The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed yesterday that the wolf, whose astonishing trek made national headlines, was shot near Beaver, Utah, by a local hunter who allegedly mistook it for a coyote.
Genetic tests conducted at the University of Idaho found that the DNA sample taken from the wolf killed on December 28 was identical to the DNA in scat samples taken from Echo, the name given to the Grand Canyon wolf following a worldwide naming contest among schoolchildren. (See our gray wolf pictures.)
The Fish and Wildlife Service revealed for the first time this week that the animal had been radio-collared roughly a year ago, in January 2014, near Cody, Wyoming—which suggests Echo had traveled at least 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) before being killed.
Wolves in Utah are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and hunting them can bring penalties of up to a year in prison and tens of thousands of dollars in fines. A spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service would not comment on the shooting, but said the investigation is under way. (Read “Wolf Wars” in National Geographic magazine.)
“It’s very sad news,” said Michael Robinson, a conservationist and wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We and a lot of other people were rooting for her. Echo’s death illustrates the peril wolves face even under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.”
A gray wolf hadn’t been seen in the Grand Canyon area since the 1940s. The predator once roamed much of North America, but was hunted nearly to extinction by the mid-20th century.
But thanks to conservation efforts including reintroduction, the species has rebounded. Today, 1,700 gray wolves roam the West. (See an interactive on the return of the wolf to much of the United States.)
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, however, the gray wolf has recovered to 10 percent of its historic range in the U.S.—a number the center believes is too small. Biologists have identified more than 350,000 square miles (900,000 square kilometers) of unoccupied suitable wolf habitat.
This habitat includes portions of the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains, the Adirondack Mountains, and, not least, the greater Grand Canyon area.
That future is uncertain. The gray wolf has been deemed to have recovered in Montana and Idaho, where it has been delisted as an endangered species.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is also expected to issue a decision soon on whether to remove gray wolves across the lower 48 states from protection under the Endangered Species Act.