Authorities in Oregon say a 58-year-old wildlife trapper caught a juvenile female wolf late last year in rural Union County, then illegally shot and killed the animal.

David Sanders Jr., of Elgin, was arraigned Jan. 23 in Union County Circuit Court for unlawful taking of wildlife — a “special status game animal” — and using unbranded traps, both misdemeanor offenses. A plea hearing is scheduled for March 27.

Sanders did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Court documents obtained by the East Oregonian show he remains out of jail on a release agreement that prohibits him from trapping.

According to information released Wednesday, the case dates back to Dec. 18, 2017, when an Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife trooper was inspecting a trap line near Elgin and spotted a dead wolf next to one of the foothold traps.

Upon further investigation, the trooper determined the 63-pound wolf had “more than likely” been shot after being caught. X-rays and a necropsy revealed a small-caliber bullet in the wolf’s spinal column.

Sanders was interviewed by OSP, and admitted to killing the wolf after finding it in one of his traps. The trap was also not marked or branded with his information, as required by law.

Based on its location, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife believes the wolf was the offspring of a new breeding pair in the Mt. Emily Wildlife Management Unit, born in April. The department is awaiting DNA results to confirm the wolf’s identity.

Four wolves are known to have been inadvertently caught by licensed trappers since the species began returning to Oregon. In all previous cases, the trapper contacted ODFW and wildlife biologists were able to respond, collar and safely release the animal.

Wolves were removed from the state endangered species list in Eastern Oregon, though it remains illegal to shoot them except in specific cases, such as if a rancher finds a wolf in the process of attacking livestock or in defense of human life.

Another gray wolf was poached in November 2017 in Wallowa County, in addition to several reported incidents in southwest Oregon, where the species remains federally protected.

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