Two men from Peoria and Phoenix were charged on Monday with killing a Mexican gray wolf last year in a national forest in eastern Arizona.
Jayson William Kunkel of Peoria and Donald Justin Davis of Phoenix allegedly killed the wolf in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest last December, where they had gone to hunt elk. Robert Romero, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, filed the criminal complaint August 16 at the U.S. District Court in Flagstaff.
Under the Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to take, including kill, a threatened or endangered species. The crime is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum fine of $50,000 and/or a year in prison.
Efforts to reintroduce the Mexican gray wolf, which was nearly exterminated in the 1900s, began in Arizona in 1998. In 2017, officials counted at least 63 Mexican gray wolves in the state — fewer than they had hoped to see as the population slowly recovers. Illegal killings pose a significant threat to the wolves.
On December 1, 2017, a few days before the killing, a person who remained unnamed in the complaint reported seeing a Mexican wolf “crouched down” behind a log near his family’s hunt camp near Dipping Vat Springs. It was 20 or 30 yards from his two young daughters, the person told a wildlife manager at the Arizona Game and Fish Department. He wanted to know at what point the wolf could be shot.
The wildlife manager replied that deadly force would be justified only if the wolf appeared to be threatening to hurt or kill a human, and that the kill would have to be reported immediately.
That man, as well as a second person unnamed in the complaint, warned others in the camp about the wolf.
But ultimately, the wolf reportedly posed no threat to anybody when it was shot four days later. On December 5, the two tipsters said that Kunkel and Davis contacted them and said they had killed the wolf, a female. Kunkel and Davis shared photos of her body, including one of Kunkel posing with it.
Kunkel and Davis told the people who tipped off the authorities where the carcass lay, in case they “were interested in the wolf hide,” the complaint said. Kunkel and Davis allegedly left without reporting the killing to the Game and Fish Department, even though the people who reported the killing said they had recommended that Kunkel and Davis notify authorities.
According to the complaint, Kunkel shot the wolf from about 200 yards away, after Davis told him to load his gun, a .30-06 caliber Remington rifle.
“No, it’s a wolf, shoot it,” Davis allegedly said after Kunkel asked if he saw an elk. The conversation was recounted to investigators secondhand by the person who initially reported seeing the wolf near his camp.
But Davis relayed a few different versions of the story to investigators. In one version, he said he and his father, who was also on the elk hunting trip, told Kunkel it was his choice whether or not to shoot the wolf. In another recounting, Davis said that he did not see Kunkel shoot the wolf, nor was he with Kunkel when he shot the wolf.
Davis also said that they knew the wolf was a Mexican gray, and that it was listed as an endangered species.
In a subsequent interview, Kunkel told Romero, “It came into camp and I shot it.” He said that the wolf was “not endangering anyone,” and that he and Davis agreed not to report the killing or talk about it without anyone, or with each other.
He told Romero that as he drove home, he thought, “I shot a wolf and something’s gonna happen. Now I wait.”
Kunkel is due in court for a preliminary hearing Friday, and Davis for a status hearing October 10. The public defender for Kunkel did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the assistant U.S. attorney for the district of Arizona could not be reached for comment.