Twenty-three years ago, the United States started an experiment: What would happen if U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released grey wolves in the West?

The results are mixed.

To their credit, wolves have successfully controlled the grass-munching elk and deer populations of the Northern Rockies. That means they also leave more habitat available for other species, from bugs to beneficial algae.

But wolves aren’t picky. And ranchers’ cows make for easy targets. In states like Idaho, where wolves were released two decades ago, ranchers can protect their herds by killing wolves, and the states allow wolf trophy hunts to further thin packs.

But in Oregon, ranchers are caught between the wolves killing cows on their grazing grounds and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has strict rules against killing wolves in all but the rarest circumstances.

Ranchers who keep losing cattle to wolves, and the residents of Eastern Oregon who rely on the economy created by the cattle industry, have long argued the state of Oregon should loosen the rules around wolf kills, and let ranchers kill whole packs of wolves.

For the first time, last year, the state allowed for just that — four wolves from the Harl Butte Pack of northeastern Oregon were killed. Environmentalists decried the wolf killings as unnecessary and cruel.

Ranchers here hope it’s just the start.

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