Wednesday, February 24, 2016

OR man who shot a radio-collared wolf pleads guilty

Eric Mortenson
Capital Press
Courtesy of Oregon Department of Fish and WildlifeOR-22, a male wolf that separated from the Umatilla River Pack in February, is pictured walking through a Northeast Oregon forest on Jan. 26. A Baker City, Ore., man who reported he shot the wolf while hunting coyotes, has pleaded guilty in a related charge. The charge was reduced as part of a plea bargain, the district attorney said. 

An Oregon man who shot an endangered wolf while hunting coyotes last fall pleaded guilty Tuesday in Grant County Justice Court.

As part of a negotiated deal, Brennon D. Witty, 26, of Baker City, pleaded guilty to taking a threatened or endangered species, a Class A violation, Harney County District Attorney Tim Colahan said in a news release.

A companion charge of hunting with a centerfire rifle with no big game tag was dismissed. Witty originally was charged with two Class A misdemeanors; the reduction of one charge to a violation and dismissal of the other was part of the plea negotiation.

Witty was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $1,000 restitution to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The rifle he used, a Savage .223 with a scope, was forfeited to the state.

The investigation began Oct. 6, 2015, when Witty voluntarily notified ODFW and Oregon State Police that he’d shot a wolf while hunting coyotes on private property south of Prairie City. Police recovered the carcass of a radio-collared wolf, designated OR-22, on the property.

The shooting happened in Grant County but Colahan, the prosecutor in neighboring Harney County, handled it as a courtesy. The Grant County district attorney was acquainted with Witty’s family and wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The shooting happened a month before Oregon removed gray wolves from the state endangered species list, but that had no apparent bearing on the case. The ODFW Commission on Nov. 9 removed wolves from the state list, and they remain on the federal endangered species list in the western two-thirds of the state.

The wolf was a male that had worn a GPS tracking collar since October 2013 and dispersed from the Umatilla Pack in February 2015. He was in Malheur County for awhile, then traveled into Grant County.

Wildlife biologists don’t believe he had a mate or pups. Young or sub-dominant wolves often leave their home packs to establish their own territory and find mates.