Op-ed: Hunter’s story of wolf killing is highly dubious

The Salt Lake Tribune (Original) Posted on September 5, 2015 by Maximilian Werner

The Federal Wildlife Services' (FWS) recent decision not to imprison, fine, nor even revoke the hunting license of the cougar hunter who killed wolf 914f, aka Echo, is illustrative of the hold that evolution has on us when it comes to predators.

The decision also illustrates how our irrational behavioral biases permeate our institutions and often lead to poor policy decisions, e.g., the Division of Natural Resources' Predator Control Program, which offers a $50 bounty for each dead coyote and, ultimately, serves as the context and justification for the destruction of wolf 914f.

However, the facts of 914f's killing underscore the extent of the hunter's folly and, indeed, the folly of the FWS, for whom a dead wolf, the rule of law and the designation of endangered species would appear to mean less than the hunters' highly dubious explanation of what occurred.

Although all we have to go on are the handful of facts dutifully reported by the Tribune and other newspapers throughout the West, those facts seriously undermine the hunters' version of what happened. To the credit of hunters and non-hunters alike, Wolf 914f's killer has been ridiculed for his ethical failure to positively identify his target before shooting. For in addition to the fact that the "coyote [sic] went behind a sagebrush" and was apparently obscured from view, we know that the shooter used a ".223-caliber hunting rifle with a 10-power scope" to kill the wolf from about 120 yards away.

Even if we put aside the fact that 120 yards already leaves a lot of room for error, the hunter's 10-power scope would have made the wolf appear as close as 12 yards away. As one incredulous commenter noted in response to the Tribune's article, at that distance she "could see a tick inside a jackrabbit's ear."

Of course 914f's killer wouldn't have to see anything as minute as a tick: All he'd have to see is the sizeable (2x2x3 inches) radio collar and radio component around the wolf's neck. Moreover, the wolf was shot through the chest, so whether she was shot in profile or head-on, it's hard to understand how the hunter wouldn't have seen the collar through his scope.

Equally puzzling is how the hunters failed to notice the strikingly different appearance and size difference of 914f who, at the time of her killing, weighed 89 pounds! A healthy, well-fed adult coyote is lucky to reach 50 pounds. In light of these facts, it's almost impossible to reasonably conclude that this presumably experienced hunter unknowingly mistook 914f for a coyote.

And yet that is precisely the conclusion reached by the FWS, an agency whose chief purpose is "to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend."

Wolves, coyotes and humans are very different animals, but we are all predators. That our own behavior as such is viewed any differently is not the result of humanity's inherent or God-given uniqueness or superiority, but of accident, whereby we, as the benefactors of conditions and natural forces we personally had nothing to do with creating, get to say and do anything that we want to our fellow creatures and to the environment, no matter how outrageous, irrational and destructive.

The irony of the Predator Control Program and other government sanctioned policies that promote the wanton extermination of predators and other so-called nuisance animals is that they are created and implemented by the most destructive and reckless species to ever walk the face of the Earth.

Maximilian Werner is the author of four books, including the memoir/natural history "Evolved: Chronicles of a Pleistocene Mind" and the memoir "Gravity Hill."