The Idaho Department of Fish and Game said in writing today that Josh Bransford legally trapped a wolf in the Red River area near Elk City on March 18.
Bransford had checked his trap the day before and it was empty. He had 72 hours before he would have been to check it again to be legal.
The agency responded to two environmental groups, which criticized the investigation, saying investigators had no evidence that the wolf had been shot by others. F&G said wardens and Idaho County Sheriff’s deputies had interviewed potential witnesses, but could not confirm reports that the wolf had been shot.
“Fish and Game has not found or received reliable evidence regarding the identity of any such individuals or of illegal conduct,” wrote Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore.
The letters were sent to the Center for Biodiversity and the Friends of the Clearwater.
The story generated national headlines and outrage after Bransford posted a photo of himself with the wolf while it was trapped but still alive.
Here is Fish and Game’s official summary:
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has received numerous phone calls, emails and letters regarding a photograph taken of a licensed Idaho trapper and a live, trapped wolf taken last month along the Red River in north-central Idaho. The trapper later posted the photograph on a website forum for trappers, generating interest and controversy.
The taking of the photo of a trapper with a live, trapped wolf, and the trapper's posting of this photo online are contrary to the ethics and humane responsibility that Idaho Fish and Game teaches in wolf trapper and hunter education classes. This action reflects poor judgment. However, the trapping and harvest of the wolf were lawful according to our investigation.
There were also reports of shooting at the wolf by others, but Fish and Game has not found or received reliable evidence regarding the identity of any such individuals or of illegal conduct.
* On March 18, 2012, Idaho Fish and Game District Conservation Officer George Fischer received a phone call from a trapper who wanted to check a wolf he trapped and subsequently killed earlier that day. DCO Fischer checked in the wolf. It was a male, approximately 3-4 years old with black fur. The trapper had the necessary trapping license and tag and had attended Idaho Fish and Game's mandatory wolf trapping class. The trapper said he caught the wolf on private land in the Red River drainage in a trap set approximately 300 yards from the Red River road.
* The trapper said he checked the trap the night before (March 17) but the trap was empty. The following morning, the trapper received a call from a U. S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer notifying him that there was a wolf in the trap, located in a meadow west of the Red River road. When the trapper arrived on scene, he said he used a snowmobile to approach the wolf, which began to fidget as he got closer. He stopped the snowmobile and approached the wolf on foot and waited for it to stop moving so that he could dispatch it. It was during this time the trapper said he posed for a photograph with the live wolf in the background.
* The wolf hunting season was still open at the time the wolf was trapped. The trapper reported seeing "nicks" in the wolf's lower hind legs that he speculated may have been caused by a bullet or bullets fired at the wolf before he arrived on the scene.
* DCO Fischer talked to the Forest Service law enforcement officer, who said the trapper told him he thought someone had shot at the wolf before the trapper arrived on the scene. The officer said he had spoken with a party of woodcutters working on the opposite side of the road from where the wolf was trapped.
* DCO Fischer also talked to a deputy sheriff who arrived on the scene the morning the wolf was trapped. The deputy visited with a member of the woodcutting party, as well as a person out for a walk on the road. The deputy also spoke with three hunters who were driving on the road and stopped while the deputy was talking to the woodcutter. The Forest Service Officer and the deputy did not observe anyone shoot at the wolf and did not receive any indication that any of the individuals they contacted shot at the wolf. Later in the day, the deputy saw the trapper after the wolf was harvested. The trapper told him he thought someone else had shot at the wolf and showed him the "nicks." However, the deputy told Fischer he was not convinced the marks were caused by a bullet.
DCO Fischer believes the wolf was legally trapped and harvested. To date, no one has provided eyewitness information of anyone shooting from the road or of someone other than the trapper shooting the wolf.
It is illegal in Idaho to shoot from a public roadway or to intentionally interfere with lawful trapping. If anyone witnessed that this did indeed occur, they should contact the Citizens Against Poaching hotline at 1-800-632-5999.
However, people should not use CAP hotline resources if they cannot provide witness information.
Idaho Fish and Game repeatedly reminds hunters, trappers and anglers that they are ambassadors for their activities. Idaho requires all wolf trappers to take a trapping class prior to engaging in trapping.
Idaho Fish and Game devotes a significant portion of the wolf trapping class to trapping ethics. In fact, Fish and Game tells attendees that ethics and responsibility are the most important things the class will cover. The wolf trapping class emphasizes respect for animals, including quick and humane dispatch of the animal. Idaho Fish and Game quotes Aldo Leopold in its wolf trapping and hunter education classes: "Ethics is doing the right thing when no one else is looking, even though the wrong thing is still legal."
To charge someone with a crime, there must be probable cause that a specific person acted in violation of a law based on reliable, factual information. Anonymous or otherwise unreliable reports are not sufficient to charge someone with a crime. And just because an action involves poor judgment or unethical behavior does not make it illegal.
Trapper Not Affiliated with Idaho Fish and Game:
The trapper was not an employee or otherwise affiliated with Fish and Game. The trapper was conducting activities in a private capacity, and it is not appropriate for Fish and Game to provide the public with information regarding the trapper's employer or to provide contact information for the trapper.