The pro-wolf lobby is determined to prove that a Clackamas man who shot and killed a wolf while hunting elk in Union County last month is a liar.

A coalition of 16 groups has asked Gov. Kate Brown to order Oregon State Police to reopen its investigation into the Oct. 27 incident in which Brian Scott, 38, killed a gray wolf. Scott told police he thought the animal he shot, and two others that were with it, were coyotes. He said the animal he shot was moving straight toward him, and that he was afraid it would attack him.

The groups calling for further investigation point to a photograph and an OSP report regarding where the bullet entered and exited the wolf, and they contend the evidence suggests the animal was not, as Scott claims, moving toward him when he shot it.

We don’t think it’s necessary to spend more public money on this matter. Even if it were possible to prove conclusively that the wolf was not moving directly at Scott when he fired — and considering the ballistic vagaries of high-powered rifle bullets we’re not convinced that further investigation would yield indisputable results — we don’t think that would completely refute Scott’s claim that he fired in self-defense and thus isn’t guilty of poaching. The Union County District Attorney declined to file charges.

Even the groups lobbying Brown concede in their letter to the governor that “we are not questioning that the hunter may have felt fearful.”

Police found a cartridge casing from Scott’s rifle 27 yards from the wolf’s carcass. That’s closer than most hunters are likely to ever be to a wolf. It’s hardly implausible that the wolf was, as Scott contends, moving toward him and that it turned just before he fired his 30.06, resulting in the wounds that the groups cite as evidence that Scott lied to police.

Notwithstanding the cost of reopening the investigation, we disagree with the groups’ premise that Scott’s case, if left as is, means that in the future anyone who illegally kills a wolf could avoid punishment by claiming self-defense. The groups wrote in their letter to Brown that the self-defense story would be “an easy out for those who illegally kill wolves.”

The logical flaw in this argument is that in effect it treats poachers and law-abiding hunters as the same. They’re not.

True poachers — people who kill animals knowing it’s illegal to do so — are the least likely bunch to claim self-defense. Poachers skulk away from their crimes. They certainly don’t look for the nearest game warden, ready to spin their fabricated tale.

We can’t imagine why Scott’s case would influence poachers in any way.

We can, however, imagine that the pro-wolf groups’ campaign to prove Scott lied would have the opposite of its intended effect.

After all, despite the groups’ assertion that claiming self-defense after killing a wolf, as Scott did, is an “easy out,” he’s been subjected to considerable publicity and has been branded by many as a poacher even though he immediately went to the police after he realized he had killed a wolf rather than a coyote.

It’s reasonable to believe that another hunter who has a similar encounter with a wolf might conclude, based on Scott’s experience, that a self-defense story would be met with skepticism, so simply leaving, or concealing, the carcass is the better option.

The groups contend in their letter to Brown that “poaching is a serious and growing problem in Oregon. Since 2015, at least nine wolves have been poached or died under mysterious circumstances.”

We agree that this is a problem. And we commend some of these groups for contributing to the financial reward offered for information leading to a conviction in a recent wolf killing in Southern Oregon.

But we’re not sure what they expect to accomplish by trying to prove that Scott failed to notice that the wolf that was a few leaps away might have turned while he was looking at it through his rifle scope.

From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of publisher Kari Borgen, editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.

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