This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah wildlife managers and state attorneys insist Utah's controversial coyote bounty program does not conflict with the Endangered Species Act.
But at least one other state was forced to change its coyote-culling hunt after too many endangered wolves were killed.
Potential crossover between Utah's free-wheeling coyote hunt and the federal program for protecting animals threatened with extinction became clear last month after a hunter said he confused an endangered gray wolf for a coyote before he illegally shot and killed it.
The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources continue to investigate the circumstances that left a collared, 3-year-old female wolf dead outside Beaver on Dec. 28.
Utah Assistant Attorney General Martin Bushman said the Endangered Species Act does "provide for instances where the [killing] of animals that look like other species" can happen. But that hasn't happened in the case of gray wolves.
"Coyotes are not listed as threatened or endangered and the state maintains the authority to regulate the take however it wants to go about it," Bushman said.
But there is a precedent for groups challenging the open hunting of coyotes in areas where wolves are protected.
Three conservation groups settled a lawsuit last fall after accusing the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission with violating endangered species protections by proposing nighttime hunting with lights and an unlimited take for coyotes.
Just 100 red wolves, a cousin of the gray wolf, live in North Carolina. Smaller than the gray wolf, the red wolf is closer to the size of coyotes.
According to the Animal Welfare Institute, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, 20 red wolves have died from gunshots and hunting is suspected in 18 other wolf deaths since 2008.
Since 2012, the institute reports, five people have admitted they shot wolves thinking the canines were coyotes.
According to the News and Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, the lawsuit was settled when the wildlife commission agreed to keep coyote hunting illegal at night in five counties. Daytime hunting of coyotes would require a special permit. Furthermore, coyote hunting in the five counties will be suspended if two or more red wolves are shot in the same year on state game lands by people hunting coyotes.
The red wolf population is obviously more threatened by extinction than the gray wolf. U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimated 1,674 gray wolves were living in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming at the end of 2012.
Mike Jimenez, Fish and Wildlife's northern Rocky Mountain wolf recovery coordinator, said gray wolves showing up near Beaver or on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a sign that the effort to restore their population in the West is working.
"Dispersing wolves take on a lot of charisma. People who like wolves get really upset when they are shot, and understandably so," he said. But, "biologically, it is not a threat to the population."
The name of the man who shot the wolf has not been released and it is not clear if the hunter was participating in Utah's $50 coyote bounty program.
Utah lawmakers created the bounty as part of the Mule Deer Preservation Act in 2012.
Hunters who want to collect a bounty must register and follow procedures to collect their money, but there is no license required to shoot coyotes in Utah, where they are an unprotected species.
More than 14,000 coyotes were turned in for the bounty in the first two years of the program.
Nothing in Utah's online bounty registration process helps hunters tell the difference between a coyote and a wolf. Nor is there information alerting hunters that they need to be aware of the possibility of seeing the endangered species in Utah.
Wildlife managers acknowledge that might change as the number of wolves visiting Utah grows.