This Endangered Species Act Loophole Will Let Killer of Famous Gray Wolf Escape Prosecution

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For the first time in 70 years, a wolf padded through the Grand Canyon.

A great explorer and adventurer, she travelled alone hundreds of miles from the Northern Rockies to a place wolves had called home long before any human beheld the area’s mesmerizing beauty.

She was dubbed Echo, because, according to the 10-year-old who won a contest to name the wolf, “she came back to the Grand Canyon like an echo does.”

But it didn’t take long for a hunter, who wildlife officials refuse to name, to kill the three-year old, radio-collared symbol of wild America.

Despite the massacre that has ensued since the Obama administration removed gray wolves from Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection in 2011 in the Northern Rockies, where 3,480 wolves have been killed for “sport” and many hundreds more executed by state wildlife agencies for alleged crimes against livestock, Echo made it through the war zone and into an area in Utah where she should have been safe from hunters.

The gray wolf hasn’t been found in Utah since the 1940s when hunters finished their eradication program. However, they are still protected in the state under the ESA, which makes it illegal to kill wolves without a permit.

But there’s an easy out in the Department of Justice’s unofficial “McKittrick policy” which has allowed almost every known example of killing of an endangered species to go unprosecuted if the hunter has claimed it was a case of mistaken identity.

And that’s just what this hunter, whose trigger finger ended Echo’s epic, has claimed. The hunter, he says, was out killing coyotes when he shot and killed Echo, claiming he mistook her for a coyote.

Under the McKittrick policy no charges will be brought against him.

“Critics charge that the 15-year-old McKittrick policy provides a loophole that has prevented criminal prosecution of dozens of individuals who killed grizzly bears, highly endangered California condors and whooping cranes as well as 48 federally protected Mexican wolves,” the Los Angeles Times wrote.

All of these animals lost to trigger-happy hunters represent millions of tax payer dollars wasted after figuring in the cost of radio collars, reintroduction and management.

But how can we put a price on losing a species that has persisted for millions of years only to succumb to our outdated conquest of wild America?

In 2013 environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department regarding the McKittrick policy that is still pending.

In an interview with the Los Angeles TimesWendy Keefover of WildEarth Guardians likens the policy to “district attorneys rescinding speeding tickets issued by traffic cops when the speeder claims he or she believed the legal speed limit was greater than what was posted, and that he or she had no intention to break the law.”

As a nation claiming to long for peace, it seems counterproductive to coddle and foster the love of killing as we do when it comes to hunting. Even cases of human-on-human violence during hunting often cite the golden excuse of mistaken identity.

Like most countries, the story of our nation is a recipe of right and wrong that brought us to where we are today. The test of our evolution is whether we are able to be critical of what we’ve done wrong and learn from our mistakes.

  • Tina Page

    Tina is a journalist and mother of three who's lived all her life in the South Bay of Los Angeles except for a two-year stint in the heart of Spain. She believes humans have the capacity to make this a beautiful world for all species to live, and mothers have a special charge to raise their children to enjoy, love and respect all creatures.

28 thoughts on “This Endangered Species Act Loophole Will Let Killer of Famous Gray Wolf Escape Prosecution”

  1. There have been cases in the past prosecuted. In Ralph Maughan’s Yellowstone Wolf Mortalities reports there were several I found. In 1995, Wolf 10M was shot and killed illegally and the person was convicted, served prison time and fines. In 1996 Wolf 11F, there was a conviction. In 1998 the mistaken identity excuse “Thought it was a Coyote” didn’t fly when Wolf 39F was shot there was a $500.00 fine handed down.

    Hunters are supposed to KNOW their target BEFORE the trigger is pulled. If I go out hunting for deer and shoot a caribou and then claim “I thought it was a deer” do you think it will work on getting me off? NO! These laws must apply to mistaken identity and will work as incentive for hunters to be more careful on what they are killing.


    • The article states the McKittrick loophole is “15 yrs old” which would indicate the cases you cite occurred BEFORE McKittrick was implemented.

  2. Actually the McKittrick policy is widely thought to bring ESA law in line with other similar federal laws, that’s why it withstands attempted challenges.

