No Charges for Michigan Hunter Who Shot Gray Wolf


Michigan officials have decided not to prosecute a hunter who shot and killed an endangered gray wolf in January while on a legal coyote hunt with an experienced guide. The incident took place in Calhoun County, in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, where wolves are not commonly found.

“The conduct here appears to be based on a reasonable and honest belief they were legally shooting a coyote,” Calhoun County prosecutor David Gilbert told The Associated Press of his decision not to press charges. A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources confirmed that the decision “was consistent with what the DNR found” during its investigation of the incident, which took place while a novice hunter was “heat-scoping” for coyotes with the guide, who coached him through the shot. “Those involved appear to have reasonably believed they were shooting a coyote,” DNR spokesman Ed Golder told the Bridge Michigan news service. “The investigation revealed no information to indicate they should have expected there would be a wolf in the part of Michigan where they were hunting.”

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is home to an estimated 762 gray wolves, according to a wolf population survey conducted by the DNR last winter and released last week. That represents an increase of 131 animals above the 2022 estimate, but is consistent with the long-term trend that suggests wolf populations have stabilized “at their biological carrying capacity,” according to the report. The Lower Peninsula, on the other hand, has only small, highly fragmented blocks of habitat considered suitable for wolves in its northern areas. Calhoun County, which is in the second tier of counties from the state’s southern border, is several hundred miles from the U.P., and biologists have not been able to explain the wolf’s appearance there. Sightings of the species in the northern Lower Peninsula were last confirmed in 2004 and 2014, but officials say this is the first time a wolf has been seen in southern Michigan in 100 years.

State wildlife officials began investigating after seeing chatter on social media about a hunter shooting a “world-record coyote” weighing 84 pounds. Coyotes typically range in size from 25 to 40 pounds. The state seized the animal, which by then had been turned over to a taxidermist for mounting. Authorities used genetic testing to determine that it was a gray wolf. The animals are protected by the Endangered Species Act across 45 states, where killing one is a federal offense, except in cases where the animals pose an immediate threat to human life, and can be punishable by a year in prison and a $50,000 fine.

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