The gray wolf remains a protected species under the Endangered Species Act, but the Randolph animal died in the small slice of northern Utah included in wolves' Northern Rockies recovery zone spanning parts of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Gray wolves have been delisted for much of this region, thanks to their successful re-introduction 20 years ago around Yellowstone, so the animal killed outside Randolph was not protected under federal law.
This killing prompted wildlife advocates to renew criticism of Utah policies that not only allow, but encourage indiscriminate killing of coyotes, which bear some resemblance to the gray wolf.
"Wolves that happen to move into Utah or Colorado will most likely end up dead and hence we won't have wolves established in either of those states," said Kirk Robinson, executive director of the Western Wildlife Conservancy. "It's a real issue."
The wolf that died outside Beaver last year had been observed that fall on the Grand Canyon's North Rim and was later dubbed Echo following a naming contest. It had roamed all the way from Wyoming, then back into Utah, where it took a .223-caliber round on Dec. 28 and was finished off with a pistol shot to the head.
Federal prosecutors declined to charge the Beaver men who killed Echo or another hunter who shot a wolf last spring near Kremmling, Colo. In both cases, federal authorities concluded the hunters believed they were drawing a bead on coyotes, which hunters may kill without a license or bag limit, and regardless of the season.
Wolves' pesky, smaller cousins have proliferated in Utah thanks in part to the elimination of the top dog from the landscape. Since 2012, Utah taxpayers have subsidized coyote slaughter, with $750,000 going yearly to programs designed to "reduce and control" predator populations. The most controversial pays a $50 bounty for any coyote killed in Utah. Thousands of coyotes are trapped, shot and poisoned each year, yet their numbers remain strong in many places. A $5 fee on big-game hunters helps cover the cost.
Coyote hunting contests remain common in some Western states, despite intense opposition from some wildlife and animal-welfare groups. A month before Echo's death, Beaver hosted a coyote "calling" contest in which contestants killed 35 animals and turned in the carcasses for points.
The ninth annual Beaver Utah Coyote Calling Contest will take place Saturday.
Brian Maffly covers public lands for The Salt Lake Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-257-8713.