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Oregon wolf-control experiment tested

| Saturday, March 2, 2013, 9:42 p.m.

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — As long as wolves have been making their comeback, biologists and ranchers have had a decidedly Old West option for dealing with those that develop a taste for beef: Shoot to kill.

But for the past year, Oregon has been a “wolf-safe” zone, with ranchers turning to more modern, nonlethal ways to protect livestock.

While the number of wolves roaming the state has gone up, livestock kills have not — and now conservation groups are hoping Oregon can serve as a model for other Western states working to return the predator to the wild.

“Once the easy option of killing wolves is taken off the table, we've seen reluctant but responsible ranchers stepping up,” said Rob Klavins of the advocacy group Oregon Wild. “Conflict is going down. And wolf recovery has got back on track.”

The no-kill ban has been in place since September 2011.

At the end of 2012, zone numbers in the state had risen to 46 from 29 in 2011, according to state fish and wildlife officials. Meantime, four cows and eight sheep were killed last year by two separate packs, while 13 cows were killed by one pack in 2011.

Wolf advocates hope the Oregon experiment can spread elsewhere, especially Idaho, which had 746 wolves in 2011. In 2012, hunters and wildlife agents killed 422 wolves, compared with 296 for 2011. Sheep and cattle kills, meantime, went up from 192 in 2011 to 341 in 2012.

Idaho Fish and Game biologist Craig White said it “raised eyebrows” on both sides of the wolf debate when the livestock kills rose even as more wolves were killed.

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