At the beginning of November, a lone female gray wolf made international headlines after she was spotted in the Kaibab National Forest north of the Grand Canyon National Park, marking the first time one has been seen in Arizona in 70 years.
She was wearing a radio collar, and DNA testing confirmed that she had traveled all the way from the Northern Rockies, nearly 450 miles away. Later named Echo in an online naming contest, her presence raised hope that this iconic species could continue to disperse and establish desperately needed new territories essential for wolf recovery in the Southwest.
Sadly, her life and the hope that came with her are believed to have been cut tragically short by a coyote hunter in Utah who is confirmed to have killed a collared gray wolf.
According to the Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), the unnamed hunter shot the wolf in question a few miles away from Beaver near the Tushar Mountains. He called the DWR to report the kill after finding the collar and realizing she wasn’t a coyote. The DWR then contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which confirmed the wolf was a young female who was collared in Cody, Wyo.
Echo’s advocates are still waiting for confirmation via DNA testing that it was her, but they fear the worst.
“It’s heartbreaking that another far-wandering wolf has been cut down with a fatal gunshot,” said Michael Robinson, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This female wolf could have helped wolves naturally recover in remote regions of Utah and neighboring states. Federal authorities need to conduct a full investigation into this latest killing, which is part of a disturbing pattern.”
Wolves still have federal protection in most of Utah, but the anti-predator crowd has made it clear that they and coyotes are unwelcome.
In 2012, Utah started offering a $50 bounty to encourage killing coyotes under the guise of a predator control program even though coyotes could already be killed year round in unlimited numbers. Last year, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife successfully convinced politicians to fork over $300,000 from the state’s general fund to lobby against wolves who don’t even exist in the state, while the DWR wants them stripped of any and all protection.
“This is a very sad day for wolf conservation and for Utah,” Kirk Robinson, executive director of the Utah-based Western Wildlife Conservancy, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “All competent wildlife biologists already know that coyote hunting, including our state bounty program, is ineffective, and therefore a waste of money ― and now we see that it is also a threat to other wildlife and to wolf recovery.”
Unfortunately, wanton killing of coyotes and cases of mistaken identity have also threatened red wolf recovery in North Carolina and Mexican gray wolf recovery in Arizona and New Mexico. The issue also raises serious concerns about the cruel, misguided and unregulated targeting of coyotes who are also a vital part of healthy ecosystems – yet have been continuously left out in the cold with no protection, despite the fact that they also suffer as a result of hunting and trapping.
Whether or not the wolf who was killed in this case was Echo, or another wandering wolf looking for a new home and mate, is almost irrelevant. What it is, is tragic that intolerance and ignorance continues to fuel the slaughter of these predators, cutting their lives short and stopping them from returning to their rightful place on the landscape.
For more information on ways to help stop the war on predators, check out organizations including Project Coyote and Predator Defense that are working on redefining the way we see predators through education and increasing protections for them through legislation and wildlife management reform.