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A 46-year-old man has been given probation and fined for killing a gray wolf in northern Minnesota with a semi-auotomatic rifle and later destroying the weapon for fear that conservation officials were on his trail.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Raymond Erickson sentenced Steven Alan Taylor of Zimmerman, Minn., last week to two years' probation during which Taylor is banned from hunting anywhere in the United States. He also was fined $2,500.

Taylor had faced a potential maximum penalty of six months imprisonment and a $25,000 fine.

Erickson determined in a bench trial last year that Taylor shot and killed the wolf near Isabella Township. At the time of the shooting, 2002, the gray wolf was listed as a threatened wildlife species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

Court testimony indicated that Taylor and his party hunted in the area near Shamrock Lake on Nov. 20-23, 2002. Witnesses testified that they heard two shots, and asked Taylor whether he got any deer. Taylor replied that he shot two wolves.

Witnesses also testified that Taylor was using a semi-automatic rifle during that weekend.

However, the weapon was later destroyed in 2003 because Taylor felt that he was being watched by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and FWS, federal officials said.

When the wolf was first listed as endangered in the 1970s, only a few hundred remained in Minnesota. Recovery efforts have increased the gray wolf population and helped assure its survival.

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the gray wolf in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, commonly known as the timber wolf, had been removed from America's list of wildlife species threatened or endangered with extinction.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482