By Shelby Sebens
PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Oregon are weighing whether to criminally charge a hunter who killed an endangered gray wolf while attempting to kill coyotes, authorities said on Tuesday.
The hunter, whom officials have declined to name, reported to Oregon wildlife authorities on Oct. 6
that he had shot the gray wolf while hunting coyotes in Prairie City, Oregon, a small town about 284 miles (457 km) southeast of Portland.
Prosecutors said they would decide as soon as next week whether to charge him with illegally killing a gray wolf, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of $6,250 and a year in jail, wildlife officials said.
Oregon State Police concluded their investigation on Monday, turning it over to prosecutors for review.
Tim Colahan, District Attorney of nearby Harney County, where the case was moved because of a potential conflict of interest, said he still needs to go through the evidence gathered by police.
"I am still collecting and have not received all the evidence and reports yet," he said.
Colahan said he hopes to get all the evidence from state police by the end of this week and could make a decision as early as next week.
Gray wolves, native to Oregon but wiped out in the state by an eradication campaign in the early 20th century, first returned there in 2008 and have now spread to several parts of the Pacific Northwest state.
Oregon has about 80 wolves and 15 packs, state wildlife commission spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said. The killing comes as the state commission plans to consider delisting wolves from the state Endangered Species Act at a meeting in Salem on Nov. 9.
The wolf was a male originally from the Umatilla River pack in northeast Oregon. He wore a radio collar from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which tracked him under the name OR22.
The wolf's death is the third in recent months and comes after state police last week suspended its investigation of two wolves found dead in Wallowa County in late August.
Wildlife activists on Tuesday called on officials to punish the hunter.
"All hunters have an ethical and moral responsibility to be absolutely certain of their targets before they pull the trigger," Portland-based wildlife advocacy group Oregon Wild said in a statement. "Whether by mistake or not, this hunter broke the law."
(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Sandra Maler)