The first gray wolf known to venture west of the Washington Cascades in decades was shot in the right rear leg several weeks before it was struck by a vehicle last spring on Interstate 90, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday.
An examination of the carcass found that the gunshot wound was healing when the adult female was killed April 27 west of Snoqualmie Pass near North Bend, USFWS spokeswoman Ann Froshchauer said.
Details about the severity of the wound were unavailable. The wolf was apparently hit by a large vehicle, and the carcass was badly damaged, Froshchauer said.
Wolves are federally protected in the western two-thirds of Washington. Harming a federally endangered species can be punished by up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine. Froshchauer said the agency is closing its investigation.
The wolf was killed about 30 miles east of Seattle and 50 miles west of the state’s western-most pack, the Teanaway pack, which roams east of Snolqualmie Pass.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said the wolf’s black coat indicated it came from a different pack and could have come from northeast Washington or even the Rockies.
State officials said the wolf appeared to be about 2 years old, the prime age for wolves to disperse. USFWS did not provide an estimate of the wolf’s age.
Although the wolf’s journey ended in tragedy, conservation groups hailed it as a landmark, saying it showed that wolves will spread across Washington, a key goal of the state’s recovery plan. Predator-control programs drove wolves from the West by the 1930s. Wolves were reintroduced beginning in 1995 in Wyoming and Idaho and have dispersed west.
Conservation Northwest Executive Director Mitch Friedman said he was disappointed the wolf had been shot. Environmental groups, including Conservation Northwest, are offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the fatal shooting of a Teanaway pack female in October 2014.
Friedman said killing wolves will slow recovery and delay removing them from the state’s protected species list.
“I wish people would stop shooting wolves. It doesn’t do anybody any good,” he said. “It doesn’t surprise me people are shooting at wolves. There’s plenty of that on the Internet. That attitude — shoot, shovel and shut up — is openly expressed, so it’s not surprising, but it is disappointing.”
Washington Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Jack Field said the wolf’s death won’t slow the spread of wolves, which is increasing the need to foster social acceptance. Tolerance can be increased with policies that assure ranchers and hunters that wolf populations will be controlled, he said.
“It’s going to be an issue we have to deal with as we work toward recovery,” Field said. “All stakeholders have to believe the plan will work.”
The Teanaway pack has killed two cows this summer, according to wildlife officials, but neither USFWS nor WDFW has the authority to lethally remove wolves in Central or Western Washington. In the eastern one-third of Washington, where wolves have been taken off the federal endangered species list, WDFW can authorize shooting wolves to stop livestock depredations.
Wildlife officials immediately believed the animal hit on I-90 was a western gray wolf, but held off positively identifying the species pending a forensic investigation by the USFWS laboratory in Ashland, Ore. The agency says it completed the genetic analysis in September.
A motorist reported seeing the wolf in the highway median. By the time state wildlife officials arrived, the animal had been hit.