Others interviewed by Boise State Public Radio make it clear that Gianforte should definitely have been aware of the required course and certification needed to trap wolves. It’s been almost a decade since wolves were deprived of protections under the Endangered Species Act, which has resulted in numerous poorly thought out rules for trapping—including allowing snares, which are especially cruel and painful considering wolves’ powerfully muscled necks.
Relaxing the rules about killing wolves has also led to incidents such as the recently conducted wolf hunt in Wisconsin, where The Washington Post reports hunters killed almost twice as many wolves as were supposed to be allowed, eliminating almost 20% of the state’s tiny wolf population in a day. As Native News Online notes, Chippewa tribal officials blasted the poorly planned and controlled hunt as a threat to the continued existence of wolves in the state, and stated that considering the state of wolf pelts at this time of year, it was clear this is about “simply killing.”
In the case of Gianforte’s illegally killed wolf, not only did he shoot a collared wolf within 10 miles of the Yellowstone boundary, this killing wasn’t done out of some claim to protect Gianforte’s cattle or sheep. In fact, it wasn’t even on Gianforte’s land.
Gianforte trapped the wolf on a private ranch belonging to Sinclair Broadcasting owner Robert Smith. Not only is Smith behind conservative messages that are distributed across the nation (often distributed through supposedly local news), he is also a major contributor to Republican campaigns. That includes giving thousands to Gianforte. So Wolf No. 1155 wasn’t killed because it was threatening cattle, or for any other reason than the one that propelled hunters out to trap and execute wolves in Wisconsin: It’s about the killing.
There are hunters who legitimately hunt for food or pelts to supplement either their family’s food or income. There are also hunters who hunt for sport, but do so with species—like eastern White-tailed Deer—where populations are extremely high (because the predators of that species, like wolves, have been killed off). There are also hunters who see a challenge in pursuing difficult game through challenging conditions over a period of days. Some of those reasons may not seem admirable to everyone, but at least their motivations can be understood.
But there are “hunters” like Gianforte who trapped a wolf, then shot it. There’s no challenge in shooting an animal in a trap. There’s certainly no excess of wolves. But there is an excess of cruelty.
Of course, when it comes to demonstrating his willingness to showcase that cruelty in the company of other Republicans, this is not a first for Gianforte. As the Associated Press reported at the time, Gianforte joined Donald Trump Jr. on a challenging hunt agains that most fierce of Montana’s wildlife: the prairie dog.
“What can be more fun than to spend an afternoon shooting the little rodents?” said Gianforte.
A 2013 study showed that prairie dogs have a complex language, one in which they can describe not just the various predators that threaten their “towns,” but individual humans they spot. “They’re able to describe the color of clothes the humans are wearing, they’re able to describe the size and shape of humans, even, amazingly, whether a human once appeared with a gun,” said one researcher. Prairie dogs encode this information into short but distinctive chirps. “In one 10th of a second, they say ‘Tall thin human wearing blue shirt walking slowly across the colony.'”
Even so, prairie dogs are considered a non-game species in Montana. There are no limits on how many can be shot, and no season when they are safe from killing. As the AP notes, “Killing them is a popular pastime among some hunters who looking to keep their shooting skills sharp during the offseason when they can’t hunt wild animals like deer and elk.”
A New York Times update in 2017 showed that research was continuing, and that the possibility of actually communicating with prairie dogs seems real. They should have a lot to say about Greg Gianforte.