PREDATORS -- Am I shocked that a wolf hunter has shot someone's pet near a popular Montana-Idaho winter recreation area? Yes.
Am I surprised? No.
And the Missoula County sheriff’s office is just throwing up its hands, saying there's nothing it can do as it ends its investigation into the fatal shooting of a malamute on Lolo Pass by a hunter who apparently mistook it for a wolf.
According to the story moved by the Associated Press, Layne Spence of Missoula said he was skiing with his three dogs on a quiet logging road near Lee Creek Campground Sunday afternoon when he heard a shot and saw his dog, Little Dave, fall down with a leg injury.
About 15 to 20 yards away, Spence said he saw a man wearing camouflage and carrying a gun.
“I started screaming ‘Stop, stop,’ and the man kept shooting,” Spence, 48, said. The dog was struck in the neck and died.
“My dog is lying there, dead and I shouted ‘What are you doing?’ and the guy said, ‘I thought it was a wolf.’ "
- Photo above shows a pair of malamutes for comparison.
Spence said the hunter asked if there was anything he could do, but Spence said he was so distraught he told the man to leave.
When Spence returned to town he filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office.
The Missoulian reports the agency passed the case over to the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Forest Service.
“There is no criminal activity here, and this is out of our jurisdiction,” Sheriff’s spokeswoman Paige Pavalone said on Monday. “We don’t have any witnesses and we’re not investigating the situation any further.”
Spokespersons for both FWP and the Forest Service had said Monday morning that they believed the case would be a criminal matter.
“This doesn’t have to happen,” Spence said. “Not every big dog is a wolf. These are pets, they all had their collars and lights on, they were all with me the entire time.”
He wondered what would have happened if he had a child on a sled or if a bullet ricocheted.
“There are other people who use the woods besides hunters this time of year,” Spence said.
The U.S. Forest Service maintains the Lee Creek campground for non-motorized winter use. Lolo National Forest recreation manager Al Hilshey said the area is popular with cross-country skiers who like to bring their dogs.
LESSONS FROM THE TRAGEDY
- Hunters must be extra alert when hunting in areas such as Lolo Pass, where other people routinely recreate, and they should be accountable for their actions.
- Dog owners must be aware that hunters can legally target wolves in Montana and Idaho. Dogs -- especially malamutes and other dogs that resemble wolves in any color ranging from white to black -- should be wearing large fluorescent orange collars and even vests when recreating in areas where hunters could be out.