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Official: Snowmobiler who abused, killed wolf in Wyoming would face much larger fine, prison in Colorado

Snowmobiler who abused, killed wolf in Wyoming would face much larger fine, prison in Colorado
Snowmobiler who abused, killed wolf in Wyoming would face much larger fine, prison in Colorado 00:37

A Wyoming man who was fined $250 after he reportedly hit a wolf with his snowmobile, transported the animal to his home and later showed it off at a local bar before killing the animal would encounter much greater penalties had his alleged offense been committed in Colorado, a state wildlife official confirmed.

The ongoing case - and the demands for revisions in Wyoming's state statutes coming from some sectors of the public since the incident went viral this month - illustrates the distinct difference in animal protections between Colorado and its neighbor.    

The Wyoming man, identified by Cowboy State Daily as Cody Roberts, was issued a misdemeanor citation by the Sublette County Sheriff's Office following the Feb. 29th incident. His offense: Possession and transportation of live, warm-blooded wildlife.    

A man identified as Cody Roberts of Daniel, Wyoming, poses with a wolf inside a bar after reportedly injuring the animal with his snowmobile and taking back to his home and then parading it at the establishment. Authorities say Roberts later euthanized the wolf. Roberts was ticketed for a misdemeanor and fined $250. Cowboy State Daily

In Colorado, such actions would first be prosecuted federally at the behest of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Travis Duncan of Colorado Parks and Wildlife told CBS News Colorado, because gray wolves are currently protected under the service's Endangered Species Act. Following a conviction for the illegal possession of an endangered species, a person could face a fine between $2,000 and $100,000 and up to a year behind bars, Duncan said. Hunting privileges can also be suspended.

Additionally, state officials could also pursue animal cruelty charges against someone accused of similar actions to those alleged in the Wyoming incident.

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Neither federal or state laws apply in most parts of Wyoming like they do in Colorado, however.

Federally, the gray wolf was delisted from Endangered Species Act in Wyoming (as well as Montana, Idaho and portions of Oregon, Utah and Washington) by Congress in 2011. The bill was introduced as a provision during federal budget negotiations. After Congress passed it and the legislation survived court action, it went into effect in 2012. 

It was the first time and only time, according to the International Wolf Center, that Congress removed a specific creature from the list on its own rather than accept or deny proposals from Fish and Wildlife.

There is still federal protection of wolves inside the Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks. Plus, wolves can only be hunted during certain times of the year and only with permit requirements and limits to the number taken. 

There is no hunting of wolves on the Wind River Indian Reservation, either. 

But in the rest of the state - 85% of the it, as reported by Cowboy State Daily - is classified as a "predation zone." Within these areas, there are no limits to the killing of wolves.

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According to Cowboy State Daily, Cody Roberts was reported to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department by an anonymous source the day after the Feb. 29 incident. According to that outlet's account relayed by two anonymous sources and a report from Wyoming Game and Fish, Roberts, who was hunting at the time, injured the wolf with his snowmobile. Roberts later brought the wolf to his home in Daniels, in southwest Wyoming, then to a local watering hole where at least one photo and video were recorded with him posing next to the wolf. The wolf's mouth was taped shut in the photo shared with CBS News Colorado.

Roberts allegedly took the wolf behind the establishment and shot it, fatally, later that day.

More recent reports from Cowboy State Daily link to videos that have since emerged. One allegedly shows the struggling wolf lying on the floor of the bar, its mouth covered in a black muzzle. Another has Roberts bending down to kiss the snarling but prone animal on the snout. 

The Sublette County Sheriff's Office stated recently it is coordinating with Game and Fish to further investigate the wolf's death and, along with the local district attorney's office, whether further charges are warranted.    

Some in the legal field believe they are.

"My sense," said Tom Delehanty, a senior attorney in Earthjustice's Rocky Mountain Office, "just from reading Wyoming's animal cruelty statute, is that it applies to Cody Roberts. "The statute carves out hunting, capture, killing, etc. of predators that's done 'in any manner not otherwise prohibited by law.' But Roberts' behavior was already found to be 'otherwise prohibited' because he was cited for violating laws against possessing live wildlife.  So he shouldn't be shielded by that carveout."

"I believe Colorado's state laws would interpret this horrific incident as a clear violation of criminal law," wrote Lindsay Larris, the Denver-based Conservation Director for Wild Earth Guardians. "I am unfamiliar with state animal cruelty laws in Wyoming but, in Colorado and many other states, mandatory mental health evaluations are standard with crimes involving such depraved cruelty to animals. We know the link between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans (especially as related to child abuse and domestic violence) and ignoring this reality makes the wolf killing incident in WY even more disturbing."

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A screenshot of a video released by Colorado Parks and Wildlife shows Gov. Jared Polis opening the latch of a kennel housing a gray wolf, releasing it onto public land in Grand County on Monday, Dec. 18, 2023.  Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Rob Edward is Strategic Advisor and co-founder of the Durango-based Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, an organization devoted to repopulating wolves through the northern Rocky Mountains. That effort, too, separates Colorado from Wyoming to a large degree.

"From my perspective, it is important to note that Colorado isn't in the same legal boat as Wyoming because our cultural ethos has evolved beyond the 1800s. Wyoming, on the other hand, revels in anachronism. The chest beating and faux repentance of Wyoming's pols, pundits and even their Game & Fish Department over this incident rings very hollow given that killing wolves by any means, at any time of year is legal throughout all of the state outside of Yellowstone.  

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Much of the general public has reacted with more intensity.   

A Facebook page has been created for the sole purpose of berating the bar.

Meanwhile, the sheriff's office posted on social media last week with a plea for restraint. 

"(O)ur Office as well as Game & Fish have been inundated with thousands of calls and emails about the situation from all over the world," the office stated. "We have become aware of a number of individuals who have resorted to threats of violence as their means of expressing frustration. Please understand that such actions endanger the lives and the peace of the residents of Sublette County, State and County employees, and innocent people outside Sublette County not at all involved in the situation. Threats of violence against Mr. Roberts or his family are also not appropriate. Additionally, expressions of violence and harassment can also result in hindering law enforcement investigations as potential witnesses choose not to come forward or cooperate for fear of retribution."

In March, two Wyoming congressional representatives endorsed a letter to the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting the agency abandon its consideration of relisting wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

"Decisions from Washington that led to listing and delisting this species created a mess of management practices that the states have been left to clean up," Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis wrote. "Wyoming has managed wolf populations to appropriate levels. Best management practices are led by people in the State who are directly impacted and have spent many years balancing stakeholder priorities...We request that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife continue to honor Wyoming's state management of its wolves."  

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