Genetic testing has confirmed that a female wolf fatally shot in southwestern Utah on Dec. 28 was the iconic wolf known as “Echo” who’d been seen near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Echo, a 3-year-old female gray wolf, was the first wolf to return the Grand Canyon since hunters had exterminated the last wolves in the region in the 1940s. She was been born near Cody, Wyoming, and traveled at least 750 miles in search of a mate. US Fish and Wildlife officials identified the wolf by comparing DNA from scat collected at Grand Canyon National Park to the wolf killed in Utah, according to a news release from the Center for Biological Diversity.
Three weeks before she was shot and killed, hundreds of schoolchildren had named her in a contest that went global.
“Echo came to a heartbreaking end, but her odyssey through forest and desert shows that excellent habitat still remains for wolves in the American West,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Her death also demonstrates that public education, law enforcement and solid science are needed now more than ever to recover endangered wolves, and that the last thing they need is to have their federal protections yanked.”
The shooting violated the Endangered Species Act, which still protects gray wolves in most states. But wolf shootings happen, usually when hunters mistake wolves for coyotes, which can be shot on sight in most states.
In 2011, Congress removed the gray wolves from the ESA protections in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and parts of Washington and Oregon. Their reasoning: Wolves had reestablished themselves in that region and were no longer endangered. Trophy hunting in the first three of those states has since resulted in the deaths of hundreds of wolves.
Congress is now considering removing all wolves from federal protections, even though only a few remain in other states.
Wolves have recovered only about 10 percent of their historic range in the US, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, and wildlife researchers have identified more than 350,000 square miles of unoccupied habitat suitable for the apex predators. That habitat includes remote areas in the southern Rocky Mountains, the Adirondacks (in New York) and in the SIerra and Cascade mountain regions in California and the Pacific Northwest.
“Echo’s killing illustrates the perils that wolves face and the imperative to maintain federal protections as called for under the science-based standards of the Endangered Species Act,” said Robinson. “Keeping wolves on the endangered list is the basis for the public education we need, to enable more wolves to live and thrive and minimize conflict.”