Saturday, September 20, 2014

MT man brags on Facebook that he ran over wolves


HELENA, Mont. — A Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks law enforcement official said Friday the agency is "looking into" a Missoula anti-wolf extremist's Facebook claim that he purposefully ran down a pair of wolves on an interstate highway near the Idaho-Montana border.

Montana FWP Region 2 Warden Capt. Joseph Jaquith said they were aware of Toby Bridges' Facebook post, in which he brags about killing two young wolves with his wife's van. "We're trying to determine, first of all, what exactly we can do with something somebody says on Facebook with no other physical evidence," Jaquith said. "Whether or not it's true remains to be seen."

Bridges, who runs an anti-wolf website and Facebook page called Lobo Watch, on Tuesday posted pictures and described in graphic detail how he accelerated his vehicle in an apparent attempt to intentionally run down the wolves on Interstate 90.

Bridges did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Bridges described a scene in which he claims a group of wolves were chasing a cow and calf elk across the highway about 4 miles east of Lookout Pass. Bridges said he "let off the brake and hit the accelerator." Bridges said his vehicle was driving approximately 55 mph "when suddenly four young wolves shot right out in front of me. "There was no time to hit the brakes (like I really would?) and I heard two distinct loud 'thumps,'" Bridges wrote.

In graphic detail, Bridges described the scene and the sounds the badly injured wolves made in agony. According to his narrative, Bridges then pulled his vehicle over to take pictures of the scene.
"While I snapped a few photos, I heard the pup howling in distress ... and a few minutes later I heard quite a ruckus up above ... then all went quiet. I do believe that the adult wolves finished off their severely injured (sic) offspring."

Early on in the post Bridges said he accelerated toward the wolves, but later claims striking the wolves with his car was an accident. Jaquith said "in general" it is illegal to intentionally run animals down with a vehicle. "It's very unsporting, regardless of how you feel about wolves or lawful means for harvest of wolves, certainly running them down on the highway is not what we would accept," Jaquith said.

Last year a federal prosecutor charged six members of a Montana Hutterite colony for killing and burying two grizzly bears after chasing them down in vehicles until the bears succumbed to exhaustion. The colony was fined nearly $20,000 in the deaths.

Wolves are no longer managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services after they were removed from federal Endangered Species Act protections through a rider Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., attached to 2011 budget bill.

Brooks Fahy, of the national wildlife conservation organization Predator Defense, said Bridges' post is part of a growing online "subculture" of individuals who post graphic pictures and stories of predators being purposefully maimed, tortured and killed in online forums and on social media sites.

In recent years, federal Forest Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services agents have come under public scrutiny after posting graphic pictures online of wounded predators in traps. In one instance a federal Wildlife Services agent posted photos of his domestic dogs attacking a coyote caught in a leg-hold trap. "To me it's like a hate crime," Fahy said. "You look at the language in these posts and it starts feeling very psychopathic."

Fahy also questioned whether state and federal wildlife protection and law enforcement agencies are doing enough to try to curb the illegal killing and torturing of wolves and other predators. Fahy said as the controversy surrounding wolves continues to build, wildlife agencies appear to be turning a blind eye to disturbing online posts.

Jaquith said FWP is taking the matter seriously, but at the same time he defended Bridges' "right to free speech." "This is a very recent thing. We're not going to rush into it," Jaquith said. "We're going to look at it, we're going to see exactly where it falls. We've had incidents where it takes a little bit of time to figure out what we're going to do about something. We're taking a look at it. We're not turning a blind eye to it."

Adams also reports for the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune

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