Federal, state investigators concluded that the Utah killing was a case of bonafide misidentification
FRISCO — The coyote hunter who shot a protected gray wolf in Utah last year won’t face any criminal charges for killing an endangered species.
Investigators with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the U.S. Department of Justice found that the Utah resident was legally hunting coyotes near Beaver in late December when he mistook the collared female gray wolf for a coyote.
The female wolf had gained some notoriety after wandering from the northern Rocky Mountains all the way down to the Grand Canyon, where wildlife advocates one day hope to see a restored wolf population.
Another wandering wolf was similarly killed near Kremmling, Colorado in late April, in an incident that’s also being investigated by various agencies.
Wolves from the Yellowstone area have been dispersing quite widely around the West in search of good habitat and conservation advocates say they should be allowed to re-establish populations in suitable areas, including western Colorado and northern Arizona.
In both shootings, the hunters immediately reported their kills after discovering that the shot animals were wolves. The Endangered Species Act has criminal penalties for “any person who knowingly violates any provision…” of the Act. In accordance with current policies, the government may exercise prosecutorial discretion in circumstances where a bona-fide misidentification of a protected species occurred during the course of an otherwise lawful activity.
“The hunter reported his mistake immediately,” said Steve Oberholtzer, the Mountain-Prairie Region’s special agent in charge of law enforcement. “This is a good reminder to all hunters to make sure they identify their target before pulling the trigger.”
The female, known to researchers as 914F, had previously been seen by members of the public near the Grand Canyon earlier in 2014.
Geneticists from the University of Idaho Laboratory for Ecological, Evolutionary, and Conservation Genetics compared the DNA from the collared female with DNA left behind by the wolf spotted near the Grand Canyon. They concluded the female was 914F, which was collared January 8, 2014, near Cody, Wyoming.
Most wolves typically leave the pack they were born in by age three and seek out a mate to start a new pack or join another existing pack. Long-distance dispersing wolves have been sighted over 500 miles away into neighboring states in the Northern Rockies, the West Coast and the western Great Lakes regions.
One GPS-collared wolf traveled a total of almost 3,000 miles in the seven months prior to being killed by a banned poison in Rio Blanco County, Colorado in 2009, a dispersal distance of roughly 400 miles from her original pack.