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No-kill wolf ban spurs nonlethal options

For the past year, Oregon has been a 'wolf-safe' zone, with ranchers turning to nonlethal ways to protect livestock. While the number of wolves has gone up, livestock kills haven't.

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In this 2012 photo, the Lamar Canyon wolf pack moves on a hillside in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. For the past year, Oregon has been a "wolf-safe" zone, with ranchers turning to more modern, nonlethal ways to protect livestock.

Wolves of the Rockies/AP

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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 haven't — 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. That's when the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced it planned to kill two members of the Imnaha wolf pack in northeastern Wallowa County for taking livestock. Conservation groups sued, arguing that rules allowing wolves to be killed to reduce livestock attacks did not comply with the state Endangered Species Act. The Oregon Court of Appeals stepped in, prohibiting wolf kills while the two sides work to settle, although ranchers who catch wolves in the act of killing livestock may still shoot them.

At the end of 2012, wolf 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.

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