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Washington state will suspend hunt for 3 more wolves over the Labor Day weekend

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SPOKANE, Washington — The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will suspend its hunt for three more members of the Huckleberry wolf pack over the Labor Day weekend, and whether it will resume is unclear in a state where the animals are struggling to re-establish themselves.

Hunters contracted by the state for the past week have been trying to kill a total of four members of the pack in order to protect a herd of 1,800 sheep that the wolves have been preying upon. One wolf was shot and killed by a hunter in a helicopter on Aug. 22.

At least 24 sheep have been killed in eight confirmed wolf attacks on the herd in southern Stevens County since Aug. 14, the agency said.

Officials for Fish and Wildlife said they have ceased efforts to hunt or trap the wolves in order to avoid conflicts with Labor Day recreationists and grouse hunters.

It is unclear if the hunt will resume, officials said Friday.

"We're going to make that assessment after the holiday weekend," said Craig Bartlett, spokesman for the agency.

The owner of the sheep herd is making arrangements to move the animals out of the area, and that would allow Fish and Wildlife to end efforts to kill the wolves, Bartlett said.

During the Labor Day weekend, the sheep will be guarded by DFW staff, the rancher, a range rider, and four guard dogs, the agency said.

Environmental groups have opposed the hunt, saying that nonlethal means of protecting the sheep have not been exhausted. Washington has an estimated 52 wolves in 13 packs, environmental groups say.

Wolves were hunted to extinction in Washington early in the last century. They started moving back into the state from Idaho and Canada in the early 2000s.

In 2012, the state contracted hunters to wipe out all seven members of the Wedge pack of wolves after they began preying on cattle.

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