Sheep

Sheep killed by wolves overnight on April 23, 2013, on the property of William Hoppe near Gardiner.

A Gardiner man, who started raising sheep a few weeks ago, awoke one morning this week to find wolves had killed or injured most of his flock.

On Wednesday, a U.S. Department of Agriculture agent responded to the property of William Hoppe and verified that two wolves killed 13 of Hoppe’s sheep during the night.

USDA Wildlife Services state director John Steuber said two pairs of wolf tracks were found in the pasture along the Yellowstone River about 4 miles north of Gardiner.

Five ewes and eight lambs were found dead, and eight lambs were initially missing but one returned on Thursday. One ewe and two lambs were injured but will recover, Steuber said.

None of the sheep appeared to have been fed on, Steuber said.

Hoppe said it looked like the wolves killed the sheep as they ran the sheep along the river. Hoppe’s property is fenced on three sides with the river on the fourth side.

Hoppe told the agent he would move his remaining sheep off the property, so the USDA won’t pursue any lethal action with the wolves, Steuber said.

“We don’t remove wolves to punish them; we only do it to prevent further predation and now there’s nothing to protect,” Steuber said. “Plus, we don’t know which wolves were involved. We don’t just randomly go after wolves.”

After the agent concluded his investigation, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wolf biologist Abby Nelson surveyed the scene to try to determine where the wolves went.

The Eight Mile and Blacktail wolf packs of Yellowstone National Park both have territory near Hoppe’s property.

FWP spokeswoman Andrea Jones said FWP issued Hoppe a shoot-on-sight permit for two wolves, but they can be shot only on the property where the attack occurred.

FWP will monitor wolf activity in the area closely, Jones said.

Hoppe, a big game outfitter who has normally raised cattle, said he bought the sheep a few weeks ago.

He said that he’ll keep the remaining ewes and lambs at his Jardine house east of Gardiner if he can get fencing in place and that he’ll probably buy a few more. In the meantime, he said, he’d dump the carcasses in a bone pile that he uses for his cattle.

Hoppe said he’d considered the threat of wolves but brought the sheep in anyway.

“I mean what the hell do you do? You can’t worry all your life about what this stupid state and the government’s done,” Hoppe said. “I got no faith and no respect for our fish and game department, not 1 ounce. There’s some good people that work in there but (not) the people up at the higher end of that thing.”

As a former president of the Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd, Hoppe has been an outspoken opponent of wolves and bison in the Gardiner basin.

This year, he testified at the Legislature in favor of the shoot-on-sight bison bill in February. In January, he opposed the FWP commission’s decision to close wolf hunting around Yellowstone Park this winter.

Hoppe will be able to claim almost $2,000 in compensation for the sheep from the Montana Livestock Loss Board.

Laura Lundquist can be reached at 582-2638 or llundquist@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter at @llundquist.