The Albequerque Journal is reporting that a USDA Wildlife Services employee is under investigation for the killing of an endangered Mexican gray wolf in the southwest corner of New Mexico. According to the Journal USDA Wildlife Services issued a statement claiming the employee mistakenly identified it as a coyote. A Wildlife Services spokesperson stated “While on-site he lethally removed a canine, which was then identified as possibly a Mexican wolf.”

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About The Author

Ken Cole

Ken Cole, Western Watershed Project’s Idaho Director, is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is also serves as a member of the board of directors for Buffalo Field Campaign.

42 Responses to Investigation into the unauthorized killing of an endangered Mexican gray wolf by Wildlife Services employee

  1. avatar timz says:

    so WS has techs running around that can’t tell a wolf from a coyote. this will get swept under the rug like the WS employee that turns his dogs loose on trapped coyotes.

    • avatar Jeff N. says:

      In regard to endangered species, this administration is on par with the last one, for ineptitude. It’s pretty sad when a WS “specialist” can’t tell the difference between a coyote and a Lobo, allegedly.

      The secrecy surrounding this program has always been a concern. Who knows if the circumstances surrounding this killing will ever see the light of day. I’m not hopeful.

      The fact that gray wolf’s endangered status is under consideration for blanket removal is a joke and if this happens you can probably kiss the long term existence of the lobo goodbye. Both fish and game departments of NM and AZ are no friend of the Mexican Gray Wolf, and we know that the Feds would like nothing more then to wash their hands of the gray wolf recovery. What a freaking joke.

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        Yes, I fear you are right. How bad is it when a federal employee kills an endangered wolf? And to fall back on that old standby of an excuse “I thought it was a coyote”.

      • avatar Ramona says:

        Jeff….”Ineptitude” is the rule, with this group….and they have lost any garner of respect or courtesy, from most of us….
        The only one to suffer is the Mexican Gray wolf….There really is no secrets….You just said it all….:)
        The joke will be on them, when their “paychecks” are no longer coming from the ‘blood” of wolves!!!

  2. avatar Immer Treue says:

    With “””friends””” like that, who needs enemies.

  3. avatar Wolfy says:

    Yup, this is consistent with my years of experience working around the WS types. I witnessed incidents very similar to this. And yes, it all just gets swept under the rug. These guys are given a long leash and very little supervision or accountability. The only time they get called into the head office is for not killing more animals when farmers or ranchers complain. This agency has run its course and should be shut down.

  4. avatar Larry says:

    Based on experience this should be a slam dunk for prosecution. If it is not prosecuted then don’t expect any poacher mortalities to be prosecuted. The WS employee seems not to have any authority for killing the wolf (based on news articles) and absent the wolf having him by the throat he is not expemted from prosecution.

  5. avatar ramses09 says:

    We live in very sad times.

  6. avatar Carter Niemeyer says:

    As a former Wildlife Services employee, my first curiosity is: Why was the WS employee out gunning for coyotes that day? Was there a particular reason, like an on-going depredation complaint, Or was he out filling in his hours by “hunting” coyotes. If he was doing preventative control and shooting coyotes for just “being out there” this will be a very embarrassing situation for the agency and a needless death of an endangered wolf.

    • avatar Dee says:

      How can this agency be shut down you were an employe there must be some way to stop this ongoing murder of wildlife with our tax dollars…

  7. avatar Mark L says:

    This should result in a pair being released….the male that was ‘recalled’ earlier and another female. It’s a shame but will actually allow a more genetically diverse wolf to take it’s place, if some play their cards right. (All is not lost)

  8. avatar Lisa Robertson says:

    For heavens sakes,,,IF IN DOUBT, DON’T SHOOT!

  9. avatar Don says:

    A friend of mine that lives in Santa Fe NM told me a local radio broadcast he was listening to tonight was talking about this, and said that the WS person was out checking on/investigating a cattle depredation and the wolf showed up to finish eating what was left of the cow so he shot it.

    • avatar eloise lanum says:

      So, he found what he thought was a coyote eating a dead cow – so he shot it. Since when are coyotes taking down cows?!

      • avatar Larry says:

        Doesn’t matter what caused the death of the precious cow, there was not a take order for that wolf. It sounds like the cow was already dead and may have died from eating barbed wire for all the shooter appears to have known at the time. It is typical rancher/WS ideology that if it’s canine it’s the enemy. I know how political pressure can interfere with prosecution even at the federal level but this needs to be apolitical.

  10. avatar Jerry Black says:

    I wonder if there’s any psychological testing involved in Wildlife Service’s hiring process. I realize that not all WS employees are out in the field killing whatever, but the ones that are, can’t be “normal” humans, and must derive pleasure from killing animals….what happened in their childhood that enables them to seek this type of employment? Can you imagine going to work every day to destroy life?

    • avatar Immer Treue says:

      Please don’t look at this as anti-hunting. But I would imagine (yes, this is a guess) that most have a background in hunting and perhaps trapping. Heck, look at the background of Carter Neimeyer, who most of us look upon as the metaphorical “St. Paul” in regard to wolves, had an extensive background in trapping.

