DILLON, Mont. — Wolves killed 122 buck sheep in a pasture south of Dillon earlier this month, surpassing the number of sheep killed by wolves in the entire state in 2008, state wolf managers said.
The dead sheep were found on the Rebish/Konen Livestock Ranch on Aug. 16.
“This is one of the most significant losses that I’ve seen,” said Carolyn Sime, the statewide wolf coordinator for the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Wolves killed 111 sheep in Montana last year.
Suzanne Stone with Defenders of Wildlife, a group that supports the restoration of wolf populations, said this is the first time she’s heard of such a mass killing.
“I’ve heard of bears or mountain lions doing that, but what usually happens is the sheep panic and jump on top of one another or fall into a ditch and suffocate,” Stone said. “I’ve never heard of any situation where wolves killed so much livestock in a short period of time.”
Kathy Konen says the sheep were killed, but their carcasses were almost all intact.
Jon Konen said: “I had tears in my eyes, not only for myself but for what my stock had to go through. They were running, getting chewed on, bit and piled into a corner. They were bit on the neck, on the back, on the back of the hind leg. They’d cripple them, then rip their sides open.”
Federal trappers confirmed 82 bucks were killed by wolves while 40 carcasses were classified as probable kills, including some that had been eaten by bears.
In July, the Konens lost 26 sheep to wolves in the same pasture.
After that attack, FWP authorized federal trappers to remove three wolves that had been observed in the area.
Federal trappers shot two wolves, killing one and possibly mortally wounding the other, and were searching for a third. After the second attack, trappers shot an uncollared wolf in the Centennial pack, but declined the Konens’ request to kill two radio-collared adults and five pups born this spring.
“They’ve done enough damage to say that they need to be eliminated,” Kathy Konen said. “We have cows and sheep there right next to where the sheep were killed.”
State officials say the pups are too young to have been involved and too young to be left on their own.
Trappers are still looking for the third wolf they were authorized to kill after the July attack.
The Konens have applied to the Montana Livestock Loss Program to get reimbursement for the sheep. The program pays up to $350 for buck sheep and can reimburse more if a rancher can show the animals were worth more.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy has scheduled a hearing Monday in Missoula in a request by animal rights and wildlife groups to halt planned wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho while a lawsuit is pending seeking to restore federal protections for the wolves in those states.