    But one ESA law is hardly the problem. The real problem is naming of wolves and being upset when they are killed. Wolf culling is part and parcel of reintroduction, and any successful population will need to be culled at 30% to 50% annually forever. Get used to it or get a new hobby, perhaps one more suited to an urban lifestyle. Small dogs make great pets.

    • You bet, Somsai. Nature definitely is too weak and inept to manage itself. It takes lofty, almighty humans like yourself to impose order and balance, huh? Clearly, you are very old-think and embrace the standard hunter/trapper philosophy that animals are on this earth to be used as our pawns. Too bad. I will never support culling, and I do not view animals as objects to be exploited for my amusement or profit — or for yours. I’m disappointed to hear that you are so emotionally stunted, but exploiters usually are.

    • Thank you for your comment Roger.

      This comes from Predator Defense:

      “Since President Obama removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list in April 2011 and turned management of these majestic animals over to state wildlife agencies, over 3,480 wolves have been senselessly slaughtered by sport hunters and trappers alone in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and now Michigan.”

      Also see a Los Angeles Times article regarding this issue titled: “Obama upholds Bush decision to delist gray wolf.”

        • You got your what in Michigan, Nick? If you “got” your wolf in Michigan, then shame on your disgusting single-celled shriveled-up heart. Is that the best you can do in expressing your virility–killing an animal? I feel both contempt and pity for you.

          • You made me cry! I’m telling my mommy! I chose compassion for the deer, dogs, and farm animals I saved by legally killing a wolf. Call it what you want. I’m satisfied.

          • You have no idea of compassion and conservation and I have been a professional hunting guide for a career.

          • Oh, right, the “conservation” card. “If we hunters and outfitters don’t kill them, they’ll die! We’re the saviors!”

            Cecil, as a professional hunting guide, you are an exploiter and a profiteer on suffering you inflict “as a career.” Bravo for cruelty.

          • Conservation does not belong in the hunting vocabulary. Wildlife managers all too often manage wild animals for hunting and the income it provides for them.

          • I would quibble with your statement that wildlife managers “all too often” manage wild animals for hunting the income it provides. From what I see (at least in Idaho and in the federal Wildlife “Services”), that is ALL they do, and the wildlife agencies are staffed by avid hunters and trappers. Those of us who do not exploit or profit from wildlife have no seat at the table and are not welcome at the table.

            I can hardly imagine facing the demons after a career of outfitting/guiding. The very thought makes me ache. You must be a brave fellow.

          • Hmmm. Proud of being a killer. I call you “perverted.” Legal? Slavery was legal, as well as child labor and genocide (native tribes). Is that the best you can do in terms of a moral foundation, Nick?

          • You drive a car,you kill bugs and earthworms. Burn gas and oil, destroy the earth you hypocritical POS. Not worth my time. Going hunting!

          • Well, that’s a typical response from someone who can’t defend his position. Instead of explaining your moral foundation, you change the subject and accuse me of killing bugs and earthworms. Aren’t you going to point out that I kill vegetables and grains, too, and thus am just as bad as you are?

            I suppose we all inadvertently kills some bugs and earthworms if we operate a vehicle. That’s not quite the same as deliberately executing an animal to boost self-esteem and some twisted sense of virility. Intention matters.

      • quite frankly, i don’t care where it came from…. You should do your research before you just let your fingers fly…. You’d then know that it was a rider on must pass legislation inserted by 2 crooked republican senators!!

      • The point is, it wasn’t from Obama, it was from 2 CROOKED SENATORS! riders on legislation without Voter approval should be against not only the Law, But The U,S. Constitution. But then after making that statement… they don’t seem to care anyway…. They Have Lied ever since the Europeans first showed up in the United Sates…

  3. Wolves and coyotes should both be protected. This is the humane policy, and it would also end the problem of alleged mistaken identity.

  4. What a disgrace -he would have seen the collar -if others have been found guilty why wasn’t this bloke ?shame on him and all those other red necked gun toting wolf hating murderers -nothing -lower only a snake -than a trophy hunter -they and all those who for their own agenda want the wolves eradicated -will pay for the loss of the wolves -science has proven all species are important in the great scheme of life -the wolves especially -shame on the dam lot of you -hope your worst nightmare come true -Karma.


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