Wolf researcher plans to sue WSU, vacate position


DES MARKS | Daily Evergreen file

Robert Wielgus, associate professor of Wildlife Ecology and director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at WSU, discusses the lethal removal of the Profanity Peak wolf pack during an interview on Aug. 29 in his office.

ALYSEN BOSTON, Evergreen news editor

The WSU wolf researcher who criticized the lethal removal of the Profanity Peak wolf pack in August plans to sue the university for denial of free speech rights and leave his teaching position.

Robert Wielgus, director of WSU’s Large Carnivore Conservation Laboratory, said the university discredited and suppressed his speech after he spoke to The Seattle Times last summer, and again when he emailed a public statement to the Washington Wolf Advisory Group in March.

The university released a statement disavowing Wielgus’ comments on the Profanity Peak pack Aug. 31.

Wielgus said he plans to sue the university for defamation and damages, including six years of salary and benefits, in early July.

Wielgus said Ron Mittelhammer, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences dean, alleged the statement Wielgus sent from his WSU email, which included scientific data, constituted an illegal use of state resources and illegal political lobbying.

Mittelhammer, who plans to retire from his position once his successor is chosen, declined comment in an email. He wrote that his office does not comment on any pending or current university legal matters.

The WSU Board of Regents exonerated Wielgus for improper lobbying, but is still looking into his misuse of university resources.

“The university, so far as I can tell, attempted to fire me on three different charges. They failed,” Wielgus said. “I suspect that they’re not going to stop, so I’m not just going to walk away, as it looks like they’re trying to get me. They’re harassing me and punishing me and making it impossible to work here.”

Phil Weiler, WSU vice president of marketing and communications, said he could not comment on Wielgus’ allegations.

“If he hasn’t shared that information directly with the university, it’s kind of hard for us to comment on something if we don’t know exactly what his claims are,” Weiler said. “As far as I know, he hasn’t talked to the university about this.”

Wielgus said District 7 Rep. Joel Kretz also requested that Wielgus be investigated for scientific misconduct for his 2014 paper on wolf livestock depredations. He said the WSU Department of Mathematics and Statistics exonerated him of misconduct after two professors analyzed his data and reached the same conclusion.

However, Wielgus said due to defamation by the university, he is unable to obtain grants.

“Basically, my lab is shut down,” he said. “I used to bring in above half a million dollars a year.”

Wielgus also said Mittelhammer and Donny Martorello, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) wolf policy lead, have colluded to defame and silence him at Kretz’s request. Martorello was not available for comment.

“[Kretz’s] political platform was to get rid of large carnivores, and, also, to shut down my lab and my research program,” Wielgus said. “He’s told me that. He’s told my staff that. He’s told my students that. He’s been trying to shut me down for at least the last ten years.”

Kretz, who is also a rancher, could not be reached for comment.

Wielgus said Kretz threatened the late President Elson S. Floyd with withholding university funding if Wielgus was not silenced. Wielgus said Floyd did not succumb to the demands and supported his research.

“Once President Floyd passed away, a new administration came in, and the situation for me and my lab went 180 degrees,” Wielgus said. “I no longer had the support for my academic research and scientific integrity.”

He also said his lawyers are considering naming Mittelhammer, Kretz and Martorello on the suit for colluding with the university.

“I’m 60 years old,” Wielgus said. “I would like to resign my position and be paid the six years’ salary and benefits that I normally would’ve had, had I been able to stay on at WSU until normal retirement at age 66.”

Wielgus said he hopes the suit can help reestablish his reputation as a researcher.

“I’m trying to clear my name,” he said. “Maybe one day I can reestablish my career, but right now it’s in a shamble. I no longer have anything left to lose.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated from its original version.