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Lawmakers to consider changes to predator species laws

A black wolf in a grassy area
Gregory "Slobirdr" Smith/Flickr Creative Commons

Wyoming lawmakers are considering possible changes to state laws about predator species management.

This comes after global outrage over a Sublette County man captured a live wolf, brought it into a home and bar, and later killed the animal.

Members of the Joint Interim Travel, Recreation, Wildlife & Cultural Resources Committee recently discussed if there should be stricter laws around the treatment of predatory animals. They agreed to form a subcommittee to consider possible changes that could be introduced during next year’s legislative session.

It’s expected the subcommittee will meet throughout the summer. Its chair is Rep. Liz Storer (D-Jackson), and fellow lawmakers include Rep. John Winter (R-Thermopolis), Sen. Fred Baldwin (R-Kemmerer) and Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson). Other members include a representative from Gov. Mark Gordon’s office, Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Director Brian Nesvik, Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Doug Miyamoto, Wyoming Stock Growers Association Vice President Jim Magagna and Wyoming Wildlife Federation Government Affairs Director Jessi Johnson.

Wyoming has managed gray wolves in the state since endangered species protections were removed in 2012, although they were briefly reinstated from 2014 to 2017. But many across the country are saying the federal government should be in control and at minimum, Wyoming needs to reform its wolf laws. A handful of environmental groups are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reinstate federal management of the animals.

Much of the out-of-state attention stems from WGFD’s citation of Cody Roberts, the Sublette County man who captured a wolf in February. According to the department, the maximum penalty for possessing a live wolf in the predator zone is $250.

The recently created subcommittee will consider higher penalties and review animal harassment laws, which retired Laramie veterinarian Donal O’Toole says is needed.

“We have a statewide problem of recreational abuse of wildlife,” O’Toole testified to lawmakers. “They just happen to be predators.

He referenced the popularity of so-called coyote whacking, or chasing down and killing an animal by running it over with a snowmobile. Right now, it’s legal to run a predator over with a snowmobile as long as you’re in the predator zone, which encompasses the majority of the state aside from tribal and federal lands in the northwest corner. Some allege this is what happened in the Sublette County wolf case.

O’Toole said it’s an easy fix.

“All you need to do is to write that purposeful, harassing, torturing and killing predators by motorized vehicles is illegal in the state,” he said.

Separately, Game and Fish is updating wolf hunting regulations in the northwest corner of the state. It’s an annual process determining how many wolves can legally be killed in the region.

The Travel, Recreation, Wildlife & Cultural Resources Committee next meets July 9 and 10 in Casper.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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