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Officials look into gray wolf killing

Sat., March 28, 2009, midnight

Pelt matches pack in Okanogan County

SEATTLE – Washington state and federal wildlife officers are investigating the illegal killing of a protected gray wolf in Okanogan County in north-central Washington.

The investigation began when a shipper in Omak called police after someone tried to ship a “bleeding package” to Canada. Police found what was believed to be an unprocessed and untanned pelt of a gray wolf inside the package.

Preliminary U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lab results show that the wolf pelt shipped in December is related to a pack of wolves found in Twisp last summer, according to search warrant records. The Twisp animals were the first confirmed wolf pack in Washington since wolves were eradicated decades ago.

Wildlife officials said these wolves are protected as an endangered species in Washington state and also protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“The wolves are protected. It’s against the law to kill them. We are investigating,” said Joan Jewett, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman in Portland.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent Charles Roberts in Burbank, Wash., declined comment.

Mike Cenci, deputy chief of enforcement for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said there have been no arrests or charges in the case.

He said state and federal wildlife officers executed a federal search warrant in February, and a state search warrant issued earlier this month covered evidence seized in the first search.

“The case is not complete,” Cenci said. “It’s still very much under investigation.”

One of the men whose homes were searched told officers that he found the wolf caught in a fence and killed it to get it out of the fence wire.

But computer equipment seized by federal agents during the February search of two homes in Okanogan County turned up images of a dead wolf with a paw that appeared to have been injured in a trap, according to search warrant records.

“It’s illegal to harm or harass a state endangered species,” Cenci said. The violation under state law carries a maximum $5,000 fine and one year in jail, he said.

The federal penalty for killing an animal protected under the Endangered Species Act is a maximum $100,000 fine and a year in prison, he said.

The Twisp wolves are Cascade wolves, genetically related to animals from British Columbia or Alberta, and are still federally listed, said Jasmine Minbashian, special projects director for Conservation Northwest.

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