Photo In this Feb. 1, 2017, file image provided the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, a wolf pack is captured by a remote camera in Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in northeast Oregon. (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife via AP, File)

By The Associated Press

SALEM — Oregon wildlife officials shot and killed two wolves from a helicopter Wednesday in an attempt to reduce killings of cattle by the predators.

The killings have reignited a debate between the state, ranchers and environmentalists about how to manage wolves, which were hunted down for 100 years until they disappeared in 1947.

Another young female wolf was shot and killed by a state wildlife official on April 10 on private land where previous depredations occurred. All three wolves belong to the Pine Creek Pack, which roams in eastern Oregon’s Baker County, and has killed four calves and injured six others in recent days, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said.

The state pays ranchers for wolf-killed livestock.

Gray wolves were taken off the state endangered species list in 2015, 16 years after the first one returned by crossing over from Idaho, where it had been reintroduced. The species remains protected under federal law in western Oregon. Today, there are around 120 wolves in Oregon, the state said.

Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands, said the state wildlife employees who shot the wolves are behaving as agents of the private commercial livestock industry.

“The species’ recovery is still in its infancy,” Cady said of the gray wolves. “We should not be actively killing them.”

Arran Robertson, spokesman for Oregon Wild, said there’s no sign that the state wildlife service has a wolf management plan that will help continue wolf recovery and prevent conflicts.

The wildlife department, in a November 2017 draft plan, said “lethal control of wolves is best used in an integrated management program, which includes non-lethal and preventative measures as a starting point to reduce risk of depredation.”

Those measures include having range riders ward off wolves by their mere human presence, using air horns and firing shots into the air, and shining spotlights.

Before the most recent depredations, ranchers in Baker County tried non-lethal actions including burying bone piles and removing carcasses, scaring off the wolves and patrolling cattle from before daylight until darkness daily, the wildlife service said.

The Baker City Herald said in an editorial last week that local rancher Chad DelCurto, who lost three calves to the wolves, wants wildlife officials to kill the entire Pine Creek Pack.

Cady said that’s not a solution.

“Shooting wolves is not stopping depredations,” he said. “The state needs to stop and reassess its approach.”

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