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Display of a captured wolf in a Wyoming bar brings outrage

 Daniel, Wyoming is part of a tight knit ranching community in western Wyoming
Caitlin Tan
/
Wyoming Public Media
Daniel, Wyoming is part of a tight knit ranching community in western Wyoming

Wyoming is home to hundreds of wolves, most live in or near Yellowstone National Park. They’re protected and a big tourist draw.

But elsewhere in the state wolves are still often reviled as predators and a threat to the livestock industry. So killing wolves in most of Wyoming is legal year-round without a license.

But one man who did that recently is now under investigation, after the animal’s death sparked outrage around the world.

Video shot inside a bar in Daniel, Wyo., population 108, in late February shows a muzzled and leashed wolf that looks to be injured, lying on the wooden floor. Bar patrons chatter in the background. Another video shows it attempting to snarl momentarily, but then submitting to a man grabbing its snout and leaning down to kiss it.

Cody Roberts in an image from a video in which he brought a live wolf into a bar in Daniel, Wyo., in February 2024.
screenshot by NPR /
Cody Roberts in an image from a video in which he brought a live wolf into a bar in Daniel, Wyo., in February 2024.

That man is Cody Roberts, who’s from a longtime local ranching family. Local media reports say Roberts ran the wolf over with a snowmobile, which is legal in Wyoming if the animal dies.

But this wolf didn’t die that way. A source who requested anonymity for personal safety reasons says Roberts shot the animal later that night. But it’s what happened at the bar before he shot the wolf that has become a huge story.

Someone at the bar that night reported Roberts to local game wardens. They ticketed him for illegally possessing a live wolf, and he paid a $250 fine.

Global threats

Jackson Hole Community Radio broke the story a month after the incident. In April, videos of the bar incident surfaced and spread online internationally.

Cody Roberts isn’t talking to reporters, but people all over the world are talking about what happened at the bar in Daniel.

“I've had death threats from Ireland, Russia, Japan, Australia,” said another man who happens to be named Cody Roberts, but had nothing to do with the incident, is not related to the other Roberts, and lives about 100 miles way in Thayne, Wyo.

“I don't know how many thousands of messages I've had,” he said, exasperated.

Some people have mistaken his Facebook page for the other Roberts.

“Like this one just says, ‘You're a psychopathic wolf torturer kill yourself,’ ” he read.

People have threatened his family too — sharing his parents’ phone number online and even threatening to “run his grandson over.”

Roberts said he has responded to every message explaining that he is not the same guy.

“One lady even went and said, ‘I don't care if you're not the right one, do me a favor and put a bullet in his head and this will all go away,’ ” Roberts read.

He said he’s also disappointed in what the other Cody Roberts did, but he actually thinks these threats are worse.

“Does he deserve everything that he's getting? No, I don't think he does,” he said. “You know, he's still a human.”

“Boycott Wyoming” has become a trending hashtag. Another graphic circulating shows the Wyoming flag, with the words “Wyoming the animal abuse and torture state” superimposed upon it. The Wyoming Office of Tourism Facebook page is flooded with similar comments. The page normally posts almost daily, but went silent for almost all of April.

Local businesses are also facing backlash, including one-star reviews being left for some businesses only because they are in the same area as the incident.

Local anger

Cali O’Hare has had to write about it as the sole newsroom employee of the local paper, the Pinedale Roundup.

 The reporter for the Pinedale Roundup newspaper says she's faced local backlash for writing about the wolf incident
Caitlin Tan / Wyoming Public Media
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Wyoming Public Media
The reporter for the Pinedale Roundup newspaper says she's faced local backlash for writing about the wolf incident

“There's all kinds of letters I’ve gotten. I got one that was like, ‘The world is watching you.’ You know — so no pressure,” O’Hare half-joked. “It's not only a man's reputation, his family and their livelihood on the line, but it's also the reputation of the community — and the perception from the rest of the world.”

In this tight-knit community known for cowboys and sprawling sagebrush, this level of attention is unheard of. Not to mention — everyone knows everyone.

“I mean, I joke, it's three degrees of separation,” O’Hare said, adding that she knew Roberts before any of this happened. “It is truly one of those, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.”

O’Hare said locals have condemned her for covering the incident. They did not like hearing about an incident that cast a shadow over one of their own, and the resulting global backlash to their community.

One comment she got reads, “Go practice real journalism Cali O’Hare, you b***h on a witch hunt for a man's family.”

Others asked O’Hare to stop the coverage, one accused her of not being objective or embellishing.

“I'm just doing my job. It's not personal. And I have great empathy for all of the folks involved in this,” she said.

The motorcycle brigade

On Memorial Day weekend, the local frustration moved beyond keyboards to in-person in Daniel.

For weeks, wolf advocates from across the country, including a motorcycle brigade from Texas, planned to drive through Daniel to raise awareness and money to reform Wyoming’s wolf laws.

