(EnviroNews Montana) — Helena, Montana — Montana Governor Greg Gianforte (R) violated Montana state regulations when he trapped and killed wolf “1155” in February near Yellowstone National Park. Gianforte killed the collared gray wolf (Canis lupus) about 10 miles north of the park. While the Governor had a license for the killing, his mistake was failing to take the state-required wolf-trapping certification course. The wolf had roamed from its pack and the protected area inside Yellowstone to seek a mate. Now, the Governor has signed two bills into law that would increase wolf-harvesting in his state, while two more wolf bills hang in the balance and will likely hit his desk soon.
“It’s difficult to fathom accidentally not taking that class,” John Sullivan, Montana chapter Chair for the sportsmen’s group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, told Boise State Public Radio (BSPR). “When you go to buy your wolf-trapping license online it clearly states that trapper education is required.”
Now, more bad news for wolves is on the way to Gianforte’s desk. The state legislature has passed four bills that would increase the number of wolves allowed to be killed in Montana while making things even easier for hunters – two of the bills the Governor has signed into law already, one sits on his desk and the other is still live in the state senate:
Senate Bill 267 (SB 267) authorizes reimbursement for wolf-harvesting expenses, which opponents say is and absurd subsidy and the equivalent to offering a bounty on wolves. Bounties are forbidden by the state’s constitution; it has passed the legislature and been transmitted to the Governor.
House Bill 224 (HB 224) allows trappers to use neck snares. The bill was opposed by mountain lion hunters, who feared their dogs would get caught in the snares. The bill has been signed into law by the Governor.
House Bill 225 (HB 225) adds two weeks to the wolf hunting season, which Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) already has the authority to do. This bill has been signed into law by the Governor as well.
WildEarth Guardians (Guardians) put out a call for people to demand the vetoing of these four bills – a demand that Gianforte is apparently not heeding. Guardians is one of the most successful environmental law organizations in the country, emerging victorious in over 90 percent of its wildlife cases against the federal government.
“In just 24 hours, over 7,800 members and supporters of WildEarth Guardians signed a petition urging Governor Greg Gianforte to oppose four cruel and unethical wolf-killing bills that harken back to an era when people sought to exterminate wolves altogether, and nearly succeeded,” Communications Manager Matthew Koehler wrote in an email to EnviroNews. “These are not just ‘Montana’s wolves and the fact that wolves in Montana call federal public lands and federal wilderness areas home means that everyone should have a say in how wolves are managed — especially when decimating wolf populations across Montana would cause harm to biodiversity and ecosystems on federal public lands.”
However, Koehler admits that protecting the wolf in Montana is an uphill battle: “We don’t only defend wolves when it is easy. Guardians and our allies will never stop protecting and defending wolves just because the situation is extremely dire.”
YET ANOTHER RUN-IN WITH THE LAW FOR THE GOOD OL’ JOURNALIST-BODYSLAMMING GOVERNOR
The Governor holds the dubious distinction of being the first person to kill a collared Yellowstone wolf this year. The tracking device was returned to the park. Trappers have the option to release a wolf with a collar rather than kill it – a recommendation that’s covered in the certification course.
“A wolf that’s been wearing a radio collar is going to be a terrible trophy, because those collars mess up the fur around their neck,” said Carter Niemeyer, a former wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). “And then symbolically, you’ve got a wolf that researchers spent thousands of dollars on, and then to have somebody thoughtlessly kill that animal when they could have released it back to research — that’s a lot of poor judgement.”
Gianforte trapped the Yellowstone wolf on a private ranch owned by Robert E. Smith, Director of the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group. Smith contributed thousands of dollars to Gianforte’s 2017 congressional campaign.
“It was within the bounds of the season, and the only violation in this case was lack of that [trapping] course,” Nick Gevock told BSPR, stating that it was a “teachable moment” for the Governor and avid hunter. Gevock is the Conservation Director for the Montana Wildlife Federation.
Gianforte received a written warning for his actions from the MFWP. He was also allowed to keep the skull and pelt of Wolf 1155 – something that outraged many environmentalists. The Governor oversees the agency and appointed its director, but MFWP says that’s normal operating procedure.
“Typically, we approach this sort of incident as an educational opportunity, particularly when the person in question is forthright in what happened and honest about the circumstances,” MFWP spokesperson Greg Lemon said in an email to BSPR. “That was the case here with Gov. Gianforte.” Animal advocacy groups had a different take.
“He might have received a slap on the wrist in the form of a written warning, but this is really a slap in the face to the millions of people who come to his state to see these wolves,” Wildlife Protection Manager Amanda Wright from The Humane Society of the United States told BSPR.
According to Brook Stroyke, spokesperson for the Governor, Gianforte enrolled in a class on March 24 once he had learned the course was a requirement. But for some people, that just wasn’t enough.
“The mandatory wolf-trapping class that the Governor skipped before setting a trap warns how to avoid public controversy in the course of committing extraordinary cruelty,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity (the Center) in a press release. “Gov. Gianforte’s flouting of the whitewashing regulations encapsulates perfectly his government’s brazenly shameless treatment of these ecologically vital animals.”
“Montana legislatures as a whole (as well as the game departments and other arms of state government) have decided to prioritize the livestock industry over the wildlife of their states,” Robinson continued in an email to EnviroNews. “Gov. Gianforte seems to have no interest in the integrity of Montana’s ecosystems, eager to do the bidding of the ranching oligarchy, and (as we’ve now seen) holds no compunctions about the humaneness of killing wolves notwithstanding that they are intelligent and social animals.”
This isn’t the first animal Ginaforte has killed illegally. In 2000, he took an elk that was too young. After self-reporting the violation, he was fined $70.
In 2017, Gianforte had another run-in with the law. He pled guilty of misdemeanor assault after he bodyslammed reporter Ben Jacobs from the British newspaper The Guardian — an action President Trump applauded. Gianforte was sentenced to community service and anger management courses.
“To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it,” wrote The Guardian U.S. Editor John Mulholland at the time.
Wolves lost their protections under the national Endangered Species Act (ESA) in Montana over a decade ago. More recently, the species lost those protections in every state in the U.S. In 2020, the Yellowstone wolf population was 94.
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