A state and federal investigation into the killing of a protected gray wolf that ranged from Yellowstone National Park to Grand Canyon National Park before being shot in Utah has concluded without any charges being filed against the hunter.
The investigation, authorities announced Thursday, determined that the unidentified hunter mistook the female wolf, which was wearing a radio collar, for a coyote. "The hunter reported his mistake immediately,” said Steve Oberholtzer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 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 wolf, known as 914F, was killed near Beaver, Utah, last December 28. The animal had been spotted along the Grand Canyon's North Rim last fall, and geneticists from the University of Idaho's Laboratory for Ecological, Evolutionary, and Conservation determined from a DNA analysis that the wolf had been collared near Cody, Wyoming, on January 8, 2014.
The Endangered Species Act has criminal penalties for “any person who knowingly violates any provision…” of the Act. In southern Utah wolves are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
"Authorities determined the incident resulted from misidentification rather than the intentional take of a protected species," a USFWS release said. "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."
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, according to Fish and Wildlife Service biologists.
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, they added in the release. 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.