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GUEST VIEW

Marc Cooke: Montana’s wealthy wolf haters want annihilation, and Gianforte is leading the pack

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Wolf

We are witnessing an all-out war on wolves in Montana as Governor Gianforte continues to grant the wishes of his most radical supporters. His actions make it clear he cares more about the views of his wealthy donors than the common-sense values of everyday Montanans.

Since wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains were removed from the endangered species list in 2020, Gianforte has furiously changed Montana’s laws to maximize the number of wolves killed by any means necessary. He signed laws allowing an extended hunting season, hunting at night, and tactics including the use of strangle-hold neck snaring, baiting, and thermal imaging technology.

In addition to these inhumane methods, Gianforte has called for hunters to kill as many wolves as possible by increasing the kill limit to 20 per hunter and allowing the use of private money for wolf bounties (presumably from similar donors who put Gianforte into office). As Gianforte proclaimed this past year, “make no mistake, the effort to stop trapping in Montana is an attack on our heritage.”

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The implicit heritage he’s referring to is one of unlimited wolf slaughter, and Helena’s rabid rush toward eradication hearkens back to a darker period in our state’s history. Montana’s past is marked by the mass-killing of wolves achieved through hunting bounties and poisoning that unraveled entire ecosystems. While Gianforte has already brought bounties back, wolf hunters like Bill Hoppe, a proud descendant of Yellowstone wolf bounty hunters, has publicly encouraged wolf poisoning in the face of increased federal protections. These threats from anti-wolf radicals are not just hollow words, as eight wolves were found poisoned to death just a few months earlier in Oregon.

None of this brazen behavior should be a surprise. Gianforte encourages reckless actions alongside the wolf-hating special interest groups who fund his campaigns. Just this last year Gianforte failed to follow his own laws when he killed a Yellowstone wolf without proper certification. This happened on the private ranch of Robert Smith, a major Republican donor, 10 miles from Yellowstone Park. Gianforte later described the kill as, “a tremendous honor.” Nearby hunters have followed the governor’s example and now one-third of Yellowstone's wolves are dead.

Montana’s radical laws go far beyond what reasonable hunters and conservationists support. A letter from Montanans with nearly 1,500 years of combined experience in wildlife management, including three former Montana Fish and Wildlife Commissioners, called Gianforte’s wolf hunting laws, “anti-predator, anti-hunter access, and anti-habitat preservation,” and “completely contrary to the accepted principles of fair chase hunting and hunter ethics.” The letter goes on to affirm Gianforte’s laws are aligned with an extremist minority of landowners and wolf haters with insider access in Helena.

We need state laws to be based on scientific evidence, not the views of the political donor class or fear-mongering from extremist groups. For example, while anti-wolf advocates claim wolves are wiping out ranchers herds, government data shows wolves are responsible for just 1% of livestock deaths in Northern Rocky states like Montana.

Montana’s natural ecosystem is our greatest asset, and the vast majority of Montanans want to see it protected. We can not afford to let Gianforte sacrifice our resources at the bidding of wealthy landowners and extremists like he’s currently doing with wolves. Montanans, both those alive today and future generations, deserve better.

Marc Cooke is president of Wolves of the Rockies, and writes from Stevensville.

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