BILLINGS, Mont. - Federal agents have shot a wolf believed responsible for killing about 120 sheep in attacks on ranches in three Eastern Montana counties since last December.
The 106-pound wolf was shot Thursday morning, apparently ending a series of attacks that had area livestock owners on edge for months.
There was frequent speculation among wildlife agents and ranchers that the elusive predator was either a wolf or wolf hybrid. Some thought there was more than one animal attacking the sheep.
"We do think it was a single animal and this chapter is closed," said Carolyn Sime, head of Montana's Fish, Wildlife and Parks' wolf program.
Meanwhile, in Park County, two wolves were shot on Oct. 25 following a confirmation that a calf had been killed by the wolves on a cattle ranch about 10 miles south of Livingston, Sime said.
On Wednesday, a landowner in Garfield County reported large canid tracks in deep snow on his property, Sime said. Even though there had been no confirmed reports of wolf attacks for months, USDA Wildlife Services was authorized to search for the animal and kill it.
Crews in the air spotted the wolf Thursday morning and shot it.
State wildlife officials said the animal was a 106-male wolf, about 4 years old and in good condition. The only thing unusual about it was its reddish color.
It remained unknown where the wolf came from. It was shot more than 150 miles from the fringes of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, where the wolf population has grown to more than 300 since reintroduction begain in 1995. DNA from the wolf will be analyzed, but that could take months, Sime said.
The attacks on ranches in eastern Montana were first reported in late December 2005 and happened sporadically over the next several months. Wildlife officials said the animal seemed to be roaming a wide swath of land, killing sheep and then moving on.
Several landowners were issued 45-day permits to shoot wolves if they saw any attacking livestock, but none was spotted.