ARIZONA — Two men who live in the valley are facing serious charges after allegedly killing an endangered Mexican gray wolf near Alpine last December.
Documents from the United States District Court of Arizona (Magistrate Judge Deborah M. Fine) show that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Robert Romero filed one count of violating the Endangered Species Act against Jason William Kunkel, of Peoria, and Donald Justin Davis, 40, of Phoenix, executed on Aug. 16 in Phoenix and filed against them Sept. 24.
Kunkel, Represented by Attorney Luke Mulligan, with Davis, represented by Daniel Kaiser made their initial appearance Sept. 5. and again on Sept. 20 when they had the complaints read against them.
They were in a Prescott Division courtroom in Coconino County again Oct. 2 when their attorneys requested and were granted a continuance.
According to federal law governing endangered species, “Any person who knowingly violates any provision of this chapter … shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $50,000 or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both. Any person who knowingly violates any provision of any other regulation issued under this chapter shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $25,000 or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.”
In his complaint against the two men, Romero says Kunkel shot a female Mexican gray wolf on Dec. 5 of last year with a Remington 30-06 from a distance of about 150-200 yards in a meadow near Dipping Vat Spring in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.
Court documents indicate that Kunkel and Davis (with Davis’ father) were in a hunting camp starting Dec. 1. The two younger men had been drawn for elk in Arizona Game and Fish Management Unit 1 near Alpine in Apache County.
Another group of people at a nearby hunt camp reported to Game and Fish officials seeing a Mexican gray wolf on Dec. 1 near their camp that appeared to be stalking young kids in the camp that afternoon. The wolf was reportedly watching the kids from a crouched position behind large log about 30 yards from the youngsters. Arizona Game and Fish Agent Sam Williams was reportedly told by one of the adult campers that he was able to yell and scare it away. According to the court documents, Williams explained to the person reporting the sighting that if, and only if, the wolf appeared to be an immediate threat, they could kill it as a last resort. They would need to report the killing to AZGFD immediately so an investigation could start.
The campers making that report to Williams then reportedly told him that on Dec. 5 Kunkel and Davis came into their camp and told them Kunkel shot and killed the wolf that morning and left its body in the meadow nearby if they wanted to see it. The campers reportedly said “no” to viewing the body and allegedly told Kunkel and Davis they needed to report it to authorities immediately.
But Kunkel and Davis apparently left camp early the next morning, Dec. 6, to head home to Peoria and Phoenix without reporting it to AZGFD as required by law. On the same day, an investigation into the fatality began with AZGFD officials gathering evidence at the scene of the killing.
Among evidence found was a blood stained top, a business card, a crushed aluminum can, a fixed blade knife, samples of blue cloth and some elk hair from an elk killed by Davis. The body of the wolf was also still there laying on its left side with a bullet exit wound just forward of its right hip. Further inspection of the site produced some boot laces that were also collected as evidence. The investigation showed the wolf was shot from about 164 yards away by Kunkel, who later told investigators he killed it with his Remington 770 bolt action .30-06 mounted with a scope from a standing position behind a tree.
Investigators found at least five photos of the dead wolf and a few of it with Kunkel posing beside it that were on Kunkel’s cell phone and taken into evidence.
A forensic report concluded on Feb. 13 shows the wolf was killed Dec. 5 by a bullet fired from Kunkel’s rifle.
Kunkel reportedly told investigators it was the first time he killed anything, and that no one in the adjacent camp told him he needed to report it to AZGFD. He voluntarily surrendered his rifle to investigators.
Next they interviewed Davis, who said he had nothing to do with the killing other than being on an elk hunt with his father and Kunkel. During the interview Davis told the AZGFD that he and Kunkel were made aware of the Dec. 1 wolf sighting near camp by the people camping nearby. He said they told him and the others that the wolf was as close as 10 feet to two young girls playing in the camp who were completely unaware of its presence because it was crouched behind a large log.
Davis said that none of the wolves they saw during their hunt had collars and that neither he nor Kunkel had any safety concerns about them. He told investigators he did not kill the wolf and that it was Kunkel who shot and killed it when he stepped away briefly.
During his interview, Kunkel contradicted Davis’ comments saying Davis was there the whole time and even asked Kunkel if his rifle was loaded when they spotted the wolf in the meadow near their camp early morning Dec. 5.
Davis said he heard the gunshot when Kunkel killed the wolf and returned to see it laying dead in the meadow and Kunkel holding his rifle. Davis said he knew Mexican gray wolves are protected in Arizona and repeated he was not with Kunkel when he shot and killed it and that they never even discussed shooting or killing any wolf if they felt their lives were in danger.
He admitted that Kunkel and his father used their cell phones to take “trophy” photos of the dead wolf as momentos of their hunt and Kunkel’s first kill.
Then in a final interview on Jan. 8 of this year, Davis admitted that on Dec. 5 he and Kunkel were deciding if they were going to break camp and go home after a trip to a meat processor in the area with Davis’ elk kill because it was starting to snow. Davis said he left camp briefly adding that when he walked back he and Kunkel saw the wolf near a green water tank at Dipping Vat Spring and tried to scare it away. But, he said, the wolf kept approaching them and he asked Kunkel if his rifle was loaded in case they needed to kill the wolf.
Kunkel told him it was in the truck and Davis reportedly got it and handed it to Kunkel who allegedly aimed it at the approaching wolf and killed it with one shot. Davis told the investigator he was not concerned for his safety at any time and that when asked by Kunkel if he should shoot it he told his friend it was his decision to make. Davis said they both knew at the time it was a protected Mexican gray wolf and that it was an endangered species.
Asked why he did not report it to authorities immediately after Kunkel allegedly killed the wolf, Davis reportedly told them it was Kunkel’s responsibility and not his because he did not kill it.