BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte received a warning from wildlife officials after killing a radio-collared wolf near Yellowstone National Park without first taking a mandated trapper education course — a violation of state hunting regulations, officials said Tuesday.
It's legal to kill wolves in Montana with a license, but trappers must first complete a three-hour online course that includes instruction on how to take the animals ethically and lawfully.
Gianforte had a valid wolf license, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Greg Lemon said.
News of the governor's violation comes as lawmakers in Montana and Idaho have been considering proposals to make it much easier to kill wolves in a bid to drive down the predators' numbers. Gianforte could soon receive bills for possible signing into law that would allow unlimited hunting of wolves and payments for dead wolves akin to the bounties that exterminated them across most of the U.S. last century.
Just weeks after taking office, Gianforte trapped and shot the male wolf on Feb. 15 about 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of the park, on a ranch owned by Robert E. Smith, director for the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group and a Gianforte campaign donor, according to The Mountain West News Bureau, which first reported the violation.
Officials determined Gianforte had broken the trapping certification rule a day later, when the Republican governor brought the animal's remains to a state game warden in Helena to report the kill as regulations require, Lemon said.
“In situations like this, we use it as an education opportunity and issued a written warning,” Lemon said. “Everything related to the harvest was done right."
Gianforte “immediately rectified the mistake” and enrolled in a wolf-trapping certification course scheduled for Wednesday, Gianforte spokesperson Brooke Stroyke said. He was allowed to keep the animal’s skull and hide.
Gianforte has previously described himself as a “lifetime member” of the Montana Trappers Association. It was the first wolf he's killed, Stroyke said.
The male wolf was 6 to 7 years old and had been born in Yellowstone National Park. It was fitted with a radio collar to track its movements in 2018, park spokesperson Morgan Warthin said. The animal was a member of the park’s Wapiti Lake and 8 Mile packs, then went off on its own to find a mate.
Lemon said the radio collar from the animal was returned to the park.
Trappers have the option to release radio collared animals so they can continue to be used for research. The certification course includes instruction on the importance of radio collared wolves to monitor the population and manage wolf pack attacks on livestock.
“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. “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.”
While running for Congress in 2017, Gianforte acknowledged illegally killing an elk in 2000 in Park County. He was fined $70 after self-reporting that he mistakenly killed an elk not mature enough to be legally harvested, the Independent Record reported.