What a shame, people. What a damn shame.
An endangered gray wolf shot to death in Utah was positively identified Wednesday as the female lobo seen last fall on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, the first of its kind to be seen in the region in half a century.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used DNA analysis to confirm that the dead canine was the celebrated collared female known as “914F” that wandered hundreds of miles from the Northern Rockies. The lone wolf, originally collared near Cody, Wyoming, was killed in December by a Utah hunter who claimed he "mistook" the predator for a coyote.
“It is nothing short of a tragedy that this wolf’s journey across the west was cut short because she was shot and killed by a coyote hunter,” said Eva Sargent, the southwest programs director for Defenders of Wildlife. “This brave and ambitious female gray wolf that made it all the way from Wyoming to the Grand Canyon had already become a symbol of what gray wolf recovery should look like – animals naturally dispersing to find suitable habitat.”
The tendency of hunters to mistake wolves for coyotes is a major issue, especially in California, where conservationists believe a pair of wolves and their offspring currently living across the Oregon border will eventually disperse. In June, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to list wolves under the California Endangered Species Act, a decision that gives conservationists some measure of comfort. Problem is, those protections don’t exist elsewhere.
The federal delisting of wolves in 2011 in the Northern Rockies led to a killing spree in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. More than 2,800 wolves have been killed in the northern Rockies, resulting in a 9 percent population decline, since federal protections were lifted there, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Minnesota has seen a 25 percent decline in its wolf population.
The federal government is now considering a proposal to strip Endangered Species Act protection from gray wolves throughout their range.
“Unfortunately, we have seen time and again that coyote hunting in habitat frequented by wolves is deadly for wolves,” Sargent said. “Sadly, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service preparing to remove all protections for gray wolves, except for Mexican gray wolves, in the near future, it will become harder and harder for wolves to travel safely, and less and less likely that we will hear their howls echo through places like the Grand Canyon.”
Gray wolves, which once roamed across the continent, were exterminated in the lower 48 states, except Minnesota, in the 19th and early 20th centuries largely to protect livestock. The last known native California wolf was trapped and killed in Lassen County in 1924.
In 1995, 66 wolves were released in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in an attempt to bring the apex predator back. They have since moved into northeastern Oregon, where there are more than two dozen wolves in a handful of packs, but the population is still far below the two million that once lived across North America.