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Reward tripled to nab killer of wolf OR-33

Five conservation groups have pitched in to more than triple a reward being offered to find and prosecute whoever illegally shot collared gray wolf OR-33, whose decayed body was found in Klamath County last April, 10 months after it was blamed for livestock kills outside of Ashland.

Groups including Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center have pledged $10,500 toward the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's standing $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the wolf's killer.

The wolf's carcass was found April 23 on the Fremont-Winema National Forest about 20 miles northwest of Klamath Falls. A necropsy earlier this month at the service's Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland revealed the federally protected wolf died from gunshot wounds.

KS Wild Program Director Tim Ream said the case is important because the poaching represents a setback in gray wolves' growing foothold in Southern Oregon.

"It's a big deal to take a healthy, potentially breeding adult out of the population, especially in Southern Oregon," Ream said. "If we're going to have a healthy population of wolves in Southern Oregon, every single wolf matters."

It is a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act to kill a gray wolf, which is listed as endangered in the western two-thirds of Oregon.

The shooting is also a violation of Oregon wildlife laws. Oregon State Police and the federal service are working together on the investigation seeking OR-33's killer.

"It's very disappointing to see a wolf or any animal poached in Oregon, and we hope someone will step forward with information to solve this case," said Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Brent Lawrence declined Wednesday to discuss the ongoing criminal case.

Killing an endangered wolf is a Class A misdemeanor under the ESA, punishable by up to a year in jail and up to $100,000 in fines.

Under state law, unlawful killing of a wolf is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and up to $13,750 in criminal and civil fines, according to ODFW.

Dennehy said ODFW biologists do not believe OR-33's shooting was related to the fatal shooting of collared wolf OR-28, which was found dead Oct. 4, 2016, near Summer Lake.

Although both shootings were within the Fremont-Winema National Forest, they were "very far apart" geographically, Dennehy said.

Other groups adding to the reward were Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Oregon Wild and the Humane Society of the United States.

OR-33 was blamed for killing two goats and a sheep in three days in June 2016 along Grizzly Peak outside of Ashland during an eight-day stay.

A similar livestock attack Feb. 23, 2016, in the Swan Lake area east of the Cascades also was blamed on OR-33 because, like in the Grizzly Peak cases, he was traveling alone and GPS coordinates revealed it was the only known wolf in the area at the time, according to ODFW reports.

The 4-year-old wolf wandered into Southern Oregon in 2016 after dispersing from the Imnaha Pack in northeastern Oregon, likely in search of a mate. He is from the same pack as OR-7, the Rogue Pack patriarch whose famous journey through Oregon and Northern California ended when he took up residence in the pack's current home territory of eastern Jackson and western Klamath counties.

Anyone with information about the OR-33 case should call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 503-682-6131, or Oregon State Police Tip Line at 800-452-7888. Callers may remain anonymous.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

An ODFW biologist is shown in the process of collaring wolf OR-33, Feb. 25, 2015, when the wolf was 2 years old. OR-33 was illegally killed in Klamath County sometime before last spring, and the crime is being investigated by state and federal officials. [ODFW photo]