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'The problem with wolves is not going away': DA settles case with trapper who shot wolf

A wolf from the North Emily group of wolves in Umatilla County. Remote camera image taken June 25, 2017. State biologists said a wolf found shot dead in December 2017 was a 63 1/2 pound juvenile female born in April 2017. It is not yet known whether state biologists have any photos of the now-deceased wolf in life. But based on its location, biologists believe it was the offspring of a new pair of wolves that bred this year in the Mt. Emily Wildlife Management Unit. DNA tests are pending. (ODFW photo)

LA GRANDE, Ore. - A man accused of shooting an Oregon wolf after finding the animal caught in a trap pleaded guilty to one county of Unlawful Taking of Wildlife - Unbranded Traps, a misdemeanor.

The judge approved a negotation between David Sanders Jr., 58, on February 26.

Sanders pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor, and the state dismissed one count of Unlawful Taking of Wildlife -Special Status Game Mammal.

The judge sentenced Sanders to the negotiated sentence of 24 months of bench probation; 100 hours of community service; a hunting/trapping license suspension of 36 months; and a $7,500 fine.

The charges were filed after an Oregon State Police trooper found a wolf shot caught in a trap and shot dead at short distance in December 2017 outside Elgin, Oregon, on the Umatilla National Forest.

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"When officers confronted Sanders, he admitted that he had in fact shot the wolf after he had discovered the animal in his trap," Oregon State Police said in a report. "Sanders was emphatic that he was attempting to trap bobcats only, not wolves. Sanders cooperated with the investigation when confronted by law enforcement."

Union County District Attorney Kelsie McDaniel said prosecutors did not view the case as one of wolf poaching but rather of illegal trapping.

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"It was clear from the investigation that the defendant was not out to illegally take a wolf but instead made a poor decision with respect to his trapping operation," state police said in a report. "Sanders had a previous violation for unbranded trapping out of Baker County Justice Court in 2016."

The district attorney said that, had Sanders called authorities when he first discovered the wolf in his trap, he would not have been charged with any criminal conduct.

"This case highlights the fact that the problem with wolves is not going away," McDaniel said. "We are seeing more and more incidents of wolf predation and human interaction in Union County. This issue has long been a challenge for local ranchers, and with the number of wolves in the area more visible, people engaging in recreation are having dangerous and accidental encounters as well."

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