Two gray wolves – possibly originating from Minnesota – were shot and killed in Iowa this past winter, environment officials have confirmed.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources confirmed tests found two large canines found dead in Osceola County and Van Buren County were in fact wolves, likely from the Great Lakes population either in Minnesota, Michigan or Wisconsin.
Gray wolves are listed on the endangered species list and it's against federal and Iowa state law to kill one, but no charges are being brought against those who shot the wolves as they are believed to have mistaken them for coyotes.
The wolves will be used by county conservation groups to educate hunters, with the DNR saying they need to be aware of the possibility "that what they are looking at may not be a coyote."
"We understand this is a sensitive topic and that our decision not to charge will be unpopular with some, but in these two incidents, based on the results of our investigation we feel it is the right course of action," said Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
"Going forward, hunters need to know the difference between the species. On our end, we will provide additional wolf-coyote identification tools on our website and in our publications. We know hunters want to do the right thing and we want to help them."
Wolves are larger and heavier than coyotes, ranging from 5-6 feet long and weighing 50-100 pounds, compared to coyotes which are 3.5-4.5 feet long, weighing around 35-40 pounds.
Coyote hunting is legal all-year round in Iowa, but mostly happens during January and February, after other hunting seasons have closed.
A record number of coyotes were killed by hunters in 2013/14, with 15,347 registered, followed by 13,911 in 2014/15.
Three gray wolves were found shot to death in Minnesota last month, but rather than a case of mistaken identity, the person(s) responsible is thought to have acted maliciously. Officials are offering a reward to catch the killer.