By Shelby Sebens
PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - An Oregon hunter has been charged with shooting dead a gray wolf last month, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of $6,250 in fines and up to a year in jail, a local prosecutor said on Tuesday.
Brennon Witty, 25, told Oregon wildlife authorities on Oct. 6 that he had shot the gray wolf while hunting coyotes in Prairie City, Oregon, a small town about 280 miles (450 km) southeast of Portland, Harney County District Attorney Tim Colahan said.
Coyotes can be hunted with a license year-round in the state. They share some physical resemblance to the gray wolf, but are about half the size of their canid cousin.
Witty, of Baker City, was charged on Nov. 7 with taking an endangered or threatened species and hunting with a rifle without a big game tag.
The wolf Witty shot was a male originally from the Umatilla River Pack in northeast Oregon. He wore a radio collar from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which tracked him under the name OR22.
Gray wolves, native to Oregon but wiped out in the state by an eradication campaign in the early 20th century, first returned there in 2008 and have now spread to several parts of the state.
An estimated 81 wolves in 16 packs roam the wilds of Oregon.
State wildlife officials decided last week to delist wolves from the state Endangered Species Act, but it is still illegal to hunt the wolves under the state-wolf management plan.
Under a phase of the state's wolf-management plan that is likely to begin in January 2017, the state may sanction a limited wolf hunt in areas where they are deemed to be killing a large number of deer and elk.
(Reporting by Shelby Sebens in Portland, Oregon; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Steve Orlofsky)