A DNA test conducted on a canine killed near Elk Creek in the Clearwater region of Northern Idaho in November determined that the animal was a dog, not a wolf as previously thought.
A big game mortality report completed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and given to the Idaho Mountain Express this week lists the animal’s species as a wolf, and further states that the animal was light in color and killed with a rifle.
John Rachael, game manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said Wednesday that the animal was tagged as a wolf and apparently shot accidentally.
“From what I understand from the officers [in that region], it definitely appeared to be a wolf,” he said. “It’s a very unfortunate circumstance, without question. But I don’t think there was any ill intent.”
The report states that the shooting was incidental, meaning that the hunter was likely hunting deer or elk when an animal he thought was a wolf crossed his path. Rachael said the hunter had a wolf tag, and took the carcass to the Clearwater Regional Fish and Game Office with the belief that it was a wolf.
“I don’t think anyone would shoot a domestic animal and then try to pass it off as a wolf,” Rachael said. “If it was running loose in the wild and someone mistook it for a wolf and shot it, I don’t think there’s any violation there.”
Rachael said he didn’t know the entire set of circumstances—and Clearwater Regional Supervisor Dave Cadwallader was not available for comment as of press time. At some point, an investigation was triggered that led to the DNA test revealing the animal was a dog or possibly a dog-wolf hybrid.
“There were some other circumstances that led them to believe that this might not be a wild wolf,” Rachael said.
Wolf advocate Lynne Stone, who received the report through a Freedom of Information Act request, said she has heard conflicting information about the circumstances surrounding the animal. Her main concern, she said, is that the animal managed to pass by Fish and Game officers and be tagged.
“I heard it looked somewhat wolfy from a distance,” she said. “I guess when you get a skinned-out carcass, it might be sometimes hard to tell. My biggest concern was that the professional person from Fish and Game didn’t catch it, or didn’t say that there was something kind of odd about this animal. Wolves have big paws for their size. They have small ears. They have broad faces.”
Rachael said he believes the hunter made a mistake—that many dogs look like wolves and could have been roaming loose in the area.
“It’s happened before,” he said. “It’s difficult to know how often. Someone shoots an animal, they think it’s a wolf and someone else tells them, you know, it’s not a wolf.”
Rachael said the circumstance was “fairly unusual” but that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game does not keep records on incidental domestic dog kills. The agency is charged with tracking game and wildlife deaths, he said.
However, Rachael urged dog owners with animals that look like wolves not to allow their dogs to roam free in wolf hunting zones. Wolf hunting season runs until March 31 in the Southern Mountains Zone, which includes Blaine County, and begins again on Aug. 30.
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