Monday, March 15, 2004

Wyoming rancher presses for charges; agency apologizes

A Wyoming rancher is pushing for trespassing charges against two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers found with collared wolves in his calving pasture.

On Feb.14, Randy Kruger said, he experienced "just an incredible incident."

Kruger, ranch stockholder and employee with Larsen Ranch Co., was driving on a road next to his ranch property when he spotted two men "crouched down in the brush."

"One fella kind of ducked his head like he was trying to hide," Kruger said. "I've found plenty of hunters out here, so I stopped to see what these guys were up to."

As Kruger stepped from his pickup, the two men scrambled up the embankment and introduced themselves as Mike Jimenez, Fish and Wildlife Service wolf biologist, and Wes Livingston with Hawkins and Powers Aviation.

Down the embankment Kruger said he saw four tranquilized, collared wolves lying in his pasture.

"I've never seen wolves that close before," he said. "They were very large and looked well-fed -- in their prime."

Kruger said he told Jimenez the wolves were in his calving pasture and in less than a month the pasture would be full of cows and calves.

According to Kruger, Jimenez said the wolves had traveled over the mountain from Dubois about 25 miles away.

"I had my camera sitting on the seat of the pickup," Kruger said. "I photographed Mr. Jimenez with the wolves."

Kruger didn't ask the men to leave. Instead, he left and later heard a helicopter near the area. The next day while watering range cows, he saw four sets of wolf tracks through the pasture.

Ralph Larsen, owner of Larsen Ranch Co., said representatives of the Fish and Wildlife Service called him to apologize but when asked, they had no answer for why they were on private property.

"They are supposed to contact landowners if they are going to be flying in the area, but they didn't ask anybody that I know of," Larsen said.

Neighboring rancher Frank Robbins said he wasn't surprised to learn about Kruger's encounter. Some of Robbins' property borders forest next to Yellowstone National Park and is included in the wolf recovery zone.

"They (Fish and Wildlife) don't respect private property, and they never will until someone holds them accountable," he said.

Robbins said any rancher would like to say he's sorry when one of his cows gets out on public land.

"Instead, he gets a big fine that stays on record," he said. "So I guess sorry isn't good enough."

Two days after the collared wolves were discovered on the Larsen Ranch, predator control called Robbins and reported eight wolves were on his ranch.

Wyoming has yet to submit a wolf management plan the Fish and Wildlife Service will stamp for approval. The Legislature wants dual classification, meaning wolves would be considered trophy animals in wilderness areas but predators in every other part of the state. The federal agency wants trophy classification throughout the state. Wolves would still be protected in national parks.

Robbins also said adopting the current federal plan would be "disastrous for us."

"The wolves are willing to take everything we have," he said.

Larsen and the ranch stockholders want trespassing charges to be filed against the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We've got lots of support from the locals," he said. "I guess we'll find out if we've got any rights left."

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