Gray wolf killed during big game hunt in Okanogan County

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SEATTLE — Federal wildlife agents are investigating the death of an endangered gray wolf in Okanogan County in north-central Washington state.

The adult female wolf was shot and killed during a big game hunt in the area, Doug Zimmer, a spokesman with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, said Monday. Hunters were in the field hunting elk or deer in the Pasayten Wilderness and reported to state wildlife officials on Sept. 20 that they had shot and killed a wolf.

It’s not legal to hunt wolves in Washington state. Gray wolves are federally protected as endangered in the western two-thirds of Washington.

Zimmer said federal wildlife officers are working with state officials to determine whether the shooting was a legitimate accident or whether the wolf was killed under other circumstances, such as self-defense or in defense of others. It would be up to federal prosecutors to decide whether to prosecute.

The wolf that was killed was not collared and it’s unclear whether she belonged to a known pack, he said.

A spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife referred questions about the wolf to the federal agency. A state wildlife report notes that officials “have not previously verified wolf activity in this portion of the wilderness area and don’t know if the animal is part of an active pack or a solo wanderer.”

Wolves have been a controversial topic ever since the predators returned to the state much faster than expected in recent years. In 2008, there were only a handful of wolves. As of March, there is an estimated 50 to 100 animals in 10 confirmed packs, all in central and eastern Washington.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has proposed lifting most remaining federal protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states, including Washington and Oregon. Three public hearings are scheduled across the country this week to discuss the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal.

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