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UPDATE: Oregon kills 4 wolves that attacked livestock

PORTLAND — Four wolves that attacked livestock in eastern Oregon in recent weeks were shot and killed by state wildlife staff on Thursday, the third time lethal control has been employed since the animals returned to the state in the early 2000s.

The wolves, members of the Imnaha pack, attacked livestock five times in March, killing cows and sheep on private land in Wallowa County.

The four wolves involved in the attacks appear to have separated from the rest of the pack, said Russ Morgan, wolf coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"This is the tough part of the job, but we believe lethal control is the right decision in this situation," Morgan said. "Wildlife managers must strike a balance between conserving wolves and minimizing impacts on livestock."

The four wolves were shot and killed by agency staff on Thursday, Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said.

A livestock producer asked the department to take lethal action after a March 9 attack. The agency didn't authorize it because it was the pack's first attack since October, so the situation wasn't considered chronic.

That changed when the pack killed or injured livestock in four additional incidents over the past week.

This was the first time Fish and Wildlife has used lethal control since 2011, when two wolves from the Imnaha pack were killed. Before that, two wolves were killed in 2009 following livestock attacks in Baker County.

The state's latest wolf report, released in February, said there were 110 known wolves in Oregon, up 36 percent since 2014. The report said wolves killed 10 sheep, three calves and one working dog in 2015.

Age and physical condition might be a factor in the recent depredation, Morgan said. The radio-collared alpha male is nearly 10 years old, and the alpha female with him has been known to limp.

"As wolves grow old, or if they are injured, they are unable to hunt traditional wild prey as they have in the past," Morgan said. "This could be playing a role in the pack's recent behavior."