From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 35 - November 26, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

SCSO to develop wolf protocol

by Cat Urbigkit

Sublette County Sheriff Hank Ruland told participants in Saturday's Sublette Wolf Forum in Pinedale that the sheriff is normally seen as the highest law enforcement officer in the county, but when it comes to wolves, the federal government does have some jurisdiction.

Even though the feds have jurisdiction, Ruland said citizens should call his department to be involved in situations involving things like dead wolves, if nothing else than to serve as a "buffer between the citizens and the federal government."

"I would be glad to play that role," Ruland said. Ruland posed a hypothetical in which a landowner calls in the feds over a dead wolf on their property, and "you got into it with them and I'm not there.

"If we were there, we could intervene, and step in and become a watchdog over that, and be the ones to go court and testify," Ruland said.

Ruland said since FWS does have some jurisdiction, "Ideally it's best if we can work them (cases) together. That's what our goal would be."

Ruland cautioned that he doesn't want people to call his department every time a wolf runs through their meadow, noting his personnel now respond to about 3,000 calls per year.

"If you get one (wolf) murdered, or if a wolf bites you, we would at least want to get the wolf, see if it had rabies, and protect our citizens," Ruland said.

Sublette County Farm Bureau President Jim Urbigkit noted that a few years ago, FWS killed a wolf near Cody because the agency determined it posed a human safety risk because it was habituated to humans. Urbigkit said that in the past, there have been wolves that came from Yellowstone National Park, entered Sublette County and were seen hanging around residences and school bus stops.

"Have you discussed taking any action against a habituated wolf that is not showing the appropriate fear of people in this county, to protect health and safety of the people who live here?" Urbigkit asked.

Ruland responded, "We've really never discussed that, with my staff however with more and more wolves that come in, I can see that could be a problem."

"If a bad guy comes after you with a gun, you have the right to protect yourself," Ruland said. "Why would a wolf be any different than a bad guy? You have the right to protect yourself ... "

But whether that wolf poses a threat to human safety poses the issue of whether a person has the right to take action against the animal. Ruland said that if called on a wolf threatening a human case, "We would go out and assess it and take the appropriate action."

Ruland said that it's really no different than if a bad guy were sneaking up on someone to shoot them: "I am obligated to shoot the bad guy."

Joe Sampson said the wolf is a federally protected animal that is not going to wait around for the deputies to arrive.

"I've already been in my corral with a wolf," Sampson said. "They've been around my house, constantly, around my house."

Ruland said it is his job "to serve and to protect." The fact that a wolf is standing on your porch may not be enough to justify shooting the animal, but if it was threatening a person, that's another matter.

"If he was threatening me, I'd certainly shoot him," Ruland said.

Urbigkit said: "You would never allow a grizzly bear to hang out around a school bus stop and you wouldn't allow a habituated mountain lion to hang out where kids are playing. And we don't in this state, but these wolves are allowed to hang out anywhere. They are a threat to human safety, and that is wrong."

Ruland responded that the threat to human safety has to be assessed. He posed another hypothetical in which on a Monday he is called out because a wolf is seen hanging out near the school bus stop, watching the kids get on the bus. The wolf is there again on Wednesday, again watching, but not moving towards the child. But on the third day, the wolf is there again, the wolf begins moving in closer, getting braver and braver, Ruland said, "somewhere along the line, I have to make a decision whether there is imminent danger.

Urbigkit said, "Well, you're waiting too long."

It was reported at the wolf forum that several areas of Idaho have closed remote bus stops because of the presence of wolves, and Urbigkit predicted Wyoming will face the same thing.

"I don't think we need to wait for a wolf to chase a kid," Urbigkit said.

Ruland questioned how often such situations occur, noting, "No one has ever called me on a wolf call."

Lander's Dorothy Bartholomew asked if Ruland's department has a policy for dealing with federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Ruland said he does, one that requests notification of their operations in Sublette County.

She asked if Ruland will request FWS provide that notification to his department, to which Ruland said, "Yes I am."

Fremont County Commissioner Cros Allen posed another hypothetical for Ruland, in which dogs were caught in a pasture harassing livestock. In that case, the landowner could shoot the dog or a county deputy could shoot the dog.

But what if the dog were a wolf? Then added legal considerations are involved: only the landowner could shoot the animal and only if it were caught in the act, not running away from the scene.

Allen said this hypothetical "illustrates the frustration and the ridiculousness ... of the authority of the fed government. It's just not right, sheriff."

Ruland said: "You bring up a very valid point."

He noted that the county is experiencing increasing problems with grizzly bears killing cattle. "I'm wondering when are we going to have the first human," Ruland said. "It's the same thing with the wolf, I'm worried about that.

"I believe that as an elected official ... I have some obligation to the people, again to protect and to serve them. If the wolf is out there endangering the cattle, why couldn't you label that with at least the same status as a dog? ... I understand why .... because you can go to a federal penitentiary."

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