Wolf B313, a yearling female member of the Stanley-area Basin Butte wolf pack, was illegally shot by Darlington resident George Gilbert late in the evening on June 7, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based in Idaho said this week.
Gilbert, who works as an employee at an unnamed ranch in the Stanley area, voluntarily reported to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game that he shot the wolf, the agent said. That immediately launched an investigation into the killing, Fish and Wildlife Special Agent Scott Bragonier said Monday.
Fish and Game has the lead investigatory responsibilities for wolf killings in Idaho under a memorandum of understanding with Fish and Wildlife, Bragonier said.
Although the case hasn't been closed yet, Gilbert has been formally charged for violating the U.S. Endangered Species Act, Bragonier said. All wolves in the northern Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are designated as "Threatened" under the ESA.
Under ESA regulations, the illegal killing of threatened species is punishable as a Class B misdemeanor, which has a maximum penalty of up to a $25,000 fine and six months in jail. The killing of species listed as "endangered" under the ESA is punishable as a Class A misdemeanor, which has a maximum penalty of up to a $100,000 fine and one year in jail.
However, due to special circumstances a fine of only $275 has been recommended for Gilbert. As the case has not yet been closed, Bragonier declined to elaborate on those circumstances.
"It seemed the appropriate action we take," Bragonier said. "That's the route I choose to take given the circumstances."
Under the ESA, Gilbert has the right to appeal his case in federal district court in Idaho, Bragonier said. If Gilbert chooses not to, the recommended penalty will stand, and the case will be closed.
Although a special management agreement implemented in January 2006, called the "10j rule," allows wolves to be shot when they're seen harassing livestock, Gilbert's case wasn't such a circumstance, Bragonier said.
"This shooting did not fall within that exception," he said.
Wolf B313 and her Basin Butte counterparts have been a common presence in the Stanley area throughout the past winter and into this spring, Stanley resident and director of the Boulder-White Clouds Council Lynne Stone said.
Stone said she repeatedly observed B313, who was sporting a Fish and Game radio collar at the time she was shot, and the rest of the Basin Butte pack throughout the past winter.
The home range for the Basin Butte pack covers some 250 square miles where the Sawtooth, White Cloud and Salmon River mountains meet the lower Stanley Basin. The area is a mosaic of aspen and conifer forests, sagebrush-covered hillsides and wide open grassy flats.
On the night of Friday, June 8, a day after Bragonier reported B313 was shot, the remaining Basin Butte pack members could be heard howling through the night, Stone said.
"The pack stayed around, and they were howling for her," Stone said.
Stone described B313 as having "a more regal bearing" in comparison to her sister, B312, another yearling female member of the Basin Butte pack who is also radio collared.
"This particular wolf, B313, was extraordinarily beautiful. I think she was destined to become an alpha female," Stone said.
Stone said the loss of the young wolf will have an effect on the Basin Butte pack.
"Wolves are pack animals. They're family animals," she said. "When one goes missing it's tough."