      This guy “probably” made the mistake of shooting prior to target identification. We don’t know all details. Was wolf scavenging, or had wolf been active participant in killing the livestock?

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      It would be soul-crushing for most people, I would think. I don’t know if people always have to be ‘made’ into monsters, I think some are just wired that way. (not saying that is the case here, just a general comment). And the thought that some people may be hired because they are cruel and soulless, and there is a place for them in our society, is just too horrible to contemplate.

      • avatar Immer Treue says:

        Remember the study that was done a while back putting life-like fascimilies of animals in on the edges of roads. I believe 6% of motorists went out of their way to hit the decoy. Could be drawing a bit from that pool also.

    • avatar Wolfy says:

      From what I gather from talking to some WS employees, WS wants to hire folks like themselves. People who are not squeamish, will do what they are told, and are not afraid to be in the gray or even dark side. Having some fish and game violations on the applicant’s record is actually seen as a good thing. Essentially, they need to be experts in SSS. I’ve actually known a former WS employee who “flipped out” and quit WS. He teaches in an elementary school now. Comforting, eh?

  11. I have observed and photographed hundreds of gray wolves in the wild. Many inexperienced people think that every coyote they see is a wolf. I have been sent to photograph a “wolf” on several occasions, by well meaning people, only to have the “wolf” turn out to be a coyote.
    Mexican Wolves do resemble coyotes. I saw two running canines near Alpine, Arizona two years ago and while I think they were Mexican Wolves, I didn’t see them long enough to make a positive identification. Coyote hunting should not be allowed where Mexican Wolves are present. It is too easy to mistake one for the other.

    • avatar Jeff N. says:

      Baloney…..only in color do they appear similar. They have all the attributes of wolves…..attitude, paw size, facial characteristics….overall personalilty.

      They act nothing like a coyote, and the WS hit squad knows this. This wasn’t an accident.

      • avatar jon says:

        Something more sinister is going on here.Do you think all those incidents with ws agents or hunters killing wolves illegally is by accident? No, I don’t think so. Anyone who hates wolves can use the excuse, oh, I thought it was a coyote. Hunters and ws agents know the difference between a wolf and coyote. Hunters and this ws agent are getting away with illegally killing wolves by claiming that they thought the animal they shot was a coyote to them when it was truly a wolf. I hope this ws agent is fined big time and gets thrown in the slammer.

        • avatar Larry says:

          From the news story I don’t doubt the WS employee perhaps thought it was a coyote at the time of the shot. The news reports that he immediately reported the wolf kill to his office. However, that information speaks to his inability to follow some kind of procedure to fully identify his target or that WS policies are extremely lacking as to when to kill in a known sensitive wolf recovery area. The dang cow was already dead, that’s established, why the urgency to kill before the death is investigated. Maybe the inv would have been conclusive it was wolf killed but then there are procedures to follow to compensate or remove the guilty animal. There should not be a standing policy to shoot and then walk up to see what animal it is in this sensitive wolf recovery zone. And if there is a MOU that allows this then the heads of the signatories should roll.

  12. avatar Rita k Sharpe says:

    This event probably will never go to the point where the WS employee will be fined or fired. There are to many ifs.Was the cow dead before the wolf arrived at the scene and/or did the wolf act alone or was he just as scavenger? Again we hear that usual response of I thought it was a coyote.Is this just a token jester by the agency trying to save it’s reputation or just another form of damage control? Who knows?

    • avatar Larry says:

      Under the ESA, the defense of “I thought it was a coyote” is not a legal defense. Everyone on this site needs to get that out of the discussion. The only intent that needs to be justified is that the shooter intended to kill something when he pulled the trigger. He could have thought it was a rattlesnake or a parrot, doesn’t matter under the law. The question for the prosecution is did he have authorization by regulation to take this wolf. Period.

      • avatar savebears says:

        Larry,

        You would be surprised to find out, how much authorization Wildlife Services can come up with in situations like this, I seriously doubt there will be any prosecution in this situation.

        i have seen it more times than I care to remember when I worked in the field.

  13. avatar Carter Niemeyer says:

    Most interagency contracts with Wildlife Services include an incidental take clause so that if a particular species is accidentally killed, it is a get-out-of-jail free card. The end result being that the agencies have to sit down and discus the matter and make adjustments to avoid the same mistake again. Incidental take could be in regard to eagles, grizzly bears, wolves or any number of sensitive species. This could eventually be his “out” from this situation.

    • avatar savebears says:

      Cater, it will probably “BE” his out on this one, especially if he has no other questionable situations in his service records.

      Like I said above, I seriously doubt there will be any prosecution in this situation.

      Reminds me of when I was in the service and the air force accidentally bombed a village of friendlies, oops, we are sorry and no other ramifications happened.

      • avatar Ken Cole says:

        Someone mentioned to me that this particular WS employee was responsible for killing a Mexican Wolf after Governor Richardson issued a “pardon” to the wolf in question. They claimed they didn’t get the notice in time.

        I can’t vouch for the info.

