By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
Gov. Greg Gianforte should have known better. According to news reports today, the man Montanans elected just last November to lead their state and protect its vast natural resources trapped and shot an iconic black wolf just 10 miles north of the boundary of the Yellowstone Park in February. And he allegedly did it without completing a state-mandated wolf trapping certification course—a fact for which he apparently received a mere written warning from the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department.
But what is even worse, and what the rest of us need to hold him accountable for, is the fact that he acted without a thought for how the residents of Montana, and a vast majority of Americans, feel about hunting wolves, whom so many of us see as a national treasure.
Gianforte has a well-documented history as a trapper, and is a lifetime member of the Montana Trapper’s Association. But he is now the governor of a state where wolves have long been under the gun and where they desperately need protection. The federal government delisted wolves in Montana in 2011 as a nod to trophy hunters, trappers and cattle owners and in the years since more than 2,100 of these animals have been killed unnecessarily in some of the cruelest ways imaginable.
The wolf Gianforte killed, numbered 1155 by researchers, was a collared animal who lived in Yellowstone, and was being studied by biologists since 2018. Wolves are protected within Yellowstone boundaries but it appears this wolf strayed out and was targeted by Gianforte on the private ranch of a wealthy businessman, who has donated thousands to the governor’s 2017 Congressional campaign, about 10 miles away. While it is not clear how Gianforte trapped the wolf, we do know that Montana allows trapping with leghold traps—an extremely cruel way of killing any animal. Wolves caught in such traps suffer in them for days, sometimes, injuring themselves severely and at times gnawing limbs off in an attempt to escape. Many give up and die during their struggle.
It is a terrible thing for any animal to suffer so unnecessarily. We also expect our elected officials to act not just in their own interests and in the interests of their friends, but for the good of the entire state. Gianforte should consider the fact that wolves are worth far more alive than dead to this state: wildlife tourists eager to sight wolves flock to Montana, adding millions of dollars to the state's coffers each year and providing tens of thousands of jobs for the state's residents.
Montana's wolves have suffered enough, but now some lawmakers are trying to intensify the persecution with a slew of bills, many of which are headed to Gianforte’s desk for a signature. The bills would make the use of neck snares to trap wolves legal, expand wolf trophy hunting and trapping, and bring back a wolf bounty system, among other atrocities. Montana residents oppose these bills and dozens of them have already testified in state legislative hearings to say so.
Recently Gianforte received a letter signed by 3,307 photographers asking him to veto these bills. We are saddened by the news today of the governor's own wolf trapping, but we believe he has an opportunity to do the right thing now by refusing to let other trophy hunters and trappers in his state commit even more cruelties against these iconic animals. If you live in Montana, please urge Gov. Gianforte to stand up and protect his state's residents and its wildlife by rejecting these bad bills as soon as they land on his desk.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.