Powell man loses hunting privileges for possessing grizzly claws, eagle talons

Posted 1/25/24

Last summer, Park County prosecutors charged a Powell man with 18 misdemeanor crimes, alleging he’d committed multiple wildlife violations over the past two decades. On Monday, they agreed to …

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Powell man loses hunting privileges for possessing grizzly claws, eagle talons


Last summer, Park County prosecutors charged a Powell man with 18 misdemeanor crimes, alleging he’d committed multiple wildlife violations over the past two decades. On Monday, they agreed to dismiss 15 of the counts against Grant Cadwallader, while he pleaded guilty to the other three.

Cadwallader specifically admitted to illegally possessing grizzly bear claws and golden eagle talons and to bringing a bighorn sheep skull into Wyoming without a required tag. Under a plea deal approved by Circuit Court Judge Ed Luhm, Cadwallader lost his hunting rights for the next six years, must serve a year of unsupervised probation and pay $2,160. Ninety days of jail time were suspended.

Deputy Park County Attorney Larry Eichele said he consulted with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department “extensively” while crafting the plea deal and that the agreement had the agency’s support.

“He [Cadwallader] helped himself out by cooperating with the federal agents. And that is why … in conjunction with the investigator with Game and Fish, we came up with this appropriate resolution,” Eichele said in court.


An extensive investigation

Court records say the case began with a 2019 tip from Cadwallader’s ex-wife, who told authorities that he had illegally collected animal parts years earlier. Her report, which she made amid a custody dispute, kicked off an extensive investigation by state and federal agencies. They seized bear claws, eagle feathers and talons and three dozen bighorn sheep skulls from Cadwallader’s Willwood home in December 2019, then conducted tests and interviews in an effort to determine where the items came from.

Charging documents say officers spoke to one of Cadwallader’s hunting companions and a former coworker, who each recalled that he’d shot a charging mother bear in the North Fork area of the Shoshone National Forest years earlier. Both men said that, while the killing was never reported to authorities, they believed Cadwallader had acted in self-defense.

Cadwallader himself spoke with North Cody Game Warden Travis Crane and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Bo Stone in early 2021, doing so at the office of his then-defense attorney/now-Circuit Court Judge Joey Darrah. During that conversation, Cadwallader reportedly told the investigators that, sometime between 2002 and 2004, he stumbled upon a sow grizzly and two cubs in the Cougar Creek area of the Elk Fork drainage. According to Crane’s recounting of the conversation, Cadwallader said he’d been hunting for shed elk antlers when he accidentally came near the bears and was charged by the sow. Cadwallader fired a shot at the animal, then two more when it kept coming. The sow then ran off.

“Immediately after the sow disappeared, the cubs stood up and looked at Cadwallader, who immediately shot and killed each one of them without even thinking about it,” Crane wrote.

The warden added that, “Cadwallader felt horrible about shooting them and at what he had just done,” saying the cubs were about 30 pounds each.

The defendant then recalled finding the dead sow and removing five of its claws. 

As for why he didn’t report the incident at the time, Cadwallader reportedly explained that “he was scared of being prosecuted and going to jail.”

Federal authorities declined to pursue any charges related to the killings, but retaining the animal’s claws “ended up being illegal,” Cadwallader’s defense attorney, Tim Blatt, said in circuit court Monday. That prompted one of the guilty pleas to illegal possession of wildlife parts.


Count confusion

Two of the counts that Park County prosecutors initially filed in August alleged Cadwallader “did take” a grizzly bear without the proper license or authority. That charge and phrase is generally used in connection with the killing of an animal, which led both the Tribune to report he’d been charged with illegally killing two grizzlies. (In an apparent misreading of the charging documents, Cowboy State Daily reported that Cadwallader stood accused of “illegally killing four grizzly bears.”)

However, Eichele said this week that the counts of illegal taking were actually not connected to the bears’ deaths. State law broadly defines “take” to also include the possession of an animal, and Eichele said the two counts of “taking” actually related to the allegation that Cadwallader had collected grizzly bear claws.

“It was never the killing, it was the collecting of the parts,” Eichele said in an interview.

According to Cadwallader’s testimony, federal law enforcement officers concluded that he had killed the sow in self-defense, which is legal. Court records also show that the information about the cubs only came out during Cadwallader’s interview/proffer session with authorities, and the information a defendant voluntary provides at such a session typically isn’t used against them.

“The proffer was an issue, for sure,” Eichele said.

The prosecutor also noted differing accounts of the incident. The affidavit says Cadwallader’s coworker guessed the shooting occurred between 2015 and 2017, while the companion put it closer to Cadwallader’s recollection of 2002-2004. Neither man mentioned dead cubs.

“We couldn’t prove those,” Eichele said.

The taking charges were among those the prosecutor ultimately dismissed.


Other items

When authorities searched Cadwallader’s home four years ago, they had found some of the bear claws and eagle talons in a jar, while others were a part of “an ornate necklace,” Crane wrote in his affidavit.

Cadwallader pleaded guilty to one count connected to possessing golden eagle talons, while two charges relating to eagle feathers were dismissed.

According to charging documents and his testimony, Cadwallader was on a work trip in Utah, when he saw the golden eagle get hit by a semi-truck.

“After looking at it, it was dead, and we grabbed a talon,” Cadwallader explained in court.

As for the bighorn sheep heads seized by officers, charging documents indicate he acquired them while working out-of-state for a company that captures and radio collars wildlife for research purposes. Crane concluded that some of the heads were gathered in California, which prohibits the practice, while others came from Washington. In both cases, Cadwallader reportedly violated Wyoming Game and Fish regulations by bringing the heads into the state without a required tag.

Cadwallader pleaded guilty to one count that related to importing a head from Washington without the needed interstate game tag. Eleven charges related to other bighorn sheep heads were dismissed, but all of the seized skulls — along with the grizzly claws and eagle parts — were forfeited to the state; a black bear skull and a GPS device will be returned to Cadwallader.


The sentence

In an interview, Eichele said he viewed the six-year suspension of Cadwallader’s hunting privileges to be the most significant part of the sentence. The ban, which applies in all 50 states, also includes a prohibition on trapping, purchasing any preference points and taking any predatory animals, game birds or nongame animals that don’t require a license.

Luhm initially indicated that he would also suspend Cadwallader’s ability to fish and to collect shed antlers, but he dropped those restrictions after a request from Blatt and no objection from Eichele.

Because Cadwallader was not convicted of illegally taking wildlife, he was not ordered to pay restitution. He indicated that he will immediately pay the $2,160 in fines and assessments.

Cadwallader also offered his thanks to the judge and the prosecution.

“I really appreciate the speed and the time of getting this resolved,” he said.

“Onward and upward here,” responded Luhm.