Volume 3, Number 49 - March 4, 2004
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Feds trespass with wolves
A story that originally broke in the Cody Enterprise last week has ranchers abuzz on this side of the state.
Randy Kruger of the Larsen Ranch Company said in an interview Sunday that the incident took place on the afternoon of Feb. 14 at the ranch, which is located 26 miles southwest of Meeteetse on Gooseberry Creek. He was driving down the county road back into the ranch.
"I was driving up the road and I looked down in some bushes and here were these two men," Kruger said. "Here they were with these wolves laid out tranquilized, and no truck."
There were four wolves laid out in a row, tranquillized.
"I was shocked and amazed," Kruger said. "I t hought it was a really strange sight.
"The men were hiding, they were trying to stay out of sight of the road," Kruger said. Kruger stopped to see what was going on, knowing that the men were hiding in the bushes in the ranch's calving pasture - on deeded land for which they didn't have permission to occupy.
The men introduced themselves, as Mike Jimenez of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wes Livingston of Cody, who works for the aviation company Hawkins and Powers of Greybull.
"They were really acting guilty, it seems to me," Kruger said, noting that Jimenez said they were capturing and putting radio-collars on the wolves.
"It seemed odd that they would move the wolves into one spot beside the road and under two powerlines," Kruger said.
"They said the helicopter had gone to get fuel," Kruger said, so that's why the men were on foot with no transportation. "It seemed very odd to me."
The four wolves included two blacks and two grays, according to Kruger.
"They were good-sized and in really good condition," Kruger said. "They looked like well-fed animals."
Kruger said he carries a camera with him most a great deal, so he took photos of the men with the wolves, and also took photos of their location.
"I didn't tell them to get off or anything," Kruger said. "I didn't really know I could do anything with government people. ... I did explain that they were in our calving pasture."
Kruger said he's caught individuals trespassing on the ranch before and asked them to leave, but simply wasn't aware he could have told the federal official to leave.
"I was ignorant of the law," Kruger, a soft-spoken cattleman, said. "I've learned since then."
Kruger said Jimenez told him that the men had "just moved them in there from the surrounding area," which he doesn't believe is true.
Kruger said he was also told that the men had worked two more wolves; one that gotten away, while they had collared the other animal.
Kruger believes that the only logical explanation for having four tranquilized wolves lined up alongside a road with no vehicle in sight and two men hiding in the bushes is that the men had transported the wolves in from another area.
"That's what I think," Kruger said. "I can't prove that. What I can prove is that they were in our calving pasture."
The ranch is due to begin calving 350 cows in that pasture beginning March 20. Between the Larsen outfit and a few other neighbors, there will be about 1,000 head of cows in the area to give birth.
Once the wolves had recovered from being tranquillized, they "went up through our cows and stirred them up."
The cows were in a pasture about three miles away. The next morning when Kruger and his wife entered the pasture to break open the water holes, "the cows acted completely different than they have been."
A few days later, one of the neighbors drove by and reported he saw the cows chasing four wolves through the pasture. The wolves haven't been seen since, Kruger said.
Kruger said Jimenez called both Kruger and ranch co-owner Ralph Larsen to apologize for the trespassing incident. But Kruger and Larsen are pressing the matter.
"I told him it was a matter of principle," Kruger said. "We're going to do whatever we can to represent ourselves, to protest this."
Kruger has met with Park County commissioners and the county attorney to see about having trespassing charges filed against the men. He hopes a decision on that issue will be made this week.
Park County Commissioner Tim Morrison lives in the Meeteetse region also and knows the Krugers and Larsens well.
"My reaction is the utmost feelings for Randy and his family and the ranch because of the stress involved in this," Morrison said. "I know him personally. He's a good and quite man. It was very sad to see the look on his face, to see him taken through that."
Morrison isn't buying the explanations that are being offered either. While he hasn't talked with Jimenez, he said the explanations coming from FWS leave too many unanswered questions.
"It's my thought that the wolves were brought in," Morrison said. "I've got so many unanswered questions."
In a Sunday night interview, Morrison said he had just learned that another rancher had seen a federal pickup truck equipped with some sort of animal transportation facility in the area the same day the incident occurred on the Larsen ranch.
Morrison is agitated at what he views as "subjugation of the constitutional rights of a citizen of this country ... by the acts of a federal government doing the bidding of an international law."
Morrison hasn't been idle. When Kruger came to him, he took action. Morrison took Kruger's written statement and a property ownership map to the county attorney last Wednesday, then informed congressional staff members of the problem on Thursday. The county commission held a special meeting on Friday to discuss the issue as well. Morrison left a message for Governor Dave Freudenthal on Thursday morning, but by Sunday night, had not received a return call.
The commission held a second special meeting on Tuesday, agreeing to request an official congressional inquiry into the situation.
Morrison said the federal government in this case appears to have "gone too far."
He questioned, "If they can do it here, where else is it happening?"
FWS Wolf Recovery Coordinator Ed Bangs wrote in his weekly report the following: "A landowner near Meeteetse, Wyo., apparently is claiming that the FWS trespassed on his land during the routine helicopter capture and radio-collaring on the Washakie pack on Valentine's Day. False rumors quickly spread that wolves were being 'reintroduced' onto private land. This incident is being looked into and if trespass truly did occur it was completely unintentional, the Service is deeply sorry and offers its apologies, and we will accept full responsibility. We do not knowingly go onto private property without permission."
For more on the FWS explanation of the incident, see the story on page 13.
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