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Michigan refers wolf killing case to prosecutors for possible charges

Man holding up dead wolf
A partially redacted photo shows the southern Michigan hunter involved in a January killing of an endangered wolf. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources)
  • State officials have completed their investigation into the January killing of an endangered wolf in southern Michigan
  • They have sent the case to a county prosecutor for possible charges
  • Killing a wolf is a federal offense with a max penalty of up to a year in prison and a $50,000 fine

State wildlife officials have ended their investigation into the January killing of an endangered wolf in southern Michigan and are referring the case for possible criminal charges.

In a statement to Bridge Michigan, Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Ed Golder said the agency has turned over investigative materials to the Calhoun County prosecutor.

“The decision about potential charges against anyone involved in the case will be left solely to the prosecutor’s office,” Golder said.


In late January, a hunter south of Marshall shot and killed the wolf, later telling investigators he mistook it for a large coyote. Subsequent genetic testing confirmed the 84-pound animal — two to three times the size of an average coyote — was instead a gray wolf from the northwoods. 


Wolves have not inhabited the Lower Peninsula for more than a century. Michigan’s population of about 630 adult wolves resides exclusively in the U.P., though roaming wolves have occasionally passed through the northern Lower Peninsula.

How this wolf traveled hundreds of miles south of its known habitat remains a mystery, though experts have expressed doubt that it walked there on its own. The wolf had what investigators have described as a “trap wound” on its paw, indicating it may have been relocated by humans.

“If anyone has any additional information on that point, we’d welcome contact with them,” Golder said, referring tipsters to the Report All Poaching hotline, (800) 292-7800.

Wolves are an endangered species in Michigan. Killing them is a federal offense punishable by up to a year in prison and a $50,000 fine. The only exception is animals directly and immediately threatening a human’s life.

As of midmorning on Friday, Calhoun County Prosecutor David Gilbert said he had yet to receive the case.

Investigating the kill 

Records obtained by Bridge through the Freedom of Information Act indicate two men were coyote hunting on the night of Jan. 19 in Fredonia Township, south of Marshall, when one of them shot the 84-pound male wolf. 

The man’s companion, a seasoned hunter from Battle Creek with a decade of coyote-hunting experience, took the carcass home intending to have it mounted.

The next morning, he called DNR officer Jason McCullough, someone he knows personally, to ask if agency officials would like to genetically test the animal.

It would be several more days before the DNR’s resident wolf expert was made aware of the incident — through photos one of the hunters posted to Facebook. Large-carnivore specialist Brian Roell told Bridge Michigan he took one look and recognized the animal as a wolf.

But the local DNR officer, McCullough, at first refused an internal request to confiscate the animal. By the time the request was heeded days later, the wolf had been butchered for mounting. Officers confiscated the carcass, but left the hide behind pending genetic testing. 

Two months later, tests confirmed the animal was a wolf, but by then the hide had been taxidermied. Officers confiscated the mount, but McCullough invited the hunters to visit a nearby DNR office and take pictures with it.

DNR officials in the past have said the picture-taking incident is being reviewed internally. 

Both state officials and wolf advocates have publicly questioned how two hunters and a taxidermist could all mistake an 84-pound wolf for another species that averages 25-40 pounds. 

The case for, against charges 

Reviled by some and celebrated by others, wolves have long been the target of political debate in Michigan, where some want to legalize hunting them while others say there are still too few to justify hunting. 

Dozens of Republican lawmakers have urged state officials not to punish the hunter and instead called for legalized wolf hunting in Michigan.
Wolf advocates are calling for the opposite.

“Charges should be filed,” said Nancy Warren, executive director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition.

“At a minimum,” Warren said, she hopes those involved are required to attend a wolf education class and pay restitution. “Whether or not there should be jail or additional fines, I need more information.”

Gilbert, the Calhoun County prosecutor, said while he’s aware of the heated political debate, “I won’t play politics.”


Instead, he will focus on one key question: “Is it a crime or not.”

In an audio recording of an interview with a DNR investigator, the Battle Creek hunter explained his mistake by saying he had seen wolves in Canada and this animal was not “wolf colored.”

A state necropsy determined that before it was shot, the wolf was in very good physical condition.

Although DNR officials are no longer investigating how the wolf got to southern Michigan, Roell, the large-carnivore specialist, has said he’s deeply skeptical that it could have walked there on its own.

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