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Idaho

Charges dropped in wolf kill

Sat., Jan. 9, 2010

Cases raise conundrum: When is animal a threat?

Russell Glen Frachiseur was drinking coffee with his wife and in-laws when a wolf trotted up the driveway of his rural home south of Priest Lake.

The 75-pound male wolf paced up and down and circled the house before ambling off. A short time later it was back, watching Frachiseur’s blue heeler through a window as the dog growled. Frachiseur eventually shot the wolf from his deck with a hunting rifle.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game had sought misdemeanor charges against Frachiseur, who killed the wolf in June 2008 – more than a year before wolf hunting was legal in the state. The wolf didn’t appear to be threatening Frachiseur or his dogs, and it was 170 yards from his house when he shot it, said Chip Corsi, IDFG’s regional manager in Coeur d’Alene.

But the Bonner County prosecutor’s office dropped charges against Frachiseur this week, after he agreed to pay $125 in restitution. It was unlikely that a jury would convict Frachiseur on charges of taking a game animal out of season, said Louis Marshall, the prosecutor.

“He thought the animal was acting strangely,” Marshall said. “We have taken the position that he had a valid defense.”

With Idaho’s wolf population expanding by about 20 percent each year, more people are encountering wolves. The Frachiseur case points to a fuzzy area in state law: When is a wolf considered a threat to people and property?

“It’s not a black or white thing,” said IDFG’s Corsi. “Clearly the law allows people to protect themselves … But we have folks that live in rural areas that encounter wild animals on a regular basis. Just because something is on your back 40 doesn’t mean that it constitutes a threat.”

State law allows the killing of wolves, cougars and bears without hunting tags for self-defense, or if the predators are harassing or attacking pets or livestock.

When a Mullan, Idaho, man killed a wolf that was attacking his dogs, no charges were filed. That instance, also in 2008, was relatively clear-cut, Corsi said. Bite marks were found on the man’s Great Pyrenees, which survived the attack.

The officers who investigated Frachiseur’s wolf killing, however, didn’t think the wolf was acting aggressively, Corsi said. In addition, “it was quite a ways from the house when the guy shot it,” he said.

Frachiseur could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon. But he told wildlife officers that he initially meant to scare the wolf by shooting at it, according to the citation report. The wolf had been in the area 15 to 20 minutes, and his neighbors have horses and young children, Frachiseur said.

“I thought, ‘You know what? This guy’s a weird duck, and so I shot him,’ ” the report quoted Frachiseur as saying.

Frachiseur dumped the wolf carcass on National Forest land, but retrieved it that evening and contacted Fish and Game officials the next day, according to the report.

An Eagle, Idaho, man was charged in October with shooting a wolf during a closed season and firing from a public road. A trial for Randy R. Strickland, who pleaded not guilty, is scheduled for April. But generally, charges for illegal taking of wolves are quite rare, said Jon Heggen, IDFG’s chief of enforcement.

After a landowner shot two wolves near Ashton, Idaho, in 2008, chasing one on a snowmobile, the Freemont County prosecutor’s office declined to file charges.

“In my opinion, there is reasonable doubt whether the wolves were, or were not, molesting livestock or domestic animals,” Prosecuting Attorney Karl Lewies wrote in a letter to Fish and Game.



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