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Three indicted on charges in endangered wolf deaths

Thu., June 9, 2011

Shipper stopped attempt to send a pelt to Canada

A federal grand jury has indicted a Twisp, Wash., man for illegally killing two wolves near his property and trying to ship one of the pelts to Canada.

After Tom D. White shot the wolves, his father told a Canadian tanner that he had “a really big coyote” skin for processing, according to the indictment.

The indictment lists Tom White; his father, William D. White; and Tom White’s wife, Erin J. White, who is accused of using a false name to try to ship the package containing the wolf pelt to Alberta in December 2008.

A FedEx worker in Omak was suspicious of the bloody package and alerted the Omak Police Department, which called in federal and state law enforcement. A gray wolf and wolf parts were seized, the indictment said.

Tom White faces charges of unlawfully taking an endangered species. William White is charged with conspiring to unlawfully take an endangered species and making false statements. Erin White faces charges of false labeling of wildlife for export. In addition, all three face smuggling and unlawful export charges.

A conviction for unlawful taking or conspiracy to take an endangered species can result in fines up to $100,000 and up to one year in prison.

The indictment was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Spokane.

Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, William White said his family had no comment. No arraignment date has been set for the Whites to respond to the charges.

The poaching case attracted national attention. The wolves Tom White is accused of killing in 2008 belonged to the Methow Valley’s “Lookout Pack,” which was Washington’s first documented wolf pack.

At least four adult wolves and six pups were counted in the pack in 2008, said Madonna Luers, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman. The pack produced four more pups in 2009. But in May 2010, the alpha female disappeared. Her radio collar was never found.

“Everyone figures there’s foul play,” said Luers, adding that the alpha female’s disappearance remains under investigation. Meanwhile, wildlife biologists believe the Lookout Pack has shrunk to two wolves: a radio-collared male and a second adult male.

According to the indictment, Tom White killed two wolves from the Lookout Pack in May and December 2008. In email correspondence from January 2009, William White said he and others had shot several wolves, specifically two wolves in one group of nine and one wolf in another group of three, the indictment said. The indictment didn’t indicate whether wolves shot by William White and others were injured or killed.

William White also used pesticides to try to kill wolves near his house, and emailed an Alaska relative for help in locating someone who knew how to snare wolves, the indictment said.

No public hunting or trapping of wolves is allowed in Washington. Although gray wolves were taken off the endangered species list in the eastern third of Washington this year, they remain on the state’s endangered species list and federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state.

About 25 wolves are believed to inhabit Washington, a figure that includes packs that also roam in Idaho and British Columbia. State officials are developing a wolf management plan for Washington, which calls for 15 packs.

“Wolves really need only two things to re-establish themselves in Washington: They need a prey base and they need human tolerance,” Luers said. “They’re not like spotted owls or woodland caribou, which require old-growth forests.”

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