This is an archived article that was published on in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

He might have led the famous Druid Peak wolf pack had he stuck around.

Instead, the wolf known as 253M left the safety of Yellowstone National Park and lit out for Utah, on the way becoming a darling of wolf-watchers around the world.

Nicknamed "Limpy" because his back legs were crippled in a fight when he was young, 253M was just shy of 8 years old - a wolf Methuselah - when he died March 28, shot in Wyoming on the first day wolves lost their protected status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Bad move, say wolf advocates

"He's got to be the most famous wolf in the lower 48 states," said Alan Sachanowski, a photographer who lives just north of Yellowstone in Pray, Mont. "If they wanted to make a martyr on the first weekend of delisting, I'd say they succeeded. Never before has any animal come off the endangered species list to face this kind of persecution."

Fitted with a tracking collar and easily identified by his dark black coat and three-legged gait, 253M died along with another male and a female a couple of miles from an elk feeding ground near Daniel, in Sublette County, Wyo.

The person who shot the wolves reported the kill, as Wyoming law mandates. But the law doesn't require the hunter to produce a carcass or identify himself, said Scott Werbelow, game warden coordinator for Wyoming Game & Fish in Pinedale.

"Whoever harvested the wolf with that collar had no idea of the history of that wolf," Werbelow said.

It took three days for 253M's identity to be confirmed and spread across the Internet. When Salt Lake City resident Marlene Foard heard the news last week, she wept. She wept again while explaining her love for the old wolf.

"We couldn't have children, so I adopted wild things. He was my baby. I was devastated," said Foard. "He died for nothing. If there was a reason to kill him, I could live with that. But there wasn't."

Foard quickly called her friend and fellow Yellowstone wolf-watcher and Roy resident Karen Byington, who said, "I got sick to my stomach and started to cry."

Last Tuesday, Kaysville resident Warren Ayala sent a protest e-mail to The Salt Lake Tribune. "I think they have no idea what they have done by killing this particular wolf," he said.

In November 2002, a Utah coyote trapper caught 253M in the mountains north of Morgan, about 30 miles northeast of Salt Lake City. It was the first confirmed wolf discovery in Utah for more than 70 years.

So, even though federal Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Mike Jimenez drove from Wyoming, picked up the wolf and released it two days later in Grand Teton National Park, 253M henceforth was considered Utah's wolf, at least in Utah.

Some speculated "Limpy" would eventually return here, where his mate may have still roamed. Instead he rejoined the Druid Peak pack in Yellowstone.

As an easily spotted member of the most visible wolf pack in the continental United States, 253M quickly became a park favorite for his diligence in tending pups, hunting elk, defending the pack's main den from bears and his trouble-free rambling, even in cattle country.

A few years ago, 253M dropped out of sight. No one had picked up a signal from his collar for more than a year when he was shot.

Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are preparing for fall trophy hunts in the small protected wolf area that remains around Yellowstone. Meanwhile, virtually all of the Cowboy State now is a unique free-fire predator zone where wolves may be killed for any reason. Most of the 30 or so Wyoming wolves that live outside protected areas roam Sublette County.

Several conservation organizations plan to file a lawsuit on April 28 against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its delisting decision.

The lead attorney, Doug Honnold of Earthjustice in Bozeman, Mont., said "extraordinary circumstances" could warrant earlier court action. But that section of the Native Species Act hasn't ever been tested, he said. Filing too early could be a setback that would mean holding up the lawsuit until after the fall trophy hunts.

"We're trying to walk this thin line," Honnold said. "It would be a real tragedy to see dozens or even hundreds of wolves killed in the fall."

The Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf recovery effort, supposedly a 20-year effort, started 13 years ago. The program has cost taxpayers $27 million; approximately 1,500 wolves were living in the area at the end of 2007. That's $18,000 per wolf, Sachanowski reckons.

Eric Keszlar, of Wyoming Game & Fish, said plans for the trophy hunt, including how many permits they will issue, are firming up. Permits will cost $15 for Wyoming resident, $150 for nonresidents. That's cheaper than other big game, he said.