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Gianforte completes state-mandated course, calls wolf trapping violation ‘slight misstep’

Posted at 3:05 PM, Mar 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 17:05:44-04

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte this week successfully completed the state-mandated course that he had to take after receiving a warning from the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department in February for trapping and killing a wolf without the proper certification.

A spokesman for the department confirmed that Gianforte completed the wolf trapping certification class on Wednesday. The class covers state law around trapping, the ethics of the practice, wolf management and conservation and other areas.

The Mountain West News Bureau, a consortium of Western public radio stations, first reported this week that Gianforte received a written warning from FWP in February after trapping and killing a collared black wolf that had wandered out of Yellowstone National Park called “1155.” He killed the animal on private land in Park County called Point of Rocks Ranch, which is owned by Sinclair Broadcasting Group director Robert E. Smith, a previous donor to Gianforte’s campaign.

Gianforte, who said in a press conference Thursday that he’s been hunting and trapping since he was a “tot,” described his lack of certification as a “slight misstep,” and that he had all other proper licenses and a wolf tag.

“I was pleased to hunt a wolf recently, it was an investment of probably 40 days over 5 years,” Gianforte said, calling trapping an effective tool for predator management. “I was honored that we have such a great program in the state.”

The department issued a written warning to Gianforte on February 16. Greg Lemon, a spokesman for FWP, said the department became aware of the violation when Gianforte brought in the carcass for inspection, which is required under state law.

“When he called in to say he was coming over to have his wolf inspected, we looked at his account and realized he didn’t have his certification,” Lemon said. “He wasn’t aware of the requirement, and once he was made aware of it, he made a quick effort to rectify it.”

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Gianforte’s warning was signed by FWP’s chief of law enforcement, Dave Loewen. Lemon said it’s atypical for Loewen to sign warning paperwork, but that he did in this case as the governor brought the carcass in for inspection at department headquarters.

“For convenience’s sake, the governor used headquarters, and we don’t normally do that,” Lemon said.

It’s not clear for how long the wolf was trapped. A spokesperson for Yellowstone National Park said the tracking collar on the wolf, which park biologists put on in 2018, had stopped working “a few months ago.”

Gianforte said Thursday that he set the traps with someone he described as a “mentor” and “friend” who has extensive experience, and that they checked the traps on a regular basis as per state law requiring that hunters check their traps every 48 hours and report their kills to the FWP department within 24 hours.

“As soon as we determined that we had a wolf, we dispatched the wolf,” Gianforte said, calling it an “honor.”

State law also allows trappers to release wolves with tracking collars due to their importance to population research and management. However, Gianforte said that there was nothing in the course he took Wednesday that would lead him to doing anything differently — aside from having the proper paperwork — if he were to do it over again.

The governor’s minor trapping imbroglio comes as the state Legislature looks set to approve several bills aimed at boosting wolf harvest — at the expense, opponents say, of the population’s stability and the ethical guidelines of fair chase hunting. One of those bills, Senate Bill 267, passed a preliminary House vote on mostly party lines Thursday. It would allow for the reimbursement of hunting and trapping costs for some wolf kills, which critics have likened to a bounty.

The state’s wolf population fluctuates between 1,100 and 1,200, as reported by the Montana Free Press.