DNA Confirms Famed Wolf 'Echo' Killed By Coyote Hunter In Southern Utah

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that the female gray wolf mistakenly killed back in December by a coyote hunter was the famed wolf, nicknamed "Echo," that the Service identifies as 914F.

Echo, who was killed in southern Utah, became famous when she traveled hundreds of miles from Wyoming to the Grand Canyon, becoming the first gray wolf seen in northern Arizona in 70 years.

Geneticists comparing DNA from the wolf killed in Utah with samples taken from the famed Grand Canyon gray wolf confirmed that the DNA matched. The Fish and Wildlife Service said that the results concluded that that "it is the same wolf," AZ Central reported.

914F was collared near Cody, Wyoming, on January 8, 2014. It was last spotted in the Grand Canyon area in the fall of 2014.

The 3-year-old wolf, who was wearing a radio collar since January of 2014, was killed after she was mistaken for a coyote by a hunter who shot and killed her in the Tushar Mountains outside of Beaver, Utah, which is roughly 200 miles north of the Grand Canyon.

She had traveled some 450 miles in order to reach Arizona. Federal officials indicated that she was likely traveling in search of food or a mate.

Visitors and hunters spotted and photographed Echo on the Kaibab Plateau back in October. The plateau is located north of the Grand Canyon National Park.

The death of Echo, who had become a symbol for the recovery of the federally protected species, has sparked outrage from conservationists, including the Southwest Programs for Defenders of Wildlife, an advocacy group whose director, Eva Sargent, said in a statement that it's "nothing short of a tragedy that this wolf's journey across the west was cut short because she was shot and killed by a coyote hunter," SF Gate reported.

"It is nothing short of a tragedy that this wolf's journey across the west was cut short because she was shot and killed by a coyote hunter (...) This brave and ambitious female gray wolf that made it all the way from Wyoming to the Grand Canyon had already become a symbol of what gray wolf recovery should look like – animals naturally dispersing to find suitable habitat."
SF Gate's report indicated that the tendency of hunters to mistake wolves for coyotes is a major issue, particularly in California, where the California Fish and Game Commission voted to list wolves under the California Endangered Species Act. However, those protections don't exist elsewhere.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's website indicates that the gray wolf populations in Idaho and Montana, with the exception of the Minnesota gray wolf, were delisted in 2011 due to their recovery.

Back in 2014, the D.C. district court issued court orders vacating the Service's 2011 and 2012 final rules, once again listing gray wolves as non-essential experimental. Gray wolves (Canis lupus) in all of Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio are once against listed as endangered and those in Minnesota are listed as threatened with special regulations. Critical habitat has also been reinstated for the subspecies in Minnesota and Michigan.

Gray wolves are known as keystone predators, making them integral components of the ecosystem to which they typically belong. The species has adapted to life in a wide range of habitats including temperate forests, grasslands, tundra, mountains, and taiga.

In 1978, the gray wolf was reclassified as an endangered population at the species level throughout the contiguous United States and Mexico.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicated that there is an ongoing investigation into the wolf's killing.

Sargent said that it was unfortunate that "we have seen time and again that coyote hunting in habitat[s] frequented by wolves is deadly for wolves" and that it was sad that the Fish and Wildlife Service's preparations "to remove all protections for gray wolves, except for Mexican gray wolves, in the near future" will make it more and more difficult for wolves to travel safely and less likely that we'll "hear their howls echo through places like the Grand Canyon."

Gray wolves once roamed across the continent. Then, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they were exterminated across the lower 48 states in what was largely an attempt to protect livestock. Minnesota was the one exception.

The last known native California wolf was trapped and killed back in 1924 in Lassen County.

In Utah, where Echo was killed, anyone can hunt coyotes. However, wolves are protected in the state under the Endangered Species Act.

Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity said that coyotes and wolves are "distinguishable if one pauses for a second before pulling a trigger," the Huffington Post reported.

"Wolves and coyotes are distinguishable if one pauses for a second before pulling a trigger (...) There are consequences for pulling the trigger when you don't know what you're aiming at. It's important to have justice for this animal."
While wolves and coyotes have similar coloring, wolves are generally twice as large, according to mammal conservation coordinate Kim Hersey with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. She indicated that wolves have rounder ears, bigger feet, and rounder snouts.

A person's ability to distinguish between the two would depend on the lighting, distance, and experience the hunter has in comparing the two animals, according to Hersey.

Federal judges reinstated protections in the last six months, which bar further hunting and trapping in Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan as a result of lawsuits by wildlife advocates. However, wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana continue.

Wolves, coyotes, and dogs are closely related and capable of interbreeding to produce viable, fertile offspring: wolfdogs, coywolves, and coydogs.

Mr. Robinson said in a press release that Echo's name came from "a contest of hundreds of schoolchildren around the world." The conservation also stated that the famed wolf's journey "shows that excellent habitat still remains" for the species in western America.

"Echo came to a heartbreaking end, but her odyssey through forest and desert shows that excellent habitat still remains for wolves in the American West."
The Center for Biological Diversity also noted in the release that Echo had "traveled at least 750 miles seeking a mate across a vast region that is entirely bereft of wolves."

Wolves, which are native to both Eurasia as well as North America, are wild carnivorous mammals of the dog family which live and hunt in packs. A wolf is any number of several large predatory canids (genus Canis) that live, hunt in packs, and resemble the related dogs.

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[Image via the Independent]