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Gordon expresses support for criminalizing the killing of wolves with snowmobiles


A wolf in Yellowstone National Park’s Hayden Valley. (Ashton Hooker/National Park Service)

By Billy Arnold
Jackson Hole News&Guide
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — In his first interview about wolves since a Daniel man brought an injured, muzzled wolf into a Sublette County bar, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signaled support for criminalizing the killing of wolves with snowmobiles.

“I don’t think there’s any reason why people need to run over animals,” Gordon told the Jackson Hole Daily at the Wyoming Sportsperson Conservation Forum, held Wednesday in Dubois.

“So can we stop that entirely?” Gordon said. “No. But if that happens, we should be able to do something penalty-wise around that.”

Gordon’s statement Wednesday was the first time the governor has spoken with a reporter about the incident. 

It was also the first time Gordon indicated what he was thinking about policy reform, other than his belief that the Wyoming Legislature should lead any reform effort — a belief that he reiterated Wednesday. But Gordon said he doesn’t believe that Wyoming’s wolf management is flawed writ large.

“Wyoming’s wolf management is a success,” the governor said.

In contrast, the incident in Daniel is about “an individual that did something that nobody felt good about,” Gordon said.

Gordon’s comments came about a week after a legislative committee formed a working group to study enhanced penalties for possessing a live wolf and penalties for displaying a live animal. 

The chair of that committee, Rep. Liz Storer, D-Jackson, has, however, said she sees the group’s task a bit more broadly. Her framing question is, “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?”

On Friday, Storer told the Daily she is still hammering out some details before the committee first meets, ideally in June. She’s consulting with the Ruckelshaus Institute at the University of Wyoming to get advice on how to facilitate the group, making sure other members of the group agree with her framing question, confirming who will participate, and finding a time, place and schedule for a series of meetings.

Her goal is to make recommendations to the Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee by its September meeting in Cheyenne. The co-chair of that committee, Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, tasked Storer with leading the wolf group.

In late February, Daniel resident Cody Roberts captured a wolf in Wyoming’s “predator zone,” brought it into his residence and later into a local business — the only details that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has confirmed about the case. Wyoming laws protect people who kill wolves legally, and the state has said those laws apply.

Game and Fish fined Roberts $250 for possessing a live wolf.

Subsequent reporting from WyoFile and the Cowboy State Daily, however, alleged that Roberts ran the animal over with his snowmobile, disabled it, and brought it inside the Green River Bar in Daniel. A photo surfaced showing Roberts with the wolf, mouth duct taped shut, and a video shows him kissing the wolf. Another video shows the wolf shock collared, muzzled and leashed, lying on a floor.

The incident has spurred international outrage and calls for Wyoming to reform policies that allowed Roberts to get off with such a small fine. Running “predators” over with a snowmobile is currently legal, and the state has said animal cruelty laws don’t apply to predators.

Wildlife advocates, former Game and Fish biologists, and a host of onlookers have called on Wyoming to apply animal cruelty statutes to all animals, and ban people from killing predators with vehicles, a practice known as “coyote whacking.” In response, some influential legislators have called for expanding penalties for possessing a live wolf, but stopped short of endorsing environmental groups’ advocacy.

The Wyoming Legislature defines not only which species are “predators,” but also how predators can be killed, where wolves are considered predators, when animal cruelty statutes do and don’t apply to predators, and fines for possessing live wildlife.

Wyoming considers wolves trophy game animals, closely monitors their population and closely regulates hunting in the northwest corner of Wyoming outside of national parks and the Wind River Reservation. In the remaining 85% of Wyoming, the state deems wolves “predators” and allows them to be killed with few restrictions and no limit.

While Gordon has said he wants the Legislature to take the lead, he said Wednesday that he is a part of the conversation. Members of a separate group that he assembled after the incident went public have spoken in unison, urging legislators to avoid a “knee-jerk” reaction; to view the issue as separate from hunting or predator management; and to ensure the response didn’t undermine Wyoming’s wolf management.

Gordon said his team is not “hands off.”

“We’re very much engaged in the conversation,” he told the Daily. “We’ll continue to work on ways to make an adjustment.”

Gordon, however, said he alone cannot make laws.

“That has to be done by the Legislature,” he said.


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