 

 Police escort the motorcycle protest brigade through Daniel, Wyoming on May 26, 2024
Caitlin Tan / Wyoming Public Media
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Wyoming Public Media
Police escort the motorcycle protest brigade through Daniel, Wyoming on May 26, 2024

On the day of the event, a throng of locals came out, but only a handful of out-of-state advocates. The single-lane highway through town was lined bumper to bumper with trucks, livestock trailers, semis and hundreds of people, mostly locals. The day was peaceful, but tense.

“We have a great community. The people are the best,” said Lonny Johnson, a local farrier wearing a tan cowboy hat and purple silk scarf. “That's why we're here. No other reason than that.”

That was the main sentiment: Locals are tired of outsiders giving them a bad name. Many residents said they think Roberts is a good guy, he just made a mistake.

“Boys and booze and wolves obviously didn't mix up well,” said Pat Johnson “What was wrong about it was bringing it to this d*mn bar.”

But, there were a few Wyomingites who felt differently.

“I’m not too happy with what Cody Roberts did,” said Gary Garlick, from the nearby town of Big Piney. “There's a lot of ranchers that are upset with him as well. They're concerned about predator control, but what he did was a little out of line.”

He said he wished it had not come to this — a national protest in the tiny cow town.

 Cattle ranching is important to Wyoming's economy and culture
Caitlin Tan / Wyoming Public Media
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Wyoming Public Media
Cattle ranching is important to Wyoming's economy and culture

Two women from California stood in front of the Green River Bar, sneaking by the giant livestock semi-trailers blocking the parking and street-side view of the infamous bar the wolf was brought into. They posed with red duct tape over their mouths — just like the tape that bound the wolf’s mouth in one of the leaked images.

“We drove 13 hours to get here,” Holly Smallie said, as a few local trucks blared their horns in the background. “Wolves are magical. We don’t deserve them. We’re no better than them. You live, you coexist, you care about wildlife.”

Smallie did not mince words — she thinks what Roberts did was torture and it needs further punishment.

The motorcycle brigade itself was short-lived. It took about one minute for six motorcyclists and several cars, one with a sign reading, “Stop wildlife cruelty," to be escorted through town by police.

The local crowd mostly booed, blatantly giving a thumbs down. Some called out, “That’s it?” Another said, “And I canceled church for this?”

But, the wolf advocates said they raised $130,000 that they hope will reform Wyoming’s laws, so that in the future something like what Roberts did would amount to a much higher penalty.

The investigations

Even though Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department said they punished Roberts to the fullest extent of the law with the $250 ticket, the Sublette County Sheriff’s Department is not so sure. They opened an investigation into Roberts in April to see if any other laws could apply to the case. That investigation is still ongoing.

But that isn’t the only investigation. Apparently, there have been an unprecedented number of death threats resulting from the case, said Travis Bingham, the department’s public information officer.

“Like the Sublette County Library has zero to do with it, but they're getting them [threats],” Bingham said. “But the list goes on — his family members, citizens and town business owners.”

He added that many of the death threat investigations are not wrapped up yet either.

Additionally, the Sheriff’s Department, which serves a county of less than 10,000 people, has received thousands of frustrated emails, social media comments and phone calls, Bingham said.

“We've had them from back East to Texas to California, Washington, D.C., New York, Florida, was the majority,” he said, “We did receive a couple emails from out of the country, like Europe and Australia.”

The calls were clogging up their 911 services, so the department set up a separate tip line. Outsiders, like some at the motorcycle brigade, want Roberts to be arrested, and many are saying Wyoming’s wolf laws should be changed.

“A pretty good compromise”

“An incident like this tars everyone,” said C.J. Box, a popular Wyoming author who has penned dozens of books following a fictional game warden. He has extensively researched Wyoming’s wildlife culture and laws, including those about wolves.

Box said people may not like Roberts — and Wyoming — being attacked by outsiders, but that does not mean they are defending what he allegedly did with the wolf.

“That's not hunting,” Box said. “Every hunter I know of, if they wound something, will 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.”

He added that he thinks Wyoming’s wolf laws are a “pretty good compromise” — protecting the predator in much of the state’s northwest corner near Yellowstone National Park, and allowing them to be hunted in most of the rest of the state.

But this incident has state lawmakers looking at making changes. They recently formed a committee with stakeholders, specifically looking at the treatment of predatory animals. Any official changes to state law would come next year during Wyoming’s legislative session, at the earliest.

Meanwhile, wildlife advocate groups have filed a lawsuit to list the gray wolf in the multi-state northern Rocky Mountain region as either endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Currently, the species is protected under the act everywhere but that region. If the plaintiffs win, Wyoming would lose its authority to allow wolf hunting, with regulations being set and enforced by the federal government.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Caitlin Tan
Caitlin Tan is a journalism major and Wyoming native completing her final semester of college. She adores mountain biking, riding horses, trail running, a hot cup of tea and all activities involving her dog Delilah. She is aspiring to be a journalist and to continue traveling the globe. [Copyright 2024 Wyoming Public Radio]