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Gray wolf abuse sparks investigation in Wyoming

An investigation is underway into possible 'animal abuse' of a wolf in Wyoming. (Gary Kramer/AP/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
An investigation is underway into possible 'animal abuse' of a wolf in Wyoming. (Gary Kramer/AP/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Earlier this year, a man named Cody Roberts allegedly ran over a gray wolf with a snowmobile and then brought it to a local bar.

A video shows the injured animal tied up on the floor. In a photograph, you can see its mouth taped shut. Later, the man allegedly took the wolf outside and killed it. His punishment? A $250 fine for illegal possession of a live animal.

The local county district attorney says an investigation is underway. But animal rights advocates say this is an obvious case of animal cruelty and are demanding that lawmakers do something about it.

Rob Wallace, the Wyoming governor’s chief of staff in 1995 when wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone, condemns the “cruel and indefensible” incident.

“That’s not who Wyoming is as a state. We have a very strong record in wildlife conservation and stewardship,” Wallace says. “It was an act that just caught everybody off guard.”

Hunting is a cherished tradition in Wyoming; ranchers can legally shoot wolves threatening their livestock. But the act of torturing a wolf inside a bar makes this a case of animal cruelty, according to Wallace, who recently oversaw the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Trump administration.

Much of the public’s outrage centers around the $250 fine Roberts received for the crime. The governor, the state’s wildlife committees, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission are looking at the case, Wallace says.

“I think there’s going to be a concerted effort to see how something like this fell through the cracks of our existing laws,” he says.

Gray wolves in Wyoming were removed from the endangered species list in 2017, so the state now manages its wolf population after many years of federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. But because of this incident, new lawsuits suggesting that the state shouldn’t bear that responsibility anymore have been introduced.

Wallace says wolves are doing well in Wyoming.

“In 1995, when I was working in Cheyenne, the Fish and Wildlife Service brought 31 wolves in from Canada with the idea of populating Yellowstone [National Parl],” he says. “In the preceding years, up to 2024, there [are] over 500 wolves in the ecosystem ranging far and wide from Yellowstone.”

Wolves are a contentious species in Wyoming to many who see them as pests, notably ranchers concerned with losing livestock.

Wyoming must continue to balance species conservation with the needs of ranchers, Wallace says.

“There’s no debate that the wolves have been a constructive addition to Yellowstone National Park,” Wallace says. “And there’s also no debate that they’ve also left the park and are now preying on livestock way far from the park.”

Wolf populations are growing across the Western United States. In the eastern Arizona mountains, for example, the Mexican gray wolf is protected by the Endangered Species Act, but its population is booming. A Fish and Wildlife Service wolf manager there told Here & Now that soon there will be wolves from the Canadian border down to the Mexican border, which could potentially cause more conflicts.

As the wolf population grows, interested parties need to have more conversations about how to manage the species, Wallace says.

“Years ago when I was first getting interested in government, there was a lot of worry in Wyoming about the grizzly bear, the bald eagle, the whooping crane, the black-footed ferret, and the wolf, who wasn’t at the time even in Yellowstone,” he says. “All of those species are thriving now, thanks to wise management and cooperation with the state of Wyoming and the federal government. So I’m upbeat that these problems are going to resolve themselves in a very constructive way.”

Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Micaela Rodriguez. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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