Governor Gianforte has jeopardized 30 years of recovery for Montana’s Wolf Population; under him, wolves are under assault like never before. State hunters are even calling the new laws unethical. Gianforte, a wolf hunter himself just recently killed a Yellowstone Wolf without properly following state laws –– a wolf he is excited to mount on his wall.
Who is Governor Giannforte?
A native of San Diego, California, Greg Gianforte is the current Republican Governor of Montana. He is a conservative who is anti-abortion, against same-sex marriage, supported Trump’s Muslim ban, and opposed the resettlement of refugees to Montana. His brand of Christianity believes in young-earth creationism⸺that the earth was literally created in 6 days 6000-10000 years ago by the supernatural acts of a deity. I imagine with this belief, it would be hard to be convinced about things like balance in nature or climate science because whatever man did to protect the planet would be futile since it’s up to God. Luckily most people of faith don’t think or act like they are free of the responsibility to protect this planet. While Gianforte might not fall into this camp, it is comforting to know that there is support in America for conservation on both sides of the political aisle and across all belief systems.
Fit for Office?
On May 24, 2017, Gianforte body-slammed a reporter from the Guardian Newspaper, Ben Jacobs, who had simply asked him a question about health care policy that he didn’t like. The reporter’s glasses were broken and he was hospitalized. Gianforte allegedly lied about the incident afterward, tried to say the reporter started it, and attempted to explain to law enforcement that this was the liberal media making a story out of him.
Recently, he made the news again for the killing of a Yellowstone wolf that had wandered outside the protection of the national park. He had been trying for 5 years to “harvest” a wolf. While it was legal to kill this wolf, it was controversial because he failed to comply with the state regulation that required hunters to take a wolf-trapping course before catching an animal. There was an article in Slate that questioned how the governor could possibly have been checking his traps as often as required––he’s governor––he’s busy. The article suggests he may have got help with killing this wolf and that state hunting laws may have been broken. If someone comes across a wolf in a trap they are supposed to kill or release it right away. If someone else came across the trapped animal and held it for the Governor to come and kill and claim⸺then that would not be ok. I doubt we will ever know but whatever the case, it’s clear that wolves have no friend in Governor Gianforte and science would be unlikely to change his mind.
What does the New Law Allow?
The new law signed by Gianforte requires only that enough wolves remain in the state to support at least 15 breeding pairs (defined as a male, female, and two pups). This law will decimate Montana’s Wolf Population. In short, the new law allows hunters: to kill as many wolves as they want (no limits), to use baits, to hunt at night, and to set neck snare traps. Additionally, it extends the killing season by another 30 days and pays bounties to hunters that kill wolves. On a side note regarding black bears, dogs will now be legal to use––giving hunters an unfair advantage in the killing of that animal.
Impact on Wolves
Montana had about 60 wolves in the state in the 1990s and today there are an estimated 800-1200. One of the United States’ most successful reintroduction plans. This new law which has the support of agriculture and some sportsman groups will destroy the wolf population in Montana. The argument is that it is about the protection of livestock or conservation. The drastic measure would presumably stop once wolves are reduced to a level that can only support 15 breeding pairs. Realistically who is going to keep track of this and pull the stop cord when it gets to that point? Montana is a big state and there will be hunters scattered across it killing as many wolves as they want through various means. Republicans are about small government; it seems like a big government job to track this. It makes no sense to target wolves so aggressively and at all costs unless the real goal is eradication. If that is true then the state doesn’t need to monitor it⸺it just needs to make sure they’re all dead in the end.
One Justification – The Elk Numbers Fallacy
Elk numbers being driven down by wolves seem to be more a belief than based on any fact. According to the Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department, elk numbers are consistently strong across Montana. Hunter success rates are also consistently strong and even trending upwards despite an estimated 1200 wolves living in the state. While it is true that moose numbers are falling a state commission study found that “Despite widespread speculation that adult moose are being killed by wolves and other carnivores, the study shows that the main culprits are health-related.” Unfortunately, the belief that wolves are to blame persists.
Some Hunters are not Onboard with the Law.
Many hunters and trappers believe wolves are driving down the elk numbers but conservation-minded hunters oppose what they see as an indiscriminate killing of wolves. The use of aids such as snares is also viewed as violating the fair chase concept. This concept states that an animal being hunted should have a fair chance to get away and a hunter should not have an unfair advantage.
The extreme opposite of fair chase and responsible hunting would be Wayne LaPierre being unable to hit the right spot of an African elephant from point-blank range. This was an animal that he paid people to chase down and set up the shots for him. The video is hard to watch, as is his incompetence as a hunter. Even the guide had to ask, “what are you aiming at,” to an out-of-breath LaPierre. Finally, the guide had the host of “Under Wild Skies” fire the shot that killed the elephant. Not exactly an example of fair chase or the romanticized image most have of hunting, is it?
Use of Snares
Snaring can also be argued to be an irresponsible and somewhat lazy way to hunt. Hunters can set many inexpensive snares in a short period of time. If they do not go back often to check the snares or they forget where they were set, these will continue to work long after the fact. Snares kill indiscriminately and have been known to kill other animals like mountain lions and even family pets. Any animal trapped in a snare (even beloved Fido) can take hours or days to die a slow painful death. At least with pets, a human is usually coming soon to find them and with any luck save them. A wolf caught on a Monday that doesn’t die quickly could be left to suffer until the trapper finds some time on the following weekend to go check his snares and put the animal out of its misery.
If you are disturbed by the situation in Montana:
- You should write its elected officials and tell them that you choose not to visit the state until it picks up the torch of conservation again. I mean the whole point of visiting Montana is for a wilderness experience. A healthy predator population keeps nature in balance. These laws are not based on science but political pressure from Agriculture, hunting groups, and sportsmen businesses.
- You could sign this petition on change.org
- On a national level, you could write to The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- You could donate to groups like the WWF or Defenders of Wildlife who stand up for animals like the Gray wolf. If you live in Canada, you could consider a gift to Exposed Wildlife Conservancy.
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