Man admits killing endangered wolf but avoids prison time, Oregon prosecutors say

An Oregon man pleaded guilty on Monday to killing an endangered gray wolf as the animal walked away from him, but he won’t face prison time under his sentencing agreement, prosecutors said.

Colton Dick, a 22-year-old from Oakridge, Oregon, was charged with one count of unlawfully taking an endangered species, which carries up to a year in prison, a year of supervised release and a $100,000 fine, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon said in a news release.

Dick used a rifle and scope to shoot the protected animal in Fremont-Winema National Forest on Oct. 5, 2016, according to prosecutors. He targeted the animal “without legal justification,” meaning the animal was not killed in self-defense, prosecutors said.

Dick admitted that he “knowingly took a wolf” after he “aimed at the wolf through his rifle scope, approximately 40 yards away, and fired at the wolf when it was walking away from him,” according to the plea agreement filed Monday, which was signed by Dick and his attorney.

“Upon firing at the wolf, the wolf jumped then ran away,” the plea agreement said. “(Dick) was alone at the time and was not acting in self-defense or defense of others. The wolf was an endangered gray wolf, which defendant did not have permission to take.”

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He couldn’t track down the wolf after he shot it, according to prosecutors.

The adult female wolf, which wore a GPS collar and was called “OR 28,” was discovered dead near Summer Lake, Oregon — and in November 2016, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigators figured out that a single gunshot had killed the animal, which is protected by the Endangered Species Act, according to federal prosecutors.

The 72-pound wolf, part of the Mount Emily pack, had been collared since 2014, the Medford Mail Tribune reports.

Back in 2016, the Sacramento Bee reported that OR 28 was a mother wolf whose “family has ties to California’s first wolf family, dubbed the Shasta pack: two adults with five pups that settled in Siskiyou County (in 2015). DNA tests showed the adults were born in the Imnaha pack,” a member of which OR 28 bred with.

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Wildlife officials pegged the number of wolves in Oregon at 112 or more in 2016, with those animals split up among 11 packs, the Associated Press reported. Though conservationists have cheered the wolves’ return to their former territory in the West, packs roaming Oregon and California have created tensions with ranchers, whose livestock are threatened by the native predators.

The deferred sentencing arrangement Dick agreed to means he will “submit to one-year of supervised release, pay restitution of $2,500 to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, not hunt any wildlife for a period of one year and perform 100 hours of community service,” according to prosecutors.

Dick will get to withdraw his guilty plea and prosecutors will seek to dismiss the charge if he follows through, prosecutors said.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.