For Immediate Release, September 9, 2015
Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017, firstname.lastname@example.org
Newly Released Documents: Utah Officials Continued to Pay $50 Bounties for
Dead Coyotes After Learning of Endangered Wolf's Presence
2014 Shooter Claimed He Thought Female Wolf Was Coyote
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah— Recently released documents show that officials with Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources continued to offer a bounty to encourage the killing of coyotes last fall even though they knew an endangered, radio-collared gray wolf had been sighted in southern Utah. The wolf, a female seen repeatedly near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon — and given the name “Echo” in a contest among hundreds of children — was shot and killed on Dec. 28, 2014, in western Utah by a hunter who claimed he thought she was a coyote. That excuse also sufficed to waive federal charges that could have been filed against the shooter.
The Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter to Utah officials today asking the state to suspend its coyote bounty program in future instances in which an endangered wolf is reported present, and also requesting that officials offer a standing “bounty” of $1,000 for valid information on live wolves in the state — payable only if the wolves are not harmed by those reporting the sighting.
“It turns out that Echo was set up to be killed by Utah officials under the guise of their coyote-bounty program,” said Center wolf advocate Michael Robinson. “Despite a clear photo of the wolf taken 65 miles from where she died, and on-line threats to kill her, state officials continued to offer $50 for every dead coyote.”
Echo was born in May 2011, captured and radio-collared near Cody, Wyo., in February 2014, and observed repeatedly in and near Grand Canyon National Park — 450 miles away — during October and early November 2014. By then her radio collar was no longer functioning. But scat deposited by the wolf was collected on Nov. 2, and by Nov. 21 a University of Idaho lab had confirmed through DNA testing that the animal was a female gray wolf from the northern Rockies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, appropriately, issued a press release on that day stating that “this gray wolf is fully protected under the Endangered Species Act.”
On Nov. 20 two people in a vehicle saw and photographed a radio-collared wolf crossing State Highway 14 in southern Utah, 95 miles northwest of the Grand Canyon. They reported the sighting and sent the photo to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources — which circulated the photo and report internally but undertook no action to suspend coyote bounty payments or warn the public that a federally protected wolf was nearby.
On Nov. 21 the wolf’s recent photo and location were posted to a hunters’ website, quickly eliciting 48 online comments, some from people stating they were from Utah, and many pertained to killing wolves and escaping prosecution. One comment read “nope. just a coyote in Utah!!!! s.s.s.” The latter stands for “shoot, shovel and shut up” — a slogan for wolf-haters flaunting their disrespect for the law.
Despite the photograph and the threats, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources continued to promote and incentivize the killing of thousands of coyotes. On Dec. 28, 2014, the wolf was shot by someone claiming to have mistaken her for a coyote.
During her three-and-a-half-year life, Echo was never accused of preying on livestock. Her stomach contained deer when she died.
“Utah officials helped kill this female wolf who could have contributed to recovery of her kind and the health of ecosystems in Utah,” said Robinson. “Echo’s unnecessary death underscores the importance of retaining and enforcing federal protection for wolves. And given the primacy of federal law, we strongly recommend that Utah reconsider its repugnant, antediluvian practice of bounty hunting altogether.”
In May 2011, the same month Echo was born, Congress ended a budget standoff by approving must-pass legislation that included a rider removing Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho, along with those in eastern Washington and Oregon and a sliver of northeastern Utah. Removal of federal protections has cost thousands of wolves their lives through public hunting, trapping and strangulation-snaring as well as federal trapping, strangulation and aerial gunning.
The 2011 budget act forbade judicial review of the decision to take wolves off the ‘endangered’ list. In contrast, federal courts have reversed as unlawful administrative decisions delisting wolves in Wyoming and the upper Midwest. Consequently wolves remain protected everywhere in the contiguous 48 states except Montana and Idaho, eastern Washington and Oregon, and northeastern Utah. However, prosecutions of people who kill wolves are exceedingly rare.
Congress now threatens to extend the pernicious precedent of the 2011 delisting through another rider that would delist wolves in Wyoming and the upper Midwest, which if it were to pass would result in the short-term killing of more than 100 wolves in Wyoming and reduce, if not eliminate, the migrations of wolves to other suitable habitats where they used to live.
State and local bounty payments in the East and a federal program of trapping and poisoning wolves in the West eliminated wolves from the entire country except Alaska and extreme northern Minnesota by the 1940s. Passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 and reintroduction to the northern Rockies in 1995 has led to wolves inhabiting about 10 percent of their historic U.S. range. Researchers have identified more than 350,000 square miles of unoccupied suitable wolf habit including remote stretches of the Colorado Plateau, the southern Rockies and the Sierra Nevada.
Studies show that wolves benefit other animal and plant species in myriad unexpected ways, helping restore complex ecosystems to a natural balance.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.