EDINBURG, N.D.-An animal shot illegally west of Edinburg in Walsh County has been confirmed as a gray wolf, and charges are pending, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department says.

Paul Freeman, northeast district warden supervisor for Game and Fish in Devils Lake, said he received a call Feb. 19 from a witness who'd seen an animal shot along Walsh County Road 9.

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Freeman responded to the site and put down the wounded animal.

The next day, Freeman took the animal to Bismarck, where Game and Fish furbearer biologist Stephanie Tucker conducted a necropsy and confirmed the animal was a male gray wolf weighing about 80 pounds. Tucker said the wolf appeared healthy and most likely is a Minnesota wolf, part of the Great Lakes region population that also includes wolves in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Tucker sent a tooth to a lab in Montana to determine the wolf's age, but results won't be available for several months, she said. Genetic samples were sent to a federal lab to determine the wolf's origin and whether it's a pure wolf or a wolf-dog hybrid, Tucker said.

"It looked like a subadult or young adult male," Tucker said, adding the wolf probably strayed from its traditional range in search of mate or new territory as young males often do.

"Other than that, we didn't see anything unusual," she said.

Charges pending

The day after dispatching the wolf, Freeman said he received a call from a man who said he'd shot the animal, thinking it was a coyote. Charges are pending, Freeman said, and the shooter will be cited for illegally taking a closed-season furbearer.

Gray wolves are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service isn't pressing charges, Freeman said, which means the case instead will be tried in state court.

Tucker said the Game and Fish Department gets occasional gray wolf reports, and this is the third or fourth wolf they've handled in the past six or seven years. All have been traced to the Great Lakes wolf population.

"That's what we expect this time, as well," she said.

According to the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn., a female gray wolf in northern Minnesota weighs 50 to 85 pounds and adult males from 70 to 110 pounds.

Coyotes, which are abundant in North Dakota, weigh 20 to 50 pounds.

"Seeing his track was just amazing because it was so huge," Freeman said. "How big they are is just unbelievable."

Recent reports

The most recent confirmed wolf in North Dakota was reported in December 2014 in Bowman County, where scat from an animal that had been killing domestic sheep was confirmed as a gray wolf, Tucker said. There were no further reports of the animal, she said. In 2012, some hunters in McKenzie County killed what proved to be a wolf, Tucker said.

The most recent confirmed gray wolf in the Red River Valley occurred in January 2011, when a coyote hunter killed a wolf near Hillsboro, N.D.

Tucker said Game and Fish is keeping the pelt and skull of the wolf killed near Edinburg for educational purposes. She said the wolves that wander into North Dakota usually are grayish colored and not the black- or white-colored animals people might see on TV.

"These stragglers that come into North Dakota, most often the color is similar to a coyote," Tucker said. "They just look two to three times bigger.

"When you get to see one, it's very impressive."