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No charges in wolf shooting, despite questions

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No charges will be filed in the shooting of two wolves near Ashton in eastern Idaho, despite the fact that Idaho Fish and Game investigators believe the shooter may have violated state code.

"The reason we went to visit with the prosecuting attorney [in Fremont County] is because there was this question as to whether this shooter violated Idaho code," said Steve Schmidt, regional supervisor for Fish and Game's Upper Snake Region. "Ultimately, the decision to proceed with the case [was the up to the local authority]."

The case involves the shooting of two male wolves by a private landowner on April 1, just a few days after the species was removed from the endangered species list on March 28 (BW, Features, "Prodigal Son," Feb. 27, 2008).

The landowner said the wolves had been harassing his horses, and he shot the wolves to protect his livestock, which is allowed under Idaho law as long as it is reported within 72 hours.

Investigators found the first wolf near the horses, but the second wolf was more than a mile away. According to Fish and Game, the landowner chased the wolf on a snowmobile after he shot the first wolf.

State law does allow livestock owners to protect their animals if they are being "molested" by wolves, activity defined as: "the actions of a wolf that are annoying, disturbing or persecuting, especially with hostile intent or injurious effect, or chasing, driving, flushing, worrying, following after or on the trail of, or stalking or lying in wait for, livestock or domestic animals."

No one, though, can kill a wolf just because it is in the vicinity of livestock, nor can they chase and kill a wolf away from the area.

This is the reason Fish and Game officials believed there may have been a violation, but the Fremont County prosecuting attorney, Karl Lewies, declined to press charges.

"In my opinion, there is reasonable doubt whether the wolves were, or were not, molesting livestock or domestic animals," Lewies wrote in a letter to Fish and Game.

Calls to Lewies were not returned.

"We're taking our new responsibility for wolf management in the state seriously," Schmidt said. "We're still learning, and sometimes things aren't as black and white as we'd like them to be."

Since coming under state control, wolves are classified as big game animals, but there is no hunting season scheduled until this fall, and hunters will have to have one of a limited number of hunting tags.

Livestock owners can get permission from Fish and Game to kill wolves that are causing perpetual problems. In these cases, wolves don't have to be actively molesting livestock when they are killed.

If livestock owners don't want to kill the problem wolves, Schmidt said Fish and Game officers are willing to help with non-lethal hazing methods.

Three wolves in all have been killed since the state took over control. The third was a male wolf found near Clayton, in central Idaho near Challis. The carcass was found on April 2 on private land, and officials determined it was shot in the chest.

The shooting is still under investigation.

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