But Gianforte had failed to complete the required training before setting the traps, state officials soon learned.
Violating the state regulation can result in a fine of $50 to $500, the suspension of active hunting licenses and a ban from hunting. But instead, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks issued a written warning on Feb. 16 to the newly sworn-in governor, who oversees the agency and serves as its director.
A spokeswoman for the governor said the missing training was a mistake and Gianforte would take the required course as soon as possible.
“After learning that he had not completed the wolf-trapping certification, Governor Gianforte immediately rectified the mistake and enrolled in the wolf-trapping certification course,” spokeswoman Brooke Stroyke told The Washington Post in an email. “The governor had all other proper licenses.”
A spokesman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks told the Mountain West News Bureau that a warning was the “typical” response to a violation like the one Gianforte committed.
“Typically, we approach this sort of incident as an educational opportunity, particularly when the person in question is forthright in what happened and honest about the circumstances,” Greg Lemon told the station in an email. “That was the case here with Gov. Gianforte.”
Hunting wolves has been a hot-button issue in the western states where wolves were reintroduced in the 1990s, including Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado. Wolves were removed from the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho in 2008. Since then, ranchers and hunters have been pushing for aggressive population control measures to keep packs off private land, where wolves sometimes kill livestock.
Meanwhile, advocates for the animals have demanded protections for the wolves, which have kept elk populations in check, increased the number of beaver colonies and helped restore native Yellowstone vegetation. Some activists also oppose trapping animals, arguing they cause wolves to suffer, because trappers are only required to check for wolves every 48 hours and some could be stuck for extended periods.
Despite the ecological benefits wolves have brought to Yellowstone, the animals have also frustrated nearby ranchers, who have to deal with sheep and cattle losses. Montana established a compensation fund to pay ranchers who lose livestock to wolf attacks, but the money has been running low in recent years as more people have filed claims.
But some hunting programs have gone amiss. Wisconsin opened a wolf-hunting season this winter intending to harvest 119 wolves; instead, hunters killed 216 within three days, enraging advocates.
The adult black wolf had been part of the Wapiti Lake pack, but left the group and wandered away from the national park to find a mate, the Mountain West News Bureau reported Tuesday.