Wolf killed in Utah was animal from rare Arizona sighting

Arizona Daily Sun (Original) Posted on February 11, 2015 by Brady McCombs (AP) and Emery Cowan (Arizona Daily Sun)

SALT LAKE CITY — A gray wolf that was shot by a hunter in Utah was the same one spotted in the Grand Canyon area last year, federal wildlife officials said Wednesday.

The 3-year-old female wolf — named "Echo" in a nationwide student contest — captured the attention of wildlife advocates across the country because it was the first wolf seen near the Grand Canyon in 70 years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did DNA tests to confirm the wolf killed in late December by a Utah hunter -- who said he thought he was shooting a coyote -- was the same one that was seen roaming near the Grand Canyon's North Rim and nearby forest in October and November, said agency spokesman Steve Segin.

Geneticists at the University of Idaho compared DNA taken from the northern gray wolf killed in southwestern Utah with scat samples taken from the wolf seen near the Grand Canyon last fall.

It's not clear yet what penalties the hunter could face for killing the animal.

Wolves are protected in most of Utah under the Endangered Species Act except for a small part in the state’s north-central corner where the animal has been delisted.

Wildlife advocacy groups have called the wolf's death heartbreaking and say they want the hunter prosecuted. They said the animal could have helped wolves naturally recover in remote regions of Utah and neighboring states.

"Wolves and coyotes are distinguishable if one pauses for a second before pulling a trigger," said Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity. "There are consequences for pulling the trigger when you don't know what you're aiming at. It's important to have justice for this animal."

Advocacy groups in Arizona said Echo’s death makes an even stronger case for federal land and wildlife protections they have long advocated.

The wolf’s more than 450-mile journey from Wyoming to the North Rim helped prove the importance of creating a protected wildlife corridor stretching from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, said Kim Crumbo, conservation director with the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. The organization is advocating for a Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument that would provide an important stretch of protected land along this corridor.

Emily Renn, executive director of the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, said the wolf’s death highlights the need for Grand Canyon National Park to take an active role in wolf recovery. If the park had been working to help wolves repopulate their historic range on the Kaibab Plateau, there might have been other wolves in the area when Echo stopped by last fall and she may not have decided to head north into Utah, Renn said.

Robinson said the death highlights the lack of public education about wolves and the fact they roam the West.

Telling the difference

Wolves and coyotes often have similar coloring, but wolves are usually twice as large as coyotes, said Kim Hersey, mammal conservation coordinator with Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Wolves also have longer legs, bigger feet and rounder ears and snouts, she said.

State officials are planning to add new information about how to distinguish between wolves and coyotes to an orientation course required under the state program that pays people to kill coyotes, Hadley said. The man who shot this wolf was not registered for the program, officials said.

The wolf had worn a radio collar since January 2014.

Wolves can travel thousands of miles for food and mates. Gray wolves had been spotted as far south as Colorado until the Arizona wolf was confirmed. Gray wolves last were seen in the Grand Canyon area in the 1940s.

In recent years, the Fish and Wildlife Service lifted protections for the wolves in the Northern Rockies and western Great Lakes.

The Center for Biological Diversity has documented 11 cases since 1981 where hunters told wildlife officials they had shot a wolf thinking it was a coyote.