Saturday, April 08, 2006

Court upholds dismissal of charges against wolf biologist

By BOB MOEN - Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of trespassing and littering charges against a federal wolf biologist and a private contractor who were found with tranquilized wolves on private property near Cody.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded in a ruling released Thursday that the prosecution of Mike Jimenez, Wyoming's wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Wes Livingston, a private contractor from Cody, was more an "attempt to hinder a locally unpopular federal program," than a "bona fide effort to punish a violation of Wyoming trespass law."

Rancher Randy Kruger pursued the charges after he found Jimenez and Livingston on his private land near Meeteetse Feb. 14, 2004. The men had four tranquilized wolves they were collaring because of depredation problems in the area. The incident raised speculation by some that they were trying to secretly transplant wolves into the area.

The FWS said Jimenez and Livingston inadvertently wound up on the private land while working to place radio tracking collars on the wolves. FWS regional director Ralph Morganweck apologized for the incident.

U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson later dismissed the charges, saying that federal employees acting in their official capacity cannot be prosecuted under the trespass law. He also concluded the charge was "ridiculous." Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric appealed the case to the 10th Circuit in Denver.

In a telephone interview from his ranch, Kruger said he wasn't surprised by the federal court's ruling. "They don't seem to have much sympathy for people's rights nowadays," he said. Kruger said he was uncertain whether he would pursue the case further.

Trespassing and littering are misdemeanors that carry penalties of up to $750 in fines and six months in jail.

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