A wolf was accidentally killed in a trap north of Priest River Friday by animal control officers exterminating coyotes.
“They were out doing predator control for ranchers and accidentally took a wolf,” said Ted Koch, a Boise-based wolf recovery biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“It’s certainly regrettable, but there is no question it was an accident,” he said. “What happened was on the up and up, but it will still be investigated.”
The incident was announced just days after one of 15 radio-collared gray wolves released in central Idaho was found shot to death. That wolf, part of an effort to restore the endangered species to the region, had fed on a newborn calf before it was shot.
The Priest River wolf did not have a radio collar and was not part of the recovery effort.
Agents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture were in the Priest River area last week to bait and kill coyotes. The animals had been attacking livestock at several nearby ranches.
Traps called “coyote getters” were set up near the ranches.
The traps, which have a small explosive charge and cyanide spraying device attached to them, are baited with meat.
When the meat is pulled, the charge goes off and shoots the cyanide spray into the animal’s mouth.
This time a wolf found the trap instead of a coyote.
A USDA officer found the dead wolf Friday. He put it in a freezer until enforcement officers from the Fish and Wildlife Service could be contacted.
“The officer is real disappointed about it, but he behaved in lawful manner,” Koch said. Under a government permit, the animal control officers are allowed to accidentally take one wolf a year in the state, he said.
Koch fielded numerous calls about the dead wolf Tuesday, in part because of the earlier incident in central Idaho.
The wolf shot in the central Idaho incident was one of a group released earlier this month in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. The release is part of a five-year plan to restore wolf populations in Idaho. Federal agents are investigating that shooting.
The wolf killed near Priest River is now on its way to a lab in Ashland, Ore., said Roger Parker, a special agent investigating the incident for the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Genetic tests will be done there to determine if the animal is a purebred wolf or a crossbreed of a dog and wolf. Crossbreeds are not protected under the Endangered Species Act, Parker said.
Officials believe the wolf wandered into the Selkirk Mountains from Montana or Canada. Wolves have roamed the Priest Lake area for at least six years. Wildlife biologists predict a pack could be established there in the next few years, but it is not a wolf recovery zone.
“We are pretty sure there is another wolf out there now,” Koch said. He hopes to trap and radio collar the animal so it can be tracked.