GREAT FALLS — A state program that compensates ranchers for livestock killed by wolves has set aside some money to test ways to deter attacks.

The Montana Livestock Loss Reduction and Mitigation Board voted 7-0 Monday to set aside $4,750 to test the effectiveness of guard dogs, range riders, fencing and other measures to keep livestock safe from wolves. Producers will propose measures and apply for funding. The board is expected to decide which project to fund on April 15.

"Right now the prevention is not an exact science," said George Edwards, program coordinator. "We're trying to figure out the best and wisest use of those dollars — where they would have the most efficiency."

The Great Falls Tribune reports Monday's action was the first time the board approved funding to prevent conflicts. Prevention efforts had not been approved previously due to lack of funding, Edwards said.

Defenders of Wildlife, which ran a similar compensation program, has said prevention efforts are critical in breaking the cycle of livestock losses followed by the killing of wolves for the depredation.

In March, Congress approved $1 million in grants for 10 states to compensate livestock producers for losses and for non-lethal conflict prevention. Montana received $140,000. So far this year, the livestock loss program has paid $78,388 to producers for 129 animals, including cattle, sheep, goats and horses.

In 2009, nearly $145,000 was paid out for the loss of 370 animals. Edwards says the numbers were skewed by a single large claim after more than 120 sheep were killed by wolves in a pasture south of Dillon.

The Legislature created the livestock loss program in 2007 to replace a similar program funded and operated by the Defenders of Wildlife.