    • avatar Larry says:

      Right Carter, I forgot about incidental take permits generally being part of a MOU. It may be a stretch though to be an incidental take with regard to an intentional killing as this seems to be. Most often incidental take covers actions not so directly imposed on the animal such as mortality resulting from trapping, darting, apparatus malfunctioning, hazing etc. If this case is intentional and the only justification is lack of expertise and due care on the part of the employee then he may not have much wiggle room. As you can see I’m trying to make it work! Would also like to see the agency (WS) be held responsible as to lack of supervision, training and policy as well.

  14. avatar Carter Niemeyer says:

    I know of at least one case in Idaho where a Wildlife Services employee snared a wolf and obviously never checked the snare(s) in weeks because the wolf and a coyote were mummified when the landowner discovered and reported them. USFWS agents interviewed the trapper and, in my opinion, had a good case against the individual and it was dropped. Nothing more said or done.

    • avatar Larry says:

      A standing FOIA request on this matter would be in order. Some pressure on USFWS-LE goes a long ways. I know that within the last few years heads did roll in USFWS-LE SAC Office, Albuquerque for trying to cover up a SCI violation concerning airborne hunting.

    • avatar WM says:

      Unlike other individuals who might commit an infraction under the ESA, if a WS employee is acting within the course and scope of employment (doing her/his job if it includes lethal control of animals in support of USFWS or a state cooperator, or other interagency or contracting partner), it would seem such a violation would be very difficult to prosecute absent an admission of specific intent of the individual to kill an endangered animal.

      In other words, if the death results from negligence, gross negligence or even reckless conduct, in mis-identification of an animal (mistake/lack of traning), just bad judgement, or something along the lines of even failure to timely check traps, prosecution would not be likely.

      However, that does not mean necessarily that the employee wouldn’t get spanked or otherwise reprimanded for the misconduct, if the culture demanded it. Now as for that culture and the management that is indifferent to poor judgement of an employee?

      • avatar Larry says:

        Again I say if the WS employee is covered by an exemption it is very narrowly applied and must be clearly delineated within the law (sec 10 or 6) or via an authorized MOU. No employee of any agency can violate the prohibitions of ESA by simply a wink and a nod. Since this wolf was killed back in January and was not reported in the agency’s monthly mortality report, that indicates to me there certainly is not a clear cut exemption (MOU, statute or other legally authorized) for his/her conduct with respect to this incident. Otherwise why would the investigation still be ongoing? The incident would be summarily dismissed as being an exemption. Such investigations take time (travel, interviews, other pressing investigations, forensics, scheduling conferences with AUSA, etc.) but if this falls clearly into an exemption no FWS agent would spend wasted time making a nice story book out of this. I think there’s a little fire at the base of this smoke. My concern is will political pressure cause people to move their feet back away from the fire?

        • avatar WM says:

          Larry,

          I guess we are all doing alot of speculating here, without the benefit of the circumstances of the kill, and factors which may have motivated the employee to shoot the wolf, and most of all the report of investigation.

          What is apparent, from the article, is that the WS employee reported it immediately, and an investigation was convened because there it involved an apparant endangered species killing.

          So, from that, no cover up, and no special treatment of the employee as evidenced by the investigation. You may be correct, that there is no narrow blanket exception, but it is far from clear the employee does not have legal defenses which would prevent a prosecution. I expect there may be some motivation to do an investigation, regardless of cost, because many folks are watching and speculating – and peeing on WS and its employees. The apparent fact that I find curious was that the wolf was reported to be near and feeding on the cow. If true, that would suggest this individual animal now has a taste for cow, whether it killed it or not, in this instance. Will such an investigation report serve as a teaching moment for all involved and watching. Time will tell.

          So, I guess we have the differing views of a wildlife law enforcement type such as yourself, and a lawyer, such as myself. It is one thing to write somebody up for an infraction. It is yet another, in obtaining a conviction, should the citation be challenged.

          • avatar Larry says:

            I agree with your points, especially that all of this involves speculation. Please give me a little credit about the theory that if an exemption for the kill was apparent (interagency agreement via authority of the secretary or statute exemption) then it wouldn’t even fall under the office of law enforcement. But the silence about it since January is a red flag to me. And you are right, the more the investigation shows the incident may have a grey area with regard to authority the less and less the probability of prosecution. I don’t know how tight the FWS-LE is with the USA office in that state, it does vary district to district, but that will certainly be a factor as well. If this rises to the level of prosecution I suspect it will be through a grand jury. As you can tell I’m just dieing to learn more. Speculation is about as sure as weather forecasting.

      • avatar Nancy says:

        “Now as for that culture and the management that is indifferent to poor judgement of an employee?”

        Bingo WM.

  15. avatar Snaildarter says:

    I’m not buying that it was a accident. Procecution needs to happen at the Federal level where politics is less effective.

  16. avatar timz says:

    This much like the incident with the guy that turns his dogs loose on trapped coyotes will ne buried because these peons do this type of thing with their management condoning it and/or just looking the other way. Managers are not going to have the spotlight turned on them. It’s like having pictures of your boss with farm animals. Just my opinion, based on working for the feds for 10 years.

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