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  • Writer's pictureCat Urbigkit

Washington Post Circulates Misinformation in Wyoming Wolf Column



I have a Letter to the Editor in today’s Washington Post, providing criticism of a Pulitzer-winning columnist for her misinformation-riddled column about Wyoming’s wolf management that served to feed online outrage against Wyoming. (You can read the letter at the link provided in the previous sentence.)


The Post’s editing process was interesting as editors shortened and attempted to cushion my criticism. It proposed changes to my letter that perpetuated the falsehoods included in the original column, but fortunately I was able to persist using facts to support my claims.


The Post inserted a hyperlink to the word “Wyoming” in my letter that links to an article about activists suing to get wolves in the Northern Rockies back under federal protection. I argued that a more appropriate link to inform their readers would be to Wyoming’s wolf management plan, but the Post rejected that edit in favor of the link that only briefly mentions Wyoming.


In the end, the edited letter did little to correct the record. What the public will remember is the claims made by the prize-winning columnist, not a Wyoming rancher’s letter to the editor that points out the falsehoods.

Here's the unedited version of my letter:

 

Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker is horrified at the alleged torture and killing of a wolf by a Wyoming man – and rightly so. But Parker used easily disproven and distorted claims to support her call for policy reform, while inaccurately dubbing Wyoming’s wolf management structure a “wolf-elimination policy.”


Parker points out that no license is required to kill a wolf “in predator zones,” which cover 85 percent of the state. Wolves have dual status in Wyoming: as a trophy game species where their take is strictly regulated, and as a predator where take is unregulated. The “predator zone” is singular zone, where indeed no license is required.


Critically, Parker failed to provide important context that most of Wyoming’s wolf population occurs within the trophy zone; that little of the predator area has been determined to be suitable wolf habitat; and that although wolves can be killed at any time in this predator zone, some wolves do indeed reside there.


As the federal court decision upholding Wyoming’s dual wolf status noted, within northwestern Wyoming, wolves are classified as a trophy game animal and are under the management authority of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WG&F).

Within the remainder of the state, the court stated: “The remaining area, which covers only 19% of the State’s suitable wolf habitat, would be designated a predator area in which wolves could be killed with few restrictions.” The court noted that even if all the wolves occurring in the predator zone were killed, “the remaining wolves in Wyoming would be sufficient to maintain a recovered population” and “the species would not become endangered even if every single wolf there were killed.”


Parker claimed, "In 2021, the Republican-led legislature passed a law calling for the extermination of 90 percent of the state’s gray wolves,” but that’s simply not true. The law was enacted in Idaho, not Wyoming. But Idaho’s law didn’t call for the extermination of 90 percent of Idaho’s wolves – that is language promoted by wolf advocates and repeatedly parroted by news media outlets without checking the facts.


Parker also discounted the reason why wolf hunters’ identities are protected in Wyoming as “thanks to a 2012 law passed after the harassment of an Idaho wolf hunter whose name had been posted online.”


The context is entirely lacking – it wasn’t in response to just one man being harassed.

 

That year, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead was busy negotiating a plan for Wyoming to maintain at least 100 wolves (and 10 breeding pairs outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation). Mead’s plan had to be approved by the Wyoming Legislature, before the federal agency would take action to delist wolves.

 

By the time the legislature convened in 2012, Wyoming had at least 230 wolves in 38 packs, and the region’s wolf population totaled nearly 1,700. While the Wyoming Legislature was considering legislation to codify Governor Matt Mead’s negotiated agreement with FWS over Wyoming’s plan to allow for the dual status of wolves while maintaining at least 100 wolves (and 10 breeding pairs outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation), wolf advocates were naming and shaming a National Forest employee in Idaho who posted a selfie with a wounded wolf in a trap behind him. There were international calls for the man to be fired and to go to jail, although an investigation didn’t find that he had done anything illegal. 


It wasn’t the first such public outing of a wolf hunter in the region. A wolf advocacy website listed the names of every hunter that had killed a wolf in Montana in 2009, noting “This is public record, anyone has access to this information.” The first Idaho hunter to report a wolf kill in 2009 was flooded with nasty messages and led to that state’s passage of a law exempting identifying information about hunters from public disclosure and outlawing hunter harassment via telephone, email or website posting.


Using state public records laws to gain the information, a Boise, Idaho wolf advocate posted the names of all 122 people who reported killing a wolf in Idaho in 2010, and purchased an ad in a newspaper directing readers to that website.


It was in that context that the Wyoming Legislature enacted a law requiring that any information regarding the killing of wolves in Wyoming to only be released in its aggregate form, with no release of information of a private or confidential nature.


After noting that the killing of wolves in Wyoming is not public record, Parker then makes this illogical claim: “This applies even to wolves killed in neighboring states.” Wyoming law doesn’t apply to wolves killed in Colorado, so this statement another falsehood.


Parker also claims, “Wyoming hunters have killed Colorado wolves that wander too close to the border,” while neglecting to mention that wolves that leave Colorado are not “Colorado wolves” but are “Wyoming wolves.”


While wolf advocates have long decried Wyoming’s predator zone by claiming it hinders wolf expansion into other states, that claim has long been debunked. Wolves that originated in Wyoming (living and traversing through the predator zone) moved into Colorado and produced Colorado’s first reproducing wolf pack in recent times. The moment those wolves stepped into Colorado, they became Colorado’s wolves. But when the animals step back into Wyoming, they are Wyoming wolves once again.


Parker discredits Wyoming’s wolf policy based on her overall lack of knowledge but then proceeds to promotes the unjustified “let’s hope national authorities move quickly.” Wyoming has a felony animal abuse statute, and the Wyoming wolf case is currently under investigation. The accused has a right to the due process of the law, and Parker’s call for federal intervention is both premature and unjustified.


Perhaps if she were more knowledgeable about Wyoming, Parker would have pointed out to her readers that WG&F has no management authority for wolves in the predator zone, but the agency issued a citation for the illegal possession of a live wolf, a violation for which the agency does have jurisdiction.


How the animal cruelty case proceeds will be largely dependent on the findings from law enforcement officials, the prosecuting attorney, and ultimately a judge or jury.


WaPo didn’t practice due diligence in fact checking Parker’s column. Wyoming’s reputation has been harmed not just by the actions of the accused, but by wolf advocates and media that continue to promote falsehoods.

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