Toby Bridges won’t be charged for running down two wolves on Interstate 90 last month because an investigation found no evidence that he did.
Bridges, the Missoula man and a leader among anti-wolf extremists, posted pictures on Facebook with a claim that he hit two wolves on the Montana side of Lookout Pass on Sept. 14.
“At the end of the day, we had nothing even remotely resembling proof beyond a reasonable doubt that it happened the way it was purported,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 2 Warden Capt. Joe Jaquith. “There was just no physical evidence to back it up other than the photo of him on the side of the road with a wolf, and there’s plenty of alternate explanations for how that could have happened.”
Wardens searched for other witnesses and worked with the Montana Department of Transportation to find some. None came forward.
Jaquith said FWP took its evidence to the Montana Highway Patrol for a second opinion. Officers trained in accident investigations concurred with the conclusion that sufficient proof was lacking. So did the Mineral County Attorney’s Office, which reviewed the investigation.
Bridges presides over Lobo Watch, an anti-wolf website and Facebook page. He made the post on Sept. 16. FWP became aware of it the next day and investigated it the day after that.
The carcass of a wolf was found near the westbound lane at mile post 3.5, just where Bridges said he’d hit two young wolves of four that “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 posted.
He said in his mirror he saw an “almost black 50-pound wolf spinning around in the middle of the highway – with one very apparent, very badly broken back leg. In the other, I saw one slightly smaller wolf rolling onto the shoulder.”
The first wolf was dead, and Bridges said he stopped to take pictures. While doing so, he saw the other pup climbing up the hill and dragging a broken leg. He heard it “howling in distress,” then a ruckus that he took to mean the adult wolves had “finished off their severely injured offspring.”
FWP investigators said the carcass of the wolf they found along the highway four days later “had the same color of fur and was about the same body size” as the one in Bridges’ pictures, Jaquith said. “But it was dessicated to the point of being like a piece of leather on the side of the road. There was no way it could have gotten (in that condition) in that short period of time.”
Wardens searched but found no sign of the second wolf’s carcass up the hill or “anywhere in the area,” he said. It’s theoretically possible the adults could have eaten their injured young.
“But is it likely that you transfer from one event to the other that quickly? That they would make essentially a beeline back down around to do that? That strikes me as odd,” Jaquith said.
Further, when investigators looked for any sign of damage on Bridges’ vehicle, none was found.
“All I can say is that after looking at the vehicle and examining the photographs, he may have claimed to have done it, but his vehicle doesn’t have any indication at all that he just struck two animals at highway speed,” Jaquith said.
Bridges didn’t return requests for comment Friday afternoon. Wardens interviewed him and used his photographs for further investigation by MHP and wildlife specialists.
Jaquith said Bridges was cooperative. “He just reiterated essentially what he said on his Facebook post.”
Bridges has posted several times since about the reaction stirred up by the Sept. 16 post.
His most recent one on his personal Facebook page was Wednesday, when he wrote: “I want to personally thank all of you wolf loving fools. You’ve been very good for business over on the LOBO WATCH Facebook page. Over the past week, your ignorant remarks about wolves have added more than 400 new WOLF CONTROL followers ... and I only had to ban 150 or so wolfaboos. You people are your own worst enemies ... please, please keep it up.”
Jaquith said it’s illegal in Montana to harass or intentionally kill wildlife with a motor vehicle and FWP takes such reports seriously.
“People are free to express their mind or say anything they want on the Internet, but we aren’t,” he said. “We have to collect facts and present facts.”
If there is more evidence than simply a claim and some photos on the Internet, “we take action on it,” Jaquith added. “But at the end of the day, if we’re standing there with nothing more than Internet posts, well, we’re not going to convince a jury anywhere in the United States that that’s sufficient to prosecute somebody.”