LEWISTON — Two environmental groups are calling on state and federal officials to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of a wolf that was trapped and killed in northern Idaho last month by a U.S. Forest Service employee.
Representatives from the Idaho-based Friends of the Clearwater and the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Portland, contend a photograph of the trapped wolf circulating on the Internet suggest the animal was tortured before it was killed.
The wolf was trapped by Josh Bransford, an employee of the Nez Perce National Forest. A photograph showing Bransford posing in front of the trapped and wounded but still living wolf have circulated on the Internet in recent weeks, drawing criticism from trapping foes who claim the wolf should have been killed before the picture was taken.
The picture was reportedly posted to a trapping website, trapperman.com, then copied and circulated by Footloose Montana, a Missoula-based group opposed to wolf trapping. A description of the photograph on the trapping website suggests the wolf was shot by someone other than Bransford. The photo shows Bransford in the foreground smiling, with the snared wolf in the background in an area of snow stained with blood.
Brett Haverstick, education director for Friends of the Clearwater, said it’s illegal for people to interfere with a trapped animal. The groups have asked the Idaho Attorney General and the U.S. Department of Fish and Game and the Forest Service to investigate whether animal cruelty or hunting laws were violated.
“This entire incident needs to be investigated as the circumstances surrounding it are incredibly disturbing,” Haverstick told the Lewiston Tribune in a story published today. “We expect the agency to do the right thing.”
Dave Cadwallader, supervisor of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s Clearwater Region, said the wolf was legally trapped by Bransford and subsequently checked by department officials as required by law.
“There is no indication of any violations,” he said.
The Lewiston office of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has received a slew of emails and phone calls about the picture, according to Cadwallader.
Elayne Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, said the forest and the chief’s office in the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters also received calls and messages. Bransford did not respond to a request for an interview made by the Tribune through Murphy. She did say he was not dissuaded by the agency from talking about the incident.
Cadwallader said conservation officers looked into allegations that the animal had been shot by others but found no evidence that would lead to a citation. He said officers were not able to identify who shot the wolf prior to it being dispatched but believe it was likely done by somebody who did not know the wolf was tethered to a trap.
“It seems apparent somebody else shot at it,” he said. “In light of the fact that wolf (hunting) season was open and a lot of folks have wolf tags and saw this wolf out in the open, saw this thing and thought it was an opportunity to shoot a wolf.”
He did say when the picture was taken versus when the wolf was dispatched could have been handled differently.
“We don’t agree with some of the actions he took. Everything he did was legal, he just needs to be sensitive to how some folks react to certain things,” he said. “Trapping is a very valid and viable wildlife management tool. I would suggest you don’t take that kind of picture and don’t share it on the World Wide Web. I probably would have dispatched the wolf first.”
Trappers are required to attend a daylong workshop on wolf trapping before they are allowed to purchase wolf tags. Cadwallader said much of the class is devoted to ethics and the perception some members of the public have toward trapping.
“Maybe we need to do a better job,” he said “We certainly include it as part of the curriculum. You can never talk too much about that sort of thing.”