A "wolf" reported near Angela Drive in northern Hailey earlier this week may be a wolf-dog hybrid and could be the same animal that has been harassing sheep trailing through the Croy Canyon area, according to Lee Garwood, a senior conservation officer for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
"Evidently, this is the same animal ... and there are shoot-on-sight orders," Garwood said.
Garwood, who is investigating the report, said he's yet to determine if the animal is a hybrid or a wolf. He's also not sure if it's the same animal that was seen traveling with two hybrids killed near Fairfield last month.
Those hybrids were reportedly shot by Camas County Sheriff Dave Sanders after one of the animals was hit by a car on U.S. Highway 20. A third animal was reportedly spotted near the scene before it fled.
The two dead animals, which, according to Garwood, were probably raised in captivity as private pets before they were "just dumped somewhere," were buried on site. Fish and Game later confirmed they were wolf-dog hybrids.
Lynne Stone, a Stanley resident who regularly follows wolf matters in the Sawtooth and Wood River valleys, said the Hailey animal does not appear to be the "missing" third hybrid, but rather a separate hybrid.
Garwood said the animal reported on Angela Drive was "large, long-legged like a wolf, and mostly black in color." He said it also was identified as having "dark eyes," which would mean it was not a full wolf. Full-blooded wolves have lighter-colored eyes.
Stone said reports from witnesses at the scene in Fairfield indicated all three animals were gray and light in color.
"None of them were dark," Stone said. "I think these were different animals."
Stone said she thinks the dark animal may be the hybrid that was reportedly lurking and playing with domestic dogs near Quigley Canyon in eastern Hailey last spring.
But that animal supposedly had green eyes.
Exactly what the animal is and where it came from remains to be seen. But one thing that's for certain is wolf populations are rising throughout the state. Current estimates peg the population at more than 600. Reports of wolves, or hybrids, are also becoming more frequent locally.
In the last month, Garwood said he's received reports "from hunters of wolf sightings in the Greenhorn drainage and Deer Creek," between Hailey and Ketchum.
Ray Powell, who lives in Hailey and spends a lot of time hiking and hunting in the hills surrounding the Wood River Valley, said "wolves are all over the place." He added that he's seen tracks "bigger than my hand."
In May, Kevin and Jennifer Swigert, who live six miles west of Hailey in a remote section of Croy Canyon, claimed that a large pack of wolves had established a den near their home, and the animals were harassing their pets.
"They are gigantic, very aggressive animals," Kevin Swigert told Fish and Game officials at a wolf management meeting in Hailey last May.
Stone said in her frequent observations of wild wolves, the animals are harmless and will do everything possible to avoid human contact.
As for the animal harassing sheep in Croy, it can be legally shot and killed without prior authorization, even if it's a wolf.
Steve Nadeau, wolf program supervisor for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said he had heard that another wolf-like animal had been spotted in the Hailey area and that an animal was also seen chasing sheep in Croy Canyon.
"But whether that is a wild wolf, a hybrid or a dog I don't know," he said.
Dogs and hybrids can be shot on sight regardless of whether they are harassing livestock.
"A wild hybrid or a dog running loose—there is nothing that protects that animal," Nadeau said.
Wolves, on the other hand, are federally protected and cannot be killed unless they are observed harassing livestock.
According to Kevin McMullin, animal control officer for Hailey and Blaine County, it is legal for people to raise hybrids in captivity, but they must have the animal evaluated by Fish and Game to determine what percentage of the animal is wolf.
"If it's more wolf than dog, the animal has to get an ear tattoo," McMullin said.