By Mike Koshmrl
Jackson Hole Daily
Via Wyoming News Exchange
JACKSON — Investigating rangers say a Jackson Hole hunting guide lost track of where he was when he shot and killed a young female gray wolf late last year inside Grand Teton National Park.
Grand Teton officials sent out word Wednesday that Kelly resident Brian Taylor pleaded guilty to unlawful take of wildlife, was fined $5,040, lost his wolf hunting privileges for a year and earned a year of probation. Taylor’s wife, who was also present, was let off the hook.
“The individuals were just honest and forthright about it,” Chief Ranger Michael Nash said. “We didn’t detect any ill intent.”
Grand Teton officials declined to name the hunter who was prosecuted, but Taylor’s identity was provided to the Jackson Hole Daily by a federal court clerk. His court appearance was Jan. 31.
Nash said park rangers were doing a compliance check on two bison legally killed near the park boundary on Bridger-Teton National Forest land when they came across tracks and a blood trail telling of illegal activity north of Spread Creek.
The park’s eastern boundary where Taylor shot the wolf is “stair-stepped,” Nash said, but also well marked with signs, including where the two hunters treaded through the snow.
Specifically, the wolf was shot approximately 2.5 miles west of the park’s east boundary in an area where an otherwise straight-line east-to-west boundary jags to the south for approximately 1.5 miles. The wolf was shot approximately a half-mile inside the boundary.
Rangers decided that the poaching, which occurred during the federal government shutdown, was likely accidental after conferring with Taylor and his wife, Nash said. The animal was checked in with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, a requirement that helped park rangers identify Taylor.
Game and Fish spokesman Mark Gocke said the state agency had limited involvement in the park’s investigation.
“He registered the wolf with us,” Gocke said. “[Warden] Jon Stephens checked it in, and the location he gave us was right adjacent to the park.”
“That was about it,” he said. “From our standpoint, as far as we knew, it was a legal take. It was the last day of the season, and the season was open.”
A number of hunts occur right outside of Grand Teton’s boundary — elk, bison, deer and other critters can all be legally killed on forestland within yards of the demarcating line. Although Nash could not recall any other hunter boundary mixups this year, mistakes do happen.
“It’s very common for hunters, outfitters and guides to hunt along the park boundary, and those hunters and visitors are reminded that it’s their responsibility to know where they are,” he said. “Protection of park resources is super important to us, especially wildlife. It’s why we do our boundary patrols and it’s something we keep a keen eye to.”
Although the poached wolf was unmarked and lacked a tracking collar, park biologists suspect it was a member of the Lower Gros Ventre Pack based on the animal’s location. The carcass is now in the possession of Teton park.
One Jackson Hole wildlife activist was skeptical of investigating park ranger’s conclusions.
“It’s hugely suspicious,” Wyoming Wildlife Advocates Managing Director Kristin Combs said. “He was born and raised here. He definitely knew where the park boundaries were.
Combs charged that the Taylors are “known wolf haters.”“Just because he was cooperative doesn’t mean he should get a lenient sentence,” she said. “As an organization, we’re extremely disappointed in the lack of harsher sentence for someone that obviously knew better.”
Reached late Wednesday, Brian Taylor was contrite.
“The truth is, I misjudged the boundary and I made an honest mistake,” Taylor said. “I’m accountable for my actions. The park acknowledged my cooperation and handled it professionally.”