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Wolf attacks frustrate ranchers
By the Associated Press

Montana officials want to loosen rules on shooting protected animals

BOZEMAN - A wolf pack attack in the Madison Valley last 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, defended his agency's response to the killing of a dog on the Durham ranch, saying he had a helicopter en route within half an hour to kill all seven wolves in the Sentinel pack.

The wolves have been hanging around Todd and Barbie Durham's home since mid-February. Early last week, the wolves killed a neighbor's yearling steer within 200 yards of three homes.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents darted one of the female wolves and fitted a radio collar on it after the pack killed the steer. FWS officials said then that three of the wolves in the pack would be destroyed.

However, the collared wolf was found shot to death later Friday in a field several miles away from the Durham home. The killing appeared to be illegal, but it was "absolutely not" the Durham family that did the shooting, Bangs said.

The latest conflict began Friday at 5:30 a.m. when Todd Durham was checking cattle on his property east of Cameron. He spotted four wolves running pregnant heifers, said his wife Barbie Durham. 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?' "

The killing of the Durhams' dog changed everything, Bangs said.

"It was an Australian shepherd that we had had for quite awhile," Barbie Durham told the Montana Standard. "It was one of the dogs that my kids loved the most. We're just really, really frustrated right now."

"It's like we're being terrorized," she said. "And it's something that you just don't have any control over."

Local ranchers have a right to be frustrated over the killing, Bangs said.

"The people we've been working with have been very understanding and doing everything they can to help," he said.

"I didn't give any shoot-to-kill permits to people because I wanted to let the professionals do their job," Bangs said. "I didn't want to take a chance that someone would shoot the collared wolf and make our job of control that much more difficult."

Bangs said he wasn't sure what caused the pack to start killing cattle and get so close to homes. The pack has been around since 2002 and hasn't been involved in depredations until now.

Three collared wolves in the pack were illegally killed last year, and officials hadn't been able to collar another one until the female was darted last week.

Losing that collared wolf will make finding and killing the other wolves much more difficult, and it may take substantially more time, Bangs said.

"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."

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