Woman punished five years after killing wolf
By Jason Lehmann, Enterprise Staff Writer
When dairy farmer Laura Mitchell saw a canine chasing her sheep nearly
five years ago on her Paradise Valley ranch, it hadnýt crossed her mind
the animal was a wolf. In her eyes it simply was a predator.
What she also could not have anticipated was the hassle that was about to
take place over the next several years with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
officials and legal authorities, which ended Monday, May 24, when she
completed terms of a settlement agreement with USFWS.
Mitchell and her family have operated the 374-acre Mitchellýs Milehigh
Ranch in Paradise Valley for 60 years, so occasional livestock losses to
predators are accepted as ýpart of our business,ý she said.
On June 1, 1999, Mitchell ýsaw this critter chasing my sheepý into the
animalýs pen, she said during a recent interview.
Mitchell then saw the animal she thought was a coyote sitting just 10 feet
from the animals near their pen.
ýI live here and this wolf was right there,ý she said pointing to a spot
in an aerial photograph of her property.
She grabbed her .22 rifle, followed the wolf and shot it three times
before it died just southwest of a dairy barn on the property.
ýIt lay there dying and had this real eerie look in its eyes,ý Mitchell
said. ýI thought, ýThis is a real bad deal.ýý
Mitchell then suspected the animal was a wolf. Rather than bury or
otherwise dispose of the animal, she called USFWS authorities.
She said officials, including a former Park County Fish, Wildlife and
Parks game warden and USFWS law enforcement agent, could not identify the
animal. It was confiscated and sent to Oregon for DNA analysis, she said.
In the days following the investigation, Mitchell found a dead sheep. She
said she never found three lambs which had gone missing sometime during
the two weeks prior to the wolf sighting.
Mitchell said she was told by investigators they would recommend no legal
action be taken, and then heard nothing ýfor about two years,ý after the
Despite repeated calls to USFWS, Mitchell said no one told her details of
how the investigation was proceeding.
In March 2002, Mitchell said she learned the case went to a federal
solicitor general in Colorado, who would decide whether the case was worth
This past January, ýI received notification civil charges were proceeding
against me,ý Mitchell said. ýSince I had no way to prove depredation, by
our laws, a crime had been committed.ý
USFWS Wolf Recovery Coordinator Ed Bangs said Tuesday, May 25 genetic
testing of the wolfýs DNA confirmed it was related to the original pack
that was reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1994.
ýAll the wolvesý DNA in the Greater Yellowstone Area can be traced back,ý
Bangs said it was ýhard to believeý FWP and USFWS officials could not tell
whether the animal Mitchell killed was a wolf.
ýI could see where a (untrained) person might confuse a coyote with young
wolf, but I find it hard to believe any biologist would say, ýOh, I donýt
know if thatýs a wolf,ýý he said.
Bangs said wolf-dog hybrids roam around Park County and can be mistaken
for the real thing, but added, ýThe fact is, a wolf is four or five times
bigger than a coyote.ý
He said people who cannot distinguish between wolves and coyotes can go
online to a number of sites that show differences between the two animals.
ýJust like (a hunter who mistakes) a cow elk and a doe mule deer, the
state can prosecute you on mistaken identity,ý he said, adding USFWS ýmade
clearý in 1994 cases of mistaken identity between wolves and coyotes could
Bangs said in his experience, civil cases involving animals can be delayed
while felony cases like murders are pursued.
ýA lot of times these (animal) cases arenýt a real high priority,ý he
As part of her settlement, Mitchell avoided a fine by buying an
advertisement in the May 24 Enterprise, the text of which fulfilled her
requirement to educate ýthe local populace about the regulations
surrounding the experimental population of wolves in our area,ý according
to terms of the agreement.
Mitchell said she does not agree with the wolf reintroduction and feels
she was made an example of.
ýThis program totally ties our hands to deal with canine depredation
because if we shoot it and it turns out to be a wolf, weýve got a
problem,ý she said.
She also chided the federal government for not compensating stock growers
when their animals are killed by wolves.
ýWeýve got a program supposedly being managed by the federal government
but there are no provisions for government compensation.
ýWe didnýt ask for this problem and now we have to deal with it without
federal compensation and without a legal method of controlling it,ý she
Mitchell said that, as ranchers, ýWe all think the best thing to do is
shoot (wolves),ý but ýitýs real easy to say that until youýre the one who
Calls to other FWP and USFWS officials went unreturned before press time.