Wolf’s capture, alleged abuse by Wyoming man condemned, highlights legal limitations

Wyoming authorities cited and fined the man $250, but so far have brought no other legal penalties for publicly displaying and killing wild wolf.
A wolf in Yellowstone National Park. (USGS)

by , | Apr 4, 2024 | Crime, Environment

Sublette County Sheriff K.C. Lehr didn’t know about an ugly mid-winter incident involving allegations of a tortured wolf in his jurisdiction until he read about it online in the last few days. 

The cruel capture, display and delayed killing of the wolf was investigated by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which did not publicize what happened — or even bring sheriff’s deputies into the loop.

Sublette County Sheriff K.C. Lehr in 2023. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

“They investigated, they found there was a violation,” Lehr said. “Granted, it was a slap on the hand for what seems to have happened.”

Lehr took off his sheriff’s hat, telling WyoFile that as a person he was aghast by the alleged details of the incident he’s read online: That the wolf was run down by a snowmobile, disabled, its mouth taped shut, then was brought into the Green River Bar in Daniel for cheap thrills before being shot behind the establishment. Those details have not been independently confirmed by KHOL Jackson Hole Community Radio and WyoFile.

“I don’t have anything to substantiate [the details],” Lehr said. “But if it did go to that extreme, not as a sheriff but as a hunter, as a resident of Sublette County, I find those actions very disturbing and unethical.”  

“Can there be additional charges?” he added. “I’m looking at that right now in consultation with our county attorney.” 

News of what happened to the wolf broke late last week in a report from KHOL. An anonymous tip received by Game and Fish and investigated by warden Adam Hymas on March 1 led to a probe that determined Daniel resident Cody Roberts possessed a live wolf on Feb. 29. 

Roberts declined an interview with KHOL, hanging up on the reporter. WyoFile also sought an interview with Roberts at his residence, but he was not home.

Fielding questions over email last week, Game and Fish spokeswoman Breanna Ball told KHOL that Roberts had been hunting when he came across the wolf in the “predator zone” — where there are virtually no rules on how and when wolves can be killed. Instead of killing it, however, Roberts transported the wolf alive to his residence and later a business in Daniel. 

According to the state’s account, he then “euthanized” the wolf and turned over its hide to Wyoming investigators. 

Five days after being cited, Roberts paid a $250 ticket for violating laws prohibiting the possession of live wildlife, according to Sublette County Circuit Court records. It was a bondable offense, meaning that by paying the ticket he negated the need to appear in court and that was the extent of Roberts’ legal case, now marked “closed.”

Other details confirmed by officials who investigated the incident are few. Game and Fish canceled a planned interview with KHOL last week before the story broke and denied WyoFile’s request to talk to anybody at the agency, stating that further questions have to be submitted in writing. Follow-up questions submitted by KHOL have gone unanswered for over a week. Wyoming Public Records Act requests submitted by KHOL and WyoFile as of Thursday morning have not yielded any new official information.

But late Tuesday, the Cowboy State Daily published new alleged details, claiming it had verified the information with anonymous sources. According to the website, Roberts ran the wolf down with a snowmobile, a legal-in-Wyoming practice that lawmakers have tried and failed to prohibit. The report also included details about how the wolf was brought inside the Green River Bar with its mouth taped shut before being killed behind the small town tavern. 

The Green River Bar in Daniel pictured in April 2024. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

After that, the incident went viral. A London-based tabloid, the DailyMail.com, took information from the Cowboy State Daily and lifted photos of Roberts from his Facebook page, an account that was subsequently disabled. 

By midday Wednesday, the phone lines at Green River Bar were ringing regularly with upset people from around the country, a WyoFile reporter who visited the establishment observed. Some patrons were upset that one man’s actions were fueling outrage that was being directed at the bar.  

Condemnation of the wolf-torturing allegations swirling well beyond Sublette County is coming from almost everybody who hears of it — not just animal rights activists. 

“To me, that does not represent sportsmen, it doesn’t represent hunting,” said Bob Wharff, a former state representative from Evanston who used to preside over the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife — a group that advocates for wolf hunting.  

“That’s just a bonehead thing to do,” Wharff added. “In no way, shape or form is that cool, I don’t care what circle you walk in. That’s not appropriate.” 

Other well-known hunters who caught wind of the incident likewise denounced Roberts’ alleged actions. 

Randy Newberg, a wolf hunter who hosts popular hunting podcasts and television programs, told WyoFile that all wild animals deserve respect. The Montana resident worries that these types of incidents hurt the cause of hunting generally. 

“It diminishes the very valid claim we have for being some of wildlife’s greatest allies,” Newberg said. “I don’t know that anybody could look at [that incident] and say, ‘This is good for the future of hunting.’” 

Lehr, the Sublette County sheriff, said that the incident hurts Wyoming’s case for managing controversial large carnivores.

“With wolves, with brown bears, this definitely could set the state back,” he said. “It already has. I’ve taken calls from New York, New Jersey, Colorado.” 

Non-hunting wildlife advocacy groups are already making plans to pursue policy changes in response to Roberts’ actions. 

A lone wolf stands out on the horizon in Sublette County in 2017. (Mark Gocke/Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

Lisa Robertson, who founded the Jackson Hole-based group Wyoming Untrapped, told WyoFile that she’s going to try again to prohibit the practice of running over coyotes and other species like wolves with snowmobiles. 

“We need to immediately do something about this,” Robertson said. “We have a draft bill ready to go.”

“It may not happen — it’s Wyoming — but I think everybody can agree this was one of the most horrible incidents we’ve ever seen,” she added. “No living being deserves to be tortured on purpose.”  

Wyoming’s animal cruelty laws are another realm of the statute books Robertson wants lawmakers to strengthen.

Additional prosecution of Roberts is looking unlikely, Lehr said, because the current statutes mainly apply to household domestic animals and livestock. There’s even a clause in the animal cruelty laws that states they shall not prohibit the “hunting, capture, killing or destruction of any predatory animal or other wildlife in any manner not otherwise prohibited by law.”

“Right now, I don’t know if there’s anything else he can be charged with,” Lehr said. “However, I’m working with the county attorney to see if animal cruelty would apply — if that’s a possibility.” 

This story is a collaboration between KHOL and WyoFile.

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About Mike Koshmrl

Mike Koshmrl reports on Wyoming's wildlife and natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures for the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Find him on Twitter at @Koshywrites, or reach him directly at mike@wyofile.com

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