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Op-ed: Hunter’s story of wolf killing is highly dubious

The Salt Lake Tribune – Take Action to End the McKittrick Policy

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The Federal Wildlife Services' (FWS) recent decision not to imprison, fine, nor even revoke the hunting license of the cougar hunter who killed wolf 914f, aka Echo, is illustrative of the hold that evolution has on us when it comes to predators.

The decision also illustrates how our irrational behavioral biases permeate our institutions and often lead to poor policy decisions, e.g., the Division of Natural Resources' Predator Control Program, which offers a $50 bounty for each dead coyote and, ultimately, serves as the context and justification for the destruction of wolf 914f.

However, the facts of 914f's killing underscore the extent of the hunter's folly and, indeed, the folly of the FWS, for whom a dead wolf, the rule of law and the designation of endangered species would appear to mean less than the hunters' highly dubious explanation of what occurred.

Although all we have to go on are the handful of facts dutifully reported by the Tribune and other newspapers throughout the West, those facts seriously undermine the hunters' version of what happened. To the credit of hunters and non-hunters alike, Wolf 914f's killer has been ridiculed for his ethical failure to positively identify his target before shooting. For in addition to the fact that the "coyote [sic] went behind a sagebrush" and was apparently obscured from view, we know that the shooter used a ".223-caliber hunting rifle with a 10-power scope" to kill the wolf from about 120 yards away.

Even if we put aside the fact that 120 yards already leaves a lot of room for error, the hunter's 10-power scope would have made the wolf appear as close as 12 yards away. As one incredulous commenter noted in response to the Tribune's article, at that distance she "could see a tick inside a jackrabbit's ear."

Of course 914f's killer wouldn't have to see anything as minute as a tick: All he'd have to see is the sizeable (2x2x3 inches) radio collar and radio component around the wolf's neck. Moreover, the wolf was shot through the chest, so whether she was shot in profile or head-on, it's hard to understand how the hunter wouldn't have seen the collar through his scope.

Equally puzzling is how the hunters failed to notice the strikingly different appearance and size difference of 914f who, at the time of her killing, weighed 89 pounds! A healthy, well-fed adult coyote is lucky to reach 50 pounds. In light of these facts, it's almost impossible to reasonably conclude that this presumably experienced hunter unknowingly mistook 914f for a coyote.

And yet that is precisely the conclusion reached by the FWS, an agency whose chief purpose is "to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend."

Wolves, coyotes and humans are very different animals, but we are all predators. That our own behavior as such is viewed any differently is not the result of humanity's inherent or God-given uniqueness or superiority, but of accident, whereby we, as the benefactors of conditions and natural forces we personally had nothing to do with creating, get to say and do anything that we want to our fellow creatures and to the environment, no matter how outrageous, irrational and destructive.

The irony of the Predator Control Program and other government sanctioned policies that promote the wanton extermination of predators and other so-called nuisance animals is that they are created and implemented by the most destructive and reckless species to ever walk the face of the Earth.

Maximilian Werner is the author of four books, including the memoir/natural history "Evolved: Chronicles of a Pleistocene Mind" and the memoir "Gravity Hill."

This Op-Ed was published in The Salt Lake Tribune on September 5, 2015.


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Take Action to Fight Irresponsible Hunting

This hunter escaped punishment using a legal loophole called the “McKittrick Policy”.   The U.S. Justice Dept's McKittrick policy prohibits prosecuting individuals who kill endangered wildlife unless it can be PROVED that they knew they were targeting a protected animal.

CLICK HERE to tell President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to drop the "McKittrick Policy" and end the get-out-of-jail-free card for killing a protected species.

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The wolf in the Op-Ed above was named "Echo" In December of 2014 in a worldwide naming contest for the first wolf found in the Grand Canyon region in more than 70 years.

Please write a letter to the editor for Echo today.
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.

Talking points

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.
Make sure you:

Thank the paper for publishing this article.

Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am a mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.

Provide your name, address, phone number and address.  The paper won’t publish these, but they want to know you are who you say you are.

Submit your Letter to the Editor of The Salt Lake Tribune HERE.


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You can read more about the Grand Canyon wolf, “Echo” HERE.

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