A Beaver County cougar hunter will not face charges for shooting an endangered gray wolf last December.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) investigators concluded the shooter mistook the collared 3-year-old female for a coyote — coyotes are not only legal to hunt year-round in Utah, but subject to a $50 bounty.
"The hunter reported his mistake immediately," said Steve Oberholtzer, FWS regional special agent in charge. "This is a good reminder to all hunters to make sure they identify their target before pulling the trigger."
Conservationists said wildlife managers' decision simply reinforces a double standard when it comes to killing endangered wildlife: All hunters have to do is claim they thought they were aiming at something legal to kill.
"It's wrong on several levels," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's part of a broader policy that sends the wrong message."
The gray wolf remains a protected species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act outside the three-state Northern Rockies recovery zone of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Federal law provides criminal penalties for those who "knowingly" kill protected animals. But unknowingly is another matter.
The dead wolf turned out to be the one spotted wandering on the Grand Canyon's north rim and later dubbed "Echo" by a 10-year-old boy from Oregon in a naming contest.
Known to researchers as 914F, Echo had been fitted with a radio collar on Jan. 8, 2014, near Cody, Wyo. The female subsequently covered hundreds of miles across three other states, attesting to the predator's ability to return to its historic range. It weighed 89 pounds when it was killed.
While wolves are known to pass through Utah, no pack has been established here since the predator was exterminated decades ago.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Robinson obtained 150 heavily redacted pages from Fish and Wildlife's investigation files. Documents indicate two central Utah men were out before dawn on Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, stalking cougars.
While driving down a Forest Service road in the Birch Creek area of Fishlake National Forest at 9 a.m., they saw a cow they thought was limping. They stopped the truck and hopped out, one of the men holding a .223-caliber hunting rifle with a 10-power scope. As they approached the cow, they saw what they thought was a coyote in the sagebrush and quickly decided to kill it.
"We seen a coyote," one of the men wrote in a statement included in the report. "I jumped out of the truck as the coyote went behind a sagebrush. I had a shot and took it. The coyote just dropped."
The bullet went through the canid's chest cavity, but didn't kill it. When the men walked about 120 yards to their catch, they realized it was still alive and the man pulled out another weapon, this time a .22-caliber pistol.
"I shot two bullets in the head to make sure it was dead," he wrote.
The pair then realized that the animal lying at their feet was a wolf.
The men made eight calls, including to a high school acquaintance who happened to be a state conservation officer. When they couldn't reach him, they drove to his home to report the kill.
The officer drove to the scene of the shooting with a second officer, then notified federal wildlife officials of the wolf's death.
A necropsy yielded mammal hair in the dead wolf's stomach. It belonged to elk and deer, not livestock, Robinson said.
This article and similar ones were published in multiple newspapers. Follow the links below to the articles and Editor contacts.
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.
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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