BOISE, Idaho — No laws were broken involving a northern Idaho trapper who posed for a photo in front of a live wolf caught in a leg-hold trap surrounded by blood-splattered snow, Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials say.
Two environmental groups, Idaho-based Friends of the Clearwater and the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Portland, Ore., called for an investigation following a March 18 photo that showed trapper Josh Bransford smiling in the foreground with the wolf standing in the background with its leg in the trap.
The groups contended the photo circulating on the Internet suggested the animal was tortured before it was killed. Fish and Game in a report released Thursday said the wolf was legally trapped.
"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," wrote Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore. "This action reflects poor judgment. However the trapping and harvest of the wolf were lawful, according to our investigation."
The report also said investigators found no evidence the wolf trapped near Elk City was shot by someone else before Bransford killed it after the photo.
Bransford told officials that nicks on the wolf's legs indicated someone else shot and injured the wolf before he arrived. But Fish and Game Officer George Fischer said the nicks weren't caused by a bullet.
"Reports of shooting at the wolf by other people, and other reports regarding this matter appear to have no basis in fact or are otherwise distortions of events," Moore wrote.
Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater questioned the report.
"There is a nagging legal question here," he said. "Why was there all that blood and was the wolf shot by someone or more than one person? They didn't answer that. They didn't seem to want to address what seems to be an inconsistency."
The picture was reportedly posted to a trapping website, trapperman.com, then copied and circulated by Footloose Montana, a Missoula-based group opposed to wolf trapping.
The report by Fish and Game said Bransford checked the trap on March 17 and found it empty. The following morning, a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer told him a wolf was in the trap.
The Fish and Game report said several people were in the area when the wolf was trapped and none of them reported shooting the wolf or seeing others shoot it. The agency said those who saw the wolf in the trap included wood cutters, an Idaho County deputy, three hunters and a person out for a walk.
Fish and Game said hunters killed 252 wolves and trappers another 123 for a total of 375 in Idaho this wolf hunting and trapping season. Officials said that left a minimum wolf population in the state of 570, down from more than 700 last year and a peak of 850 in 2009.