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Gordon: Legislature should lead on wolf policy reform

(Photo courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

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

JACKSON — After a Daniel man’s treatment of a wolf set off international outrage, Gov. Mark Gordon wants the Wyoming Legislature to take the lead when it comes to reforming the Equality State’s wolf policy.

After the incident, wildlife advocates have called on the state to, at a minimum, extend animal cruelty protections to “predators” and ban people from running over wild animals with snowmobiles.

Gordon has met with a group of stakeholders twice to discuss how to respond to the incident. But the governor is not yet taking a position on what the future of Wyoming wolf policy should look like.

“We’re aware of what the calls are,” said Michael Pearlman, Gordon’s spokesperson. “But ultimately the decision about whether they’re going to make changes has to come from the Legislature, and I think the governor wants to have people work this issue without involving himself at this juncture. He’s really respectful of that process.”

As a start, Pearlman pointed to the Wyoming Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee, which met this week in Cody to talk about wolf policy and other issues. 

The committee’s chairs have both told the Jackson Hole Daily they’re interested in some type of reform. The committee’s co-chairwoman, Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, is currently interested in fines, not changing animal cruelty statutes or banning snowmobile killing.

“I wouldn’t jump on board with either of those right now,” she said.

Daniel resident Cody Roberts set off the firestorm when he captured a wolf in Wyoming’s “predator zone,” brought the animal into his residence, and later into a local bar. Those are the only details that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which originally investigated the incident, has confirmed. Wyoming laws are protective of people who kill wolves legally, and the state has argued that those laws apply here. 

For his actions, Game and Fish fined Roberts $250, a misdemeanor charge for the possession of a live wolf.

Schuler wants to see fines for that crime increase, possibly to $5,000.

“The repercussions need to be very steep,” she said. “Hopefully that would deter any other bad actors.”

Reporting from the Cowboy State Daily and WyoFile has, however, alleged that Roberts ran the animal over with his snowmobile, disabled it and brought it to the bar before killing it out back.

Photos have emerged showing Roberts posing with the wolf.

Videos have also shown Roberts kissing the wolf, and the wolf in a public place, muzzled, leashed and shock-collared.



In 85% of the state, including Daniel, Wyoming considers wolves “predators,” meaning they can be killed without limit and with few restrictions. In those areas, hitting a wolf with a snowmobile is legal. Past attempts to ban the practice have failed.

Those details have caused outcry, both in Wyoming and elsewhere, as well as calls for larger policy reform than Schuler described.

They also have led to online nastiness.

In the wake of the incident, Pearlman said, the “only communication” the governor’s office has received from the general public are “hateful, vitriolic threats.” The Game and Fish Department and the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the incident, have reported similar threats, and a strong law enforcement presence was sent to the April Wyoming Game and Fish Commission meeting in Riverton.

But people from all over the United States spoke peacefully in Riverton. Many spoke with state officials in the room before and after public comments. Wildlife advocates have also held separate, private meetings with the governor’s staff to discuss their concerns.

Still, Pearlman painted today’s committee meeting as a place for a measured, policy-focused conversation.

“The governor’s feeling is before we can discuss reform or changes to policy, we need to be able to have the discussion in a thoughtful way. That’s why we’re looking forward to tomorrow,” Pearlman said Monday. “The hope is there could be a thoughtful discussion about policy reform that could be introduced or take place. What we were hearing before that was a lot of strong, knee-jerk reactions and demand for policy changes. And that’s not a way to make a good policy.”

The meeting, which is set to start at 8:30 a.m., can be watched online at TinyURL.com/wylegyoutube.

Public comment will be taken in person and over Zoom, though the committee plans to cap public comment at 20 minutes to leave room for other items on the agenda.

Legislative leadership, which sets the interim agenda for lawmakers to consider between sessions, did not make wolf policy one of the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee’s interim priorities. Schuler said leadership reminded her of that while she planned the meeting.

“It’s an important issue; it’s not something that we just want to zip through,” she said. “We just don’t want it to be another two-hour odyssey.”

 

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