received a citation after he ran down, muzzled and paraded a live wolf in a Daniel bar.

The Treatment of Predators Working Group, which consists of lawmakers, wildlife officials and stakeholders, zeroed in on two Wyoming statutes with the intention of prohibiting the prolonged suffering of predators. The group drafted language that would make it illegal to allow taken animals to suffer or live unduly before dispatching them. 

“The fundamental goal here is to try to change behavior and to stop this right in its tracks, and I think we’re getting closer,” said group member Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson). 

The group did not hear from the public during Tuesday’s meeting in Lander. But it has received much written feedback, Chair Rep. Liz Storer (D-Jackson) said.

Comments, Storer said, have mainly emphasized two points. The paramount concern is one of animal welfare and the practices people believe represent mistreatment of animals. The second is frustration over the lack of fair chase demonstrated by running down an animal in a snowmobile, possessing that live animal and putting it on public display.

“There has been a pretty significant outcry about the events that took place earlier this year,” she said. “It’s our job really to see if there’s anything we can do to address that.”

(Storer also serves as the President and CEO of the George B. Storer Foundation, which is a financial supporter of WyoFile.)

Global repudiation  

On Feb. 29, Daniel resident Cody Roberts hit a live wolf with a snowmobile, muzzled the injured animal and took it to a bar, where it was videotaped and photographed, before killing it. 

Roberts admitted his actions to a Game and Fish game warden, and was cited and fined $250 for illegal possession of a warm-blooded animal. When the incident was publicized about a month later, it spread like wildfire and provoked fierce and widespread condemnation and a boycott of Wyoming. The state temporarily halted tourism promotion as a result.

A wolf is photographed at Yellowstone National Park. (Jacob W. Frank/NPS)

Wyoming officials have joined the chorus of repudiation, but say state laws prevented steeper penalties for Roberts. That’s where the working group comes in. 

The Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee created the working group in May “to look at a few issues, mainly [an] enhanced penalty for having a live wolf,” according to Chair Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody), who introduced the idea. 

Along with a handful of legislators, the group includes Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik, Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Doug Miyamoto, a representative from Gov. Mark Gordon’s office, Wyoming Stock Growers Association representative Jim Magagna and Wyoming Wildlife Federation representative Jessi Johnson. 

One step at a time

When the group met Tuesday, members made it clear that they were not there to put livestock protection, hunting or predator management on trial. What happened in Daniel, they stressed, had nothing to do with any of those.

“The activity that gave rise to this … it was not hunting and was not predator management,” Nesvik said. 

Current law allows people to kill predatory animals — which also include coyotes, raccoons, skunks and stray cats — without a license. Hunters, ranchers or others are allowed to use any “flying machine, automotive vehicle, trailer, motor propelled wheeled vehicle, or vehicle designed for travel over snow” to do so.  

Animal cruelty is a criminal offense under Wyoming’s criminal code, though the laws appear to be written to address domestic animals, not wild animals. Animal abuse statutes exempt predatory animals from animal cruelty.

Members decided first to address the behavior of keeping an injured animal alive with changes to ensure that taken animals are quickly and humanely killed. 

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik testifies at the Wyoming Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee meeting in Evanston in June 2023. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

“The issue is the mistreatment of a live animal,” Magagna said. If a person injures or takes a predatory animal, he said, there should be requirements that he or she makes good-faith efforts to quickly end its suffering.

After wrestling with language, the group proposed tweaking Game and Fish regulations on taking predatory animals to mandate that a person who injures or disables an animal by use of a ground-based vehicle shall immediately make a good-faith effort to kill the animal. The group also opted to address the predator exemption in the animal cruelty statute, and inch up some fines and penalties.

Next up 

The second big issue, the actual method of taking an animal via snowmobile, “I think that’s more thorny and I think that’s complicated but I do think that is worth looking at,” Nesvik said. 

Other members echoed that. Storer said there have been many calls to outlaw the method completely, but ranchers employ the practice to protect their livestock. 

“That doesn’t necessarily sit well with me, that method of take,” Johnson added, “but I do understand the need for it on the agriculture side of stuff.” 

However, the working group only agreed to draft language that would address “prolonged suffering,” not the use of vehicles to kill predators. It will ask for public and agency feedback and will review later in the summer.  

In a letter to the group, Gov. Mark Gordon encouraged “narrow, focused conversations on wanton animal cruelty. Punish unacceptable behavior and deter acts of animal cruelty without interfering with the ability to manage predators. Any effort should uphold Wyoming’s values of private property rights and our well-established heritage of conscientious management of our remarkable wildlife.”

He also urged them to resist being influenced by the threats to boycott Wyoming or the mischaracterization of Wyoming people. 

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.