updated 1/29/2006 9:32:46 PM ET 2006-01-30T02:32:46

Federal authorities have killed 200 coyotes in southeast Arizona in the past three weeks after ranchers complained that they were eating calves.

The hunt, which ended Friday, was conducted from aircraft as part of a program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The shootings took place on private and public land used by 10 to 15 ranchers, the Arizona Daily Star reported Sunday.

No documentation was available last week on how many calves had been killed, but the government said it has confirmed losses.

Rancher Rex Dalton said every lost calf costs him $500 to $650 — the amount it could have fetched if it lived to maturity.

“I have seen coyotes attack my calves three times,” Dalton said. “I’ve also seen others with their tails or noses chewed off.”

Environmentalists were upset that the government gave no advance public notice. They call the program inhumane and ineffective.

The 200 animals represent 1 percent or less of the area’s coyote population, and new ones will arrive within months, Arizona Game and Fish officials said.

Teresa Howes, a USDA spokeswoman, said the agency doesn’t issue news releases on the activity “because we do work for private owners.”

Ranchers pay $200 an hour for the aircraft rental and staff time, she said.

Aerial gunning is the cheapest and most efficient way to kill and remove coyotes, allowing agents to ensure they don’t hit other wildlife, Howes said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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