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Wyoming author C.J. Box talks about the Sublette County wolf incident

A man looks in the distance with a cowboy hat, red shirt and jean jacket on with a hillside behind him.
Courtesy of C.J. Box
Wyomingite C.J. Box is a New York Times best selling author who has written dozens of books about a fictional Wyoming game warden.

The Sublette County wolf incident has seen massive backlash and fallout, and many across the globe are struggling to understand Wyoming's wolf laws and culture. Wyoming has had a long and complicated relationship with wolves.

To try to unpack that Wyoming Public Radio reached out to Wyomingite and New York Times bestselling author C.J. Box.

Box has penned more than 30 novels – many focusing on a fictional Wyoming game warden known as Joe Pickett, who deals with all sorts of adventures. In writing these books, Box has extensively researched Wyoming’s wildlife culture and the jobs of real-life game wardens.

Wyoming Public Radio’s Caitlin Tan speaks with Box about his take on the recent wolf incident.

Editor's Note: This story has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Caitlin Tan: Can you give us your general take on what happened with the wolf incident in Sublette County?

C.J. Box: I was kind of shocked by it actually. I'm aware of wolves, of course. I know people who have killed wolves – there have been wolves killed not far from where we live on the Colorado-Wyoming border. But I was shocked by the cruelty of it, and the fact that there were images of the injured wolf all over the internet, and it went internationally.

Like I said, I was shocked. Not that anyone would kill a wolf, but that they would display an injured animal like that and torture it on on video.

CT: In your research and time spent in Wyoming, have you ever heard of something like this happening before – wolves or otherwise?

CB: Actually, no. It's not to say it's never happened before. But I have never heard of someone basically gathering up a severely wounded animal, taking it to a bar, taking pictures of it, and playing with it and torturing it for the amusement of the people inside. No – I've never heard of that happening.

CT: Could you talk about the concept of why some people view predators differently than prey – especially here in Wyoming?

CB: Predators can do harm to livestock, pets and people, whereas prey certainly can't. I mean, it's pretty basic human reaction that you think differently about an animal that can potentially kill you than one that is likely to run away.

I know it goes a lot deeper than that, and everything gets very political and polarizing when it comes to issues like grizzly bears and wolves. I explore those things in my books and try to do it in a fair and nuanced way. But it's a matter of what can eat you and what you eat.

CT: As you're saying, it can get so political and emotionally charged. Even before this incident, a lot of people have pushed for Wyoming to reform its laws around wolves. Post this recent incident, many groups are even more vocal. For example, in Wyoming, 85 percent of the state or so is in the predator zone, and in this area it's legal to run down and over a wolf with a snowmobile, which is allegedly what happened in this incident. So some want to see that outlawed.

Some want to see Wyoming’s gray wolf put back on the endangered species list, which would hand control over of the wolves from Wyoming to the feds.

And many are angered about Cody Roberts, the man who allegedly did this, that he was fined $250 by the Wyoming Game and Fish for possessing a live warm blooded animal. They think it should have been a higher amount or possibly even jail time.

C.J., do you have any thoughts on this? Or do you think any of these changes would be a good fit for Wyoming?

CB: Well, wolves in Wyoming and in Yellowstone have been controversial since Yellowstone National Park wolves were “reintroduced” [in 1995]. It's been controversial for a lot of different reasons. Some people just simply hate the idea of wolves anywhere. I’m more in the other camp. For example, I spent time in Yellowstone and I knew people there who had seen wolves in the park before they were “reintroduced.” But then when the federal government decided to add more wolves to that very small population, that to me seemed almost like an unnatural act.

But I think because they're so controversial, and there's been so many laws and discussions about it, I think a pretty good compromise has been reached in the state of Wyoming, where wolves are perfectly fine within the Greater Yellowstone Area, but considered predators outside of that. I think a lot of people weighed in to come to that end decision. It's probably the most practical way to go forward.

CT: C.J., you referenced this earlier, there's a lot of people who don't like wolves, they don't want to see them in Wyoming. Can you speak to that and maybe just get into the thought process there?

CB: There are people who feel that wolves can threaten them, their kids, their livestock, their pets, and therefore they don't want them around. I think the current laws and regulations in Wyoming are probably the best solution to that, that wolves can thrive in certain parts of the state where they've adapted and would be considered predators in other parts where they haven't adapted. I don't have the answers, but I do know, it's really isn't a black and white issue.

CT: There is so much anger on both sides – multiple sides of this issue. There are a lot of people who don't live in Wyoming that are chastising the whole state, that are lumping us all into kind of this action of this one person. Can you talk about that and your thoughts on Wyoming's track record of wildlife management?

CB: Well, I think the track record of wildlife management is very good overall. An incident like this tars everyone. It does anger me that a lot of the headlines I saw about this incident, referred to the guy who killed the wolf as a hunter – that's not hunting. Every hunter I know of, if they wound something, they'll try to dispatch that animal as quickly and humanely as possible – not take it back, not show it off, not take pictures with it – that's not the behavior of a hunter.

It’s very unfortunate that some people paint the entire state of Wyoming as filled with these types of people. I have never met one. I've never met a person who's wanted who really actively seemed to enjoy torturing wildlife,

CT: You touched on the reintroduction history. Is there anything else you want to add for context to Wyoming's history and culture with wolves? And why it is complicated? There's a big agriculture industry in the state as well, and trying to get all of these things to coexist can be complicated.

CB: It is complicated. It's very complicated, and it can be nuanced. I remember I was at a book signing last year in Dallas, and a woman in the front row said, “I hope you don't have wolves do bad things in your books, because I love wolves.” That kind of mindset where they like the idea of wolves – maybe they've never seen one, maybe they never seen what a wolf can do to a calf or a moose – but just simply loves these creatures and almost think of wolves in a godlike way, that's too far to the other side, I think.

Wolves are wolves – they're predators, they're carnivores. Wolves will do what wolves do, and they won't stop. But if there's common sense management of wolves, the harm can be mitigated. And I think that's what we've got here [in Wyoming]. And unfortunately, this incident threw a very, very bad light on the whole thing.

CT: Is there anything else you want to add? Or do you think this will provide any fodder for future books for you?

CB: I would probably not use this incident in a book because I would not want locals to be portrayed in that manner. Because I don't think – no, I know – that most people in Wyoming appreciate the outdoors. Many are hunters, many may be opposed to wolves, but they don't torture wounded animals. And that's not something that normal, well-adjusted people do.

CT: Any speculation or thoughts on how you think this might play out?

CB: I could see a push for stronger fines or penalties for someone who tortures wildlife on screen and broadcasts it. But I also think there's always the danger of an overreaction to a single incident when it, as far as I know, has never happened before, and I hope would never happen again.

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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