Game and Fish fields comments on wolf abuse case

Posted 4/18/24

During Tuesday’s Wyoming Game and Fish Commission meeting in Riverton, Department Director Brian Nesvik chose to save comments about the Sublette County wolf abuse case for last during his …

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Game and Fish fields comments on wolf abuse case


During Tuesday’s Wyoming Game and Fish Commission meeting in Riverton, Department Director Brian Nesvik chose to save comments about the Sublette County wolf abuse case for last during his director’s report.

He said the department had received significant amount of concern from the public “from all over our state, from all over the country from actually all over the world” and that the actions and behaviors of the individual involved in this case are not reflective of Wyoming’s values for wildlife.

That individual is Cody Roberts, a Daniel resident who admitted to running down a sub-adult female wolf with his snowmobile, then took the still live wolf into his possession, allegedly binding its mouth with what appeared to be duct tape, putting a shock collar on the wounded animal, and dragging it into the Green River Bar in Daniel to show it off.

Nesvik said the incident “casts a shadow over the state’s proven track record of successfully and responsibly managing our gray wolf population.”

His statement was nearly identical to that which the department released to the public late last week. When finished, Nesvik said he would stand for questions. But none came. Unlike most director’s reports, the moment was very somber.

After Nesvik stepped away, Commission President Richard Ladwig made a statement, starting with a denunciation of the actions revealed in the investigation.

“The actions of the defendant do not represent the value Wyoming people and our commission have for incredible and priceless wildlife resources. For over 100 years, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has successfully managed Wyoming’s wildlife. Wyoming has proven herself to be the gold standard in wildlife management,” he read from the transcript.

“This incident perpetrated by one individual doesn’t represent a failure of wildlife policy or management. We wish to be clear, we support the investigation conducted by the department. We recognize and appreciate the work of the department and the work of the wardens involved. We’re satisfied that every tool we have available was used and used to the best of our ability,” he said.

Roberts was fined $250 by the Game and Fish Department, the full extent of the law allowed by state statutes for possession of a live wild animal.

According to an official in the governor’s office, Gov. Mark Gordon arranged for a joint call with state officials and stakeholders shortly after the incident came to light to discuss what occurred in Sublette County.

“I want to make my position on this absolutely clear. Cruelty to any wildlife is absolutely unacceptable. This is not the way anyone should treat any animal. I am outraged by this incident, just like thousands of Wyoming ranchers, farmers, sportsmen and sportswomen, and others around the state,” Gordon said on April 9.

Like most officials, he’s disappointed in the way this has given Wyoming a black eye.

“I would be disappointed if anyone were to paint Wyoming with a broad brush and suggest that Wyoming citizens condone the reckless, thoughtless and heinous actions of one individual,” he said.

Sublette County authorities have also opened an investigation into the incident.

Yet, the story is still fresh in the minds of wildlife advocates across the country and more is sure to be heard about the case. The Center for a Humane Economy has now issued a $15,000 reward to any individual who can provide additional evidence to police and prosecutors that results in Roberts’ incarceration for at least one year “for his appalling abuse of a young, female wolf,” the organization announced Wednesday.

“Tens of millions of people are pleading with us to do all within our power to see that Cody Roberts is arrested for cruelty and sentenced to meaningful time in prison,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy.

Last week, the organization issued a legal analysis claiming there are no legal exemptions shielding Roberts from being charged under the state’s animal cruelty statute, which allows for felony-level penalties.

Wyoming Wildlife Advocates is also offering a $5,000 reward for addition footage of the incident, said Executive Director Kristin Combs.

“This egregious act of cruelty cannot be tolerated, and we will not rest until Wyoming enacts robust laws to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again. No animal should have to suffer such a fate, and we are committed to fighting tirelessly to ensure that Wyoming’s wildlife are safeguarded and treated with the dignity and compassion they deserve,” she said. 

Meanwhile, the group is pushing for a ban on trapping, the use of snowmobiles to run down wildlife and allowing the taking of wolves in the predator zone without a license and by the use of any means to kill the predator.

At the end of Wednesday’s meeting Ladwig opened up the meeting to the public. 

So many people attempted to join the department’s Zoom meeting that it caused technical difficulties as the meeting met its maximum online participants.

Many, some from states as far away as the East Coast, asked the commission to ban hunting by snowmobile and to eliminate the predator zone, which covers 85% of the state. Some asked the commission to increase fines. Others, including federal employees involved in wildlife management, said the prevailing culture of hate for the species stains the reputation of the Cowboy State and hurts the important tourism industry.

“[Tourists] speak with their wallets,” said Mike Blissett, a professional nature photographer from Cody. “Truly the world is watching. With this wolf torture incident, hashtags like #banWyoming are a very real thing,” he said, adding “a drop in tourism revenue because of this incident means a drop in sales tax revenue for the state. Then the whole state loses.”

All, including hunters and outdoors enthusiasts, were disheartened — some becoming emotional as they spoke — by the alleged capture and torture of the young wolf in Daniel.

“He [Roberts] needs to be hung by his toenails and beat with a cowboy bat, er, cowboy hat. It was an awful thing that happened,” said Phil Pfister, who is the former president of the Wyoming State Trappers Association.

Many described Roberts as a terrorist or extremist and questioned why he hasn’t been charged with felony animal abuse. Others blamed the department and the commission for allowing the use of snowmobiles or other unsporting means, like poisons, to kill wildlife deemed as predators without restrictions or limits.

“It’s a blood sport,” said Roy Pack, likening the killing of the wolf to the killing of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in 1998.

Yet one participant pointed a finger at activists. Jess Johnson said while wildlife advocates streamed into the Riverton meeting, few if any show up at public meetings during legislative sessions.

“Oftentimes I hear a pouring-out of emotion here. And then I show up at a legislative committee meeting and no [advocates] are in the room,” said Johnson, who is the government affairs director for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation.

Director Nesvik spoke at the end of the public comment period, saying he would be following up the meeting by meeting with state leaders to discuss the meeting and thanking all those in attendance for maintaining proper decorum. It has been a tough couple of weeks at the department.

“Unfortunately, not everybody we’ve heard from followed the same standards that all of you followed here today,” Nesvik said. “I have had my staff called names that I will not repeat here. I’ve had their folks call and threatened my staffs’ pets.”

Ladwig followed, saying he “probably was going to say some things that I shouldn’t.”

“I can’t believe there wasn’t more uproar with the 14-year-old boy that was stabbed to death in front of the mall in Casper, Wyoming by two other teenagers. That’s just as bad or worse than killing a wolf,” he said. “I don’t believe there has been the outrage that we’ve seen over this with that situation. That was a human being. And it just it tears my heart up. I lost a son years ago, and this whole thing is unbelievable.”

Former Commission President Ralph Brokaw finished the meeting looking to the future.

“I’m anxious to lead and I’m anxious for us to do something,” he said.