By Brett Prettyman
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials confirmed Wednesday that the animal a hunter claimed he mistook for a coyote late last year was in fact a wolf protected under the Endangered Species Act that had been spotted hanging around the Grand Canyon.
The female, known as 914F by biologists and renamed Echo by a 10-year-old boy in Oregon after an online contest, was first fitted with a radio collar near Cody, Wyo. on Jan. 8, 2014. By last fall, she was seen hanging around the Kaibab Plateau near the Grand Canyon.
It was the first time in at least 70 years that a wolf had been reported on the North Rim of the national park.
The female also might have been spotted crossing State Highway 14 east of Cedar City not long before she was killed at the south end of the Tushar Mountains.
Fish and Wildlife Service biologists collected scat left by the wolf near the Grand Canyon in early November for DNA testing at the University of Idaho. The university's Laboratory for Ecological, Evolutionary and Conservation Genetics confirmed DNA from the wolf killed in Utah and the Arizona scat was the same.
The DNA tests prove the animal had traveled more than 700 miles from the northern Rocky Mountains, to Arizona, and back through Utah. There was no GPS tracker mounted on her collar.
Wildlife lovers mourned the way she died.
"It is nothing short of a tragedy that this wolf's journey across the West was cut short because she was shot and killed by a coyote hunter," said Eva Sargent, director of Southwest Programs for Defenders of Wildlife. "This brave and ambitious female gray wolf that made it all the way from Wyoming to the Grand Canyon had already become a symbol of what gray wolf recovery should look like – animals naturally dispersing to find suitable habitat."
An investigation into the shooting of the wolf is underway.
In the days after the case of mistaken identity, some questioned whether Utah's open season on coyotes and state-sponsored bounty program should be eliminated — and might even be illegal — because they threaten a federally protected animal.
Utah does not require a license to hunt coyotes. The State Legislature created a bounty program in 2012 as part of the Mule Deer Preservation Act. Hunters are paid $50 per coyote killed.
Bounty hunters, who collected more than 14,000 payoffs during the first two years of the program, are required to register online. But wildlife managers have provided little information to help hunters tell the difference between a coyote and a wolf. The website also fails to mention that hunters might see a wolf in Utah.
The man who killed the wolf was not involved in the bounty program and had not gone through the registration process, said Bill Bates, wildlife section chief for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
"We are going to change our orientation for people involved in the coyote bounty program and add something about how it is rare, but there is a possibility of seeing wolves in Utah," Bates said. "We will include information about how to differentiate between coyotes and wolves."
Changes to the online program will start immediately, he said.
There are currently no wolves known to be traversing the state, wildlife managers said Wednesday, but there could be animals biologists are unaware of.
Other than the female killed in December, the last known wolf in the state was spotted several times on the south slope of the Uinta Mountains early last fall. That animal — a 4-year-old male that had traveled from Idaho's panhandle region near the Canadian border — has not been spotted again.
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One letter from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by decision-makers. Tips and talking points are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience. Don’t try to include all the talking points in your letter-focus on a few key points and keep your letter short.
Start by thanking the paper for this article.
Echo was the first wolf in over 70 years at Grand Canyon and her journey captured the hearts of people all over the world. Her death can motivate us all to work for policies that promote wolf recovery in great habitats like Grand Canyon.
Echo’s death was a tragedy that could have been avoided if state and federal governments were doing more to protect endangered wolves. But instead, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, members of the U.S. Congress, and states like Utah and Arizona are working to reduce protections for endangered wolves.
If plans to remove wolves’ Endangered Species Act protections go forward, many more wolves will die. People who care about wolves like Echo should contact their members of congress and urge them to oppose removing wolves’ Endangered Species Act protections.
Even though Echo was wearing a large radio collar, the shooter claimed he thought she was a coyote. Too many endangered wolves have been shot with this reason given by their killers. Utah and other states with wolves should stop allowing the indiscriminate killing of coyotes and should enforce “know your target” laws to prevent wolves like Echo being shot.
The federal government should do away with the “McKittrick Policy,” which often allows killers of wolves like Echo to escape prosecution when they claim, as this shooter did, that it was a case of mistaken identity. There must be consequences for killing endangered animals.
Wolves once lived throughout the west and played an important role in maintaining the natural balance in places like Utah and the Grand Canyon region, where they have long been missing. Echo gave us hope of restoring that balance and we should continue to work towards that goal.
Current science tells us that the Grand Canyon region is an ideal place for wolves, and Utah is an important link in restoring wolves from Mexico to Canada. Utah’s politicians should end policies aimed at wiping out carnivores and represent the majority of Utah residents who want wolves back.
Carnivores are important to the healthy functioning of ecosystems, and science has proven that killing coyotes is counterproductive to protecting livestock, often resulting in increased numbers the next year. We need to change laws that encourage the wholesale slaughter of carnivores and allow barbaric predator hunting contests.
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