Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Officials OK shooting of mystery animal killing sheep

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) -- State and federal officials have given two private trappers in eastern Montana approval to shoot the wolf or wolf hybrid that has attacked more than 100 sheep in Garfield and McCone counties since December.

The agreement allows pilot Jeff Skyberg, who works for five counties in the area, to hunt the animal by air with a gunner. "I'm going to get out tomorrow, weather permitting," Skyberg said. "At least if we can find it, we can kill it."

The attacks started near Circle more than 250 miles from the nearest known wolf territory. Since then, at least 35 sheep have been killed and the attacks have continued, the most recent occurring March 11. Agents with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services initially thought it was a dog, but are now calling it a wolf or wolf hybrid.

Carolyn Sime, wolf program coordinator with state Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said Monday her office kept trying different legal approaches, and finally found one that could pass muster with federal officials. FWP took over most wolf matters in the state last year, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service retains some authority.

The county trappers can kill up to two "wolves or large wolf-like canids" through April 25, but only in McCone County and under direct FWP supervision. The agreement also allows them to hunt the specific animals on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

"Direct supervision is the key," Sime said. "This agreement is a pretty big deal. We've gone to the wall for these guys. We need to get this wrapped up."

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., also took an active role, asking outgoing Interior Secretary Gale Norton for a quick solution last week. "I'm pleased to see everyone coming together to find a resolution to this problem and I especially thank Secretary Norton's office for quickly finding a method to resolve the problem" created by the federal rules, Burns said Monday in a release.

Ranchers who lost livestock have received 45-day kill permits good on their own property or grazing allotments under federal rules adopted in 2005, but the animal has been hard to find and some of the permits have expired.

  • Bozeman Daily Chronicle

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