Wolf’s capture, torment puts Wyoming on path toward legal reform

By Mike Koshmrl, WyoFile.com
Posted 5/23/24

STATEWIDE — A group of state lawmakers, agency heads and industry and advocacy group lobbyists will meet in coming months to assess laws related to the now infamous capture of a wolf that was …

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Wolf’s capture, torment puts Wyoming on path toward legal reform


STATEWIDE — A group of state lawmakers, agency heads and industry and advocacy group lobbyists will meet in coming months to assess laws related to the now infamous capture of a wolf that was kept alive while gravely injured and brought to a Sublette County bar for a local residents entertainment.

That incident, which occurred Feb. 29, incited global condemnation and even calls to boycott Wyoming as a tourist destination.

Now it has a real shot at changing state law.

Id like to assign a working group to look at a few issues, mainly [an] enhanced penalty for having a live wolf,” Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody) told members of the Wyoming Legislatures Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee on May 15.

The group, she added, could potentially examine statutes related to the public display of a live wild animal.

Newsome, who co-chairs the panel, announced the subcommittees membership: Itll be chaired by Rep. Liz Storer (D-Jackson), who will be joined by Rep. John Winter (R-Thermopolis) and Sens. Fred Baldwin (R-Kemmerer) and Mike Gierau (D-Jackson). Non-lawmaker public officials include Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik, Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Doug Miyamoto, and a representative from Gov. Mark Gordons office. Two lobbyists will join the subcommittee: Wyoming Stock Growers Association representative Jim Magagna and Wyoming Wildlife Federation representative Jessi Johnson.

Although Newsome noted specific topics for the subcommittee to examine, Storer senses the group isnt bound to only laws pertaining to wolf possession and public display of wildlife.

Sandy said to me, Heres your task,and I said, Well, the committee may want to broaden that out,’” Storer told WyoFile. I think it depends on what the subcommittee members want to do, but obviously the public discussion has been broader, right?”

Storer said that shes interested in the subcommittee exploring this question: Are Wyoming statutes adequate to ensure the humane treatment of predators while recognizing the need to address the predation of livestock and other issues related to predator management?”

Daniel resident Cody Roberts admitted to Game and Fish investigators that he took possession of a live wolf by hitting it with a snowmobile, reportedly until it was so injured it could barely stay conscious. (Video of the wolf lying listless on the floor of a local bar lends credence to the allegation.) Past legislative attempts at prohibiting the practice of running over predatory species like coyotes with snowmobiles have failed, but its another legal matter the new subcommittee could revisit.

Is there an appetite to draw the line differently than we do now?” Storer asked. Id have to go study the statutes, but if I had to guess, the exemptions for predators probably predate the manufacture of snowmachines.”

Retired Laramie veterinarian Donal OToole testified about motorized harassment of native predators” to the committee during the Tuesday portion of its meeting.

We have a statewide problem of recreational abuse of wildlife — they just happen to be predators,” OToole said. The truth is its not that difficult an issue. It just takes one or two lines to amend our animal cruelty statutes. All you need to do is to write that purposeful harassing, torturing and killing predators by motorized vehicles is illegal in this state.”

Nesvik, the Game and Fish director, updated the committee on Wyoming wolf issues. During that discussion Tuesday he touched on the Sublette County incident, suggesting that there was no need to quickly change the law.

Theres not an urgent crisis to make a change tomorrow,” Nesvik said.

Comments from Nesvik and others who testified about acting fast in response to the Daniel wolf incident were shaped by a Gov. Mark Gordon-assembled stakeholder group charged with devising a response to the Sublette County wolf incident, according to reporting in the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Members of that stakeholder group and the new legislative subcommittee partially overlap: Nesvik, Magagna, the governors office and Wyoming Wildlife Federation are a part of both groups.

Robertsillegal possession of a gravely injured live wolf was not publicized for a month, until after it was reported by KHOL Jackson Hole Community Radio. He was cited and fined $250 by a Wyoming Game and Fish Department warden on March 4.

Sublette County prosecuting attorneys, who were not informed of the incident until after it blew up in the news, disagree with Game and Fish about whether species classified as predators are covered by animal cruelty statutes.

Its an active investigation thats ongoing and charges are possible,” Sublette County Prosecuting Attorney Clayton Melinkovich told WyoFile on May 15.

Newsome initially announced a working group,” but it was changed to a formal legislative subcommittee at Rep. Don Burkharts (R-Rawlins) urging. Thatll bring transparency to the process, because meetings will be noticed and open to the public, Storer said.

The subcommittee is likely to meet once or twice in June, then report its progress to the broader Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee at its July 9-10 meeting in Casper. It likely wouldnt be until September that the committee would work through bills that would be introduced during the Wyoming Legislatures 2025 general session, which begins in January.

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