By Nicole Rivard

The late Alaska wolf biologist Gordon Haber understood wolves as emotionally rich creatures who form complex societies. His year-round wolf observations in Denali National Park eventually led him to choose “family” when describing a group of wolves, rather than “pack.” Haber considered the latter a misleading and pejorative term that feeds the simplistic and inaccurate stereotype of wolves as vicious “killing machines.”

In his seminal 1996 article that appeared in the prestigious Conservation Biology journal, he confirmed that “high intelligence, expressiveness and unusual emotional depth enable wolves to maintain sophisticated social bonds,” adding that this extraordinary sentience provides an ethical reason for not allowing them to be persecuted with mass killings.

“To treat them otherwise is wrong,” stated Haber, who had decades of experience studying wolves in Alaska, including conducting a number of scientific studies that challenged the state’s wildlife agency, which advanced wolf control. Friends of Animals also primarily supported years of Haber’s studies.

That’s why we know Haber would be as sickened as we are by the February killing of an adolescent Wyoming wolf by a deranged man named Cody Roberts. Roberts first crushed the young wolf with his snowmobile, then taped her mouth shut, and while she was in agony, paraded the animal around a bar while he drank beer and posed for photos. Then he took her outside and shot her.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department fined the killer just $250 for illegal possession of live, warm-blooded wildlife like a fine for a mere traffic violation. This lenient penalty communicates a strong message to all: Wyoming is a playground of impunity to continue such acts of obscene cruelty.

Friends of Animals pressed the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and the Sublette Country Sheriff’s office to bring animal cruelty charges against Roberts and to pass laws that would better protect Wyoming’s predators in the future—such as prohibiting the sick practice of running down predators using snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles. It’s still unclear if the Sublette Country Sheriff’s Office will press charges.

What is clear is the nine-member Treatment of Predators Working Group, which last week held its first meeting to take a stab at reforming Wyoming’s predator laws, likely has Haber turning over in his grave.

They think protecting predators like wolves means specifying how quickly an animal that’s mowed down and injured by a snowmobile must be killed after.

“Immediately” would be the new time frame.

God forbid these people outlaw running over a wolf with a snowmobile altogether.

They’re more concerned with keeping their meat industry cronies happy because those yahoos are allowed to run predators over to protect their doomed cattle and sheep. Forget about ethics and morals. For the record, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife data, the percentage of cattle killed by wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain states is less than 1 percent.

Jess Johnson, Wyoming Wildlife Federation’s government affairs director, said at the working group meeting: “While I am uncomfortable with running an animal over intentionally, if they die quickly, I’m still okay in that sense,” she said.

“We’re on thin ice when we start legislating about ethics and morals,” said Senator Fred Baldwin.

What is this? Lord of the Flies.

In a state that has created a wolf-hunting free-for all, it is disgraceful, but not shocking, that officials are avoiding the greater opportunity to tackle moral responsibility. It’s also not surprising they’re still ignoring decades of evidence that demonstrate success in utilizing non-lethal predator management methods.

Wyoming appears to only care about quieting down what is a PR catastrophe for their state.

But FoA, like Haber, will continue to defend wolves and other persecuted predators and rail against the lawmakers and ranchers who wage war against them.

The consensus of this working group was to start small, with potential for larger changes in the future. And while their efforts are too small for our liking, it’s promising that the working group did opt to address the predator exemption in the animal cruelty statute. It’s imperative to set a plan of action and reform legislation to safeguard predators and all wildlife from targeted cruelty.

Our Wildlife Law Program’s legal analysis suggests Roberts still could be prosecuted under the state’s animal cruelty statute, which provides for felony-level penalties. The drafters of Wyoming’s animal cruelty statute intended to exempt hunting from criminal prosecution. But Roberts’ actions between the time he hit the wolf with his snowmobile and killed her are not remotely related to hunting.

Wyoming’s legislature did not intend to exempt such depravity and cruelty from felony prosecution. There is no reasonable reading of the statute that exempts Roberts’ actions from prosecution for felony animal cruelty.

What is the definition of animal cruelty if not this?

Seeing the worldwide backlash over this tragedy, we can only hope the torture and killing of this wolf fosters a greater public understanding of and respect for predators, particularly wolves.

This crime just goes to show that humans are the killing machines, not wolves.