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Fate of Wyoming wolf policy reform in Legislature’s hands


Wolf policy
Rep. John Winter, R-Thermopolis, sits in the back of a Wyoming Game and Fish Commission meeting in Riverton on Wednesday. Winter is a member of the Wyoming Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee, which will take up wolf policy in Wyoming as advocates say policy is in the Legislature’s hands.

RIVERTON — Keith Nelson pulled no punches.

In his mind, an alleged incident of wolf abuse at a Daniel bar had blown a hole in Wyoming wolf policy. A rather large hole.

“This guy drove a snow machine through the state statute,” Nelson told the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission on Wednesday.

Keith Nelson, of Jackson, addresses the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission Wednesday.

Nelson, of Jackson, was one of about 50 people from as close as Rock Springs and as far as South Carolina who lined up to rage about what Daniel resident Cody Roberts allegedly did to a wolf on Feb. 29: hit the canine with his snowmobile, disabled it, duct taped its mouth shut, brought it to his home and to the Green River Bar in Daniel. Roberts then allegedly killed the animal out back. How is unclear.

A Sublette County investigation is ongoing, after the Wyoming Game and Fish Department charged Roberts only with misdemeanor “possession” of a live wolf, and fined him $250, which he paid.

Animal rights groups, Wyoming conservationists and citizens around the globe have called for harsher penalties and become laser focused on Wyoming’s wolf policy. On Wednesday, they respectfully deluged Game and Fish commissioners, who are appointed by the governor, with their rage. There were no violent threats, but instead impassioned entreaty after impassioned entreaty to change policy.

But Jess Johnson, a lobbyist for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, said directing that ire at Game and Fish is misplaced

Representatives from wildlife advocacy groups sit in the front row at Wednesday’s Game and Fish Commission meeting. From right to left, Kristin Combs of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, Mark Cooke of Wolves of the Rockies, Helena Edelson of the Large Carnivore Fund, and advocate David Stalling.

Instead, she pointed to the Wyoming Legislature, which defines not only which species are “predators,” and how predators can be killed, but also where wolves are considered predators, when animal cruelty statutes apply to predators, and fines for possessing live wildlife.

Game and Fish, meanwhile, regulates things like reporting when wolves are killed and how wolves can be hunted in the 15% of the state surrounding national parks where the Legislature deems them trophy game. In the remaining 85% of the state, the Legislature considers wolves “predators” and has generally given authority for managing them over to the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.

Beyond that, the Legislature also prohibits state agencies from lobbying for themselves. Game and Fish can’t ask the state to pass a law, Johnson said, but it can say how a law will impact an agency.

“It was frustrating to sit in a room full of so much gusto to get something done and just be like, ‘This is the wrong place to have this discussion. It should not be happening here,’ ” Johnson said.

KC York, of Trap Free Montana, addresses commissioners.

Even activists from Montana questioned why the Wyoming Legislature appears to have so much control over wolf management.

“In Montana, FWP brings forth bills to the Legislature,” KC York, of Trap Free Montana, said, referring to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, the Game and Fish equivalent to the north in the Treasure State. Why, York asked, can’t Game and Fish “do that here?”

In the wake of the incident, state officials are thinking broadly about wolf policy. The governor has convened what’s been described as a group of ranchers, hunters, legislators and conservationists to discuss the incident and members have said they’re discussing wolf policy.

Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik intended to meet with that group directly after the Riverton meeting. “We’ll be talking about what we’ve heard here today and this incident,” he said.

The Wyoming Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee plans to take up wolf policy in May, according to committee Co-chairs Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, and Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody. But whether anything comes from that meeting remains to be seen. In the meantime, advocates wasted no time lighting up the Game and Fish Commission Wednesday.

“I’ve decided that I cannot give another dime to Wyoming Game and Fish until the department proposes real reform on wolf torture, until motorized killing of wildlife is banned and until there’s a prominent statement that torture and brutality are a violation of hunting ethics,” Jacksonite Jim Laybourn told the seven-member board.

Garvice Roby, a retired Wyoming Game and Fish wildlife coordinator, watches the meeting Wednesday in Riverton, where he now lives.

Garvice Roby, a retired wildlife management coordinator for Game and Fish’s Jackson office, said he wasn’t surprised by the backlash. And he thinks the department does have a role to play in policy.

“The complacency of the department in predator management is pretty evident,” Roby told the Daily after the meeting.

But he also thinks the fight will happen in the Legislature. Roby pointed out that two powerful lobbies in the state — the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association and the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association — didn’t weigh in Wednesday. He expects them to when wolf policy comes to what he dubbed Wyoming’s “Cowboy Legislature.”

“That’s where it’s at right now,” he said.

This article has been updated to correct an error. Wyoming considers wolves “predators” in 85% of the state. – Eds.

Contact Billy Arnold at 307-732-7063 or



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