SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Federal wildlife officials will compare the DNA of a gray wolf accidently shot in Utah with that of a wolf spotted wandering near the Grand Canyon this year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Steve Segin, a Denver-based spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in an email Monday night that officials won't speculate if the 3-year-old female northern gray wolf killed Sunday is the same female gray wolf seen roaming the Grand Canyon and nearby national forest months ago. Messages seeking additional details were not immediately returned Tuesday.
The Grand Canyon wolf was the first spotted in northern Arizona in more than 70 years. Scat collected from that wolf will be compared with the animal killed in Utah.
Utah wildlife officials announced Monday afternoon that a coyote hunter accidently shot the young wolf in the southwest area of the state after mistaking it for a coyote.
State and federal officials said they're still investigating, and it's too soon to say what penalties the hunter could face for killing the animal, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The hunter, who has not been identified, contacted the agency after realizing the error, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokesman Mark Martinez said. The hunter was legally allowed to hunt coyotes, which are not protected in Utah, Martinez said.
The Utah wolf had been wearing a radio collar, which had been put on in January near Cody, Wyoming. The wolf spotted in Arizona in October and November had also been wearing a radio collar, according to federal wildlife officials in that state.
The Arizona wolf's collar wasn't sending out a signal, and cold weather kept biologists from trying to capture the animal to replace the collar.
Wildlife officials have said about a quarter of the 1,700 wolves from the Northern Rockies are being tracked.
Wolves can travel thousands of miles for food and mates. Gray wolves had been spotted as far south as Colorado until the Arizona wolf was confirmed. Gray wolves had last been spotted in the Grand Canyon area in the 1940s.
In recent years, the Fish and Wildlife Service lifted protections for the wolves in the Northern Rockies and western Great Lakes, but a federal judge recently reinstated the protections after wildlife advocates in Wyoming filed a lawsuit.
The Center for Biological Diversity has documented 11 cases since 1981 where hunters told wildlife officials that they had mistakenly shot a wolf thinking it was a coyote.
Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity said the Utah killing is heartbreaking.
"This female wolf could have helped wolves naturally recover in remote regions of Utah and neighboring states," Robinson said in a statement. "Federal authorities need to conduct a full investigation into this latest killing, which is part of a disturbing pattern."
According to the center, coyotes are smaller than wolves and have pointier snouts and ears, while wolves are bulky with longer legs and bushier tails.
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