By DAN BROWNING
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
MINNEAPOLIS — Just months before the state Department of Natural Resources is planning to let hunters harvest 400 wolves in Minnesota, a federal grand jury in Minneapolis has indicted two men in an alleged conspiracy to cover up the killing of two of the animals ahead of schedule.
According to the indictment, which was handed up Monday, Kyler James Jensen, 31, of Silver Bay, Minn., killed two gray wolves on Feb. 17, 2010, which at the time would have been a violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Gray wolves were removed from the list of endangered species in January and the Minnesota Legislature approved a controversial plan to let hunters and trappers cull the state’s thriving wolf packs. Wildlife biologists say killing up to 400 wolves won’t harm the wolf population in Minnesota.
That wasn’t the law, though, when Jensen allegedly killed the wolves in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest.
The grand jury says that he conspired with Vernon Lee Hoff, 54, of Finland, Minn., to conceal the killings by moving and burying the bodies.
Jensen allegedly killed the wolves on Forest Road 369 and moved them to a work site, where the indictment says he dug a hole with a bulldozer and buried the bodies. He later dug up the bodies intending to destroy the evidence, the indictment says.
Hoff allegedly lied to an officer of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service when he denied speaking on the phone with Jensen about the dead wolves. And Jensen allegedly lied to an officer by denying that he had buried the animals.
Jensen could not be reached Tuesday for comment. Hoff said he didn’t know he’d been charged. “That’s over two years ago that incident happened and I haven’t been notified by anyone,” he said. “Maybe it will take a day or two for the dog sled to get here,” he added.
Jensen and Hoff were each charged with conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, aiding and abetting a violation of the Endangered Species Act, and making false statements to a federal officer. Jensen faces an additional charge of violating the act.