SANTA FE, N.M. — President Obama has one more thing to do before he clears his desk in the Oval Office. He needs to fix a mistake from Bill Clinton’s administration that allows endangered species to be killed by hunters without any prosecution from the Department of Justice. This policy is named after a rifleman who shot one of the most important alpha wolves reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995.
After biologists had returned wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem, Chad McKittrick was out bear hunting in Montana when he saw a large animal 140 yards away. He said to his companion, “That’s a wolf. I’m going to shoot it,” and he focused the scope on his Ruger M77 7mm magnum rifle, and fired.
McKittrick approached the now-dead wolf and then saw that it wore a radio collar clearly marked Yellowstone National Park. He cut the animal’s head off, but left the paws. His friend, Dusty Steinmasel, used a special wrench to remove the collar, later throwing it into a creek where it continued to send a rapid series of beeps to wolf biologists, signaling that the wolf was dead. Investigators soon found the collar, and Steinmasel provided a written confession and enough evidence for a search warrant.
McKittrick, however, claimed he thought he was shooting at a feral dog. If so, why had he kept the head and hide? “Even in Montana, they rarely mount dogs as game trophies,” author Renee Askins, who chronicles this event in her book, “Shadow Mountain,” wryly commented.