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Killing of wolf assailed

BOZEMAN - A wolf pack attack in the Madison Valley this week brought stern demands for action from local officials, two members of Congress, Gov. Judy Martz and the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

Rep. Denny Rehberg, Sen. Conrad Burns and the governor, all Republicans, called for liberalized authority for residents to kill troublesome wolves, action that is now restricted under the animals' federally protected status.

The stockgrowers association reiterated its appeal for wolf control. Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, defended his agency's response to the attack on the Durham ranch, saying he had a helicopter en route within half an hour to kill all seven wolves in the Sentinel pack.

However, someone killed one wolf in the pack that Bangs' agents had radio-collared just days before, greatly complicating efforts to track the pack down, he said. The animal was shot, apparently illegally.

"If somebody did illegally kill this one radio-collared wolf, they have just totally messed up their neighbors," Bangs said.

The pack was suspected of four attacks on livestock in the Madison Valley over the past week. The wolves also killed a ranch dog Friday near Cameron when it tried to protect its cattle.

A ranch-wolf conflict began Friday at 5:30 a.m. when rancher Todd Durham was checking cattle on his property east of Cameron. He spotted four wolves running pregnant heifers, said Barbie Durham, his wife. The Durhams' Australian shepherd ran into the mix to protect the cattle.

"They killed him instead of the cows," Barbie Durham said. "If he hadn't have went out there, they would have taken a calf."

The attack infuriated Madison County commissioners, who said federal officials dragged their feet while wolves wreaked havoc on ranchers during calving season.

"We lose four animals, and then we lose a dog, which I consider a member of that family," Commissioner Dave Schulz said. "All of a sudden the Fish and Wildlife Service is saying, 'Maybe we should do something?' "

Bangs ordered the entire pack killed.

"If wolves cause problems, we have no problem instituting lethal control," he said. "We'll keep working on it until we resolve the situation. But it's going to drag on for a while, I'm afraid."

Bangs said Madison Valley ranchers have the right to shoot wolves caught attacking livestock, but Barbie Durham disputed that assertion. She said her family asked for shoot-to-kill permits and was denied. She said she and her husband fear a lawsuit if they kill problem wolves.

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