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Gov. Gianforte killed Yellowstone-monitored mountain lion who was trapped in a tree

The Washington Post reports that the animal, known by Yellowstone biologists as M220, was a 5-year-old male. Like the wolf that Gianforte trapped before killing it, the mountain lion had a tracking device on him and was being monitored for research. Gianforte’s press secretary, Brooke Stroyke, told the Post“The governor and friends tracked the lion on public lands. As the group got closer to the lion, members of the group, who have a hound training license, used four hounds to tree the lion once the track was discovered in a creek bottom on public land.”

Stroyke said that after the mountain lion was chased into the tree, Gianforte confirmed it was a male, “harvested it, and put his tag on it,” she said. “He immediately called to report the legal harvest and then the [Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks] game warden. In Livingston, the governor met the game warden who tagged the lion and took the collar.”

So Gianforte and his hunting party had a bunch of hunting dogs. They followed the scent and/or the snow tracks of the mountain lion, then had the dogs chase the mountain lion into a tree, where it is then trapped. Gianforte then takes out his gun and shoots the mountain lion stuck in the tree. Mountain lion tracking can be considered the sport in this case. Hunters tend to rely on their dogs in general, and those animals are clearly essential to “tree” a mountain lion. You are allowed to eat mountain lion in Montana (the meat is reportedly very lean). Whether or not Gianforte did the hunt in a grueling way and whether he and his buddies packed the meat and made a meal of it isn’t known.

The land on which this hunt took place is reportedly owned by the co-director of the Sinclair Broadcast group, Robert E. Smith. Also on the hunt was “the ranch manager, Matt Lumley, who is also vice president of the National Trappers Association.”

Yellowstone staff monitor the estimated 32 to 34 mountain lions living in the park. They say that they are very elusive animals, which is why hunters wait for the winter, when snow can reveal their tracks more readily.

Stroyke told the press that everything was on the up and up, unlike Gianforte’s illegal permitless trapping of the wolf earlier in February. At that time, Stroyke told Boise State Public Radio that “after learning he had not completed the wolf-trapping certification, Governor Gianforte immediately rectified the mistake and enrolled in the wolf-trapping certification course.” For the wolf kill, of the possible $500 fine Gianforte faced, the governor received a zero-dollar fine. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesperson Greg Lemon said that this treatment—the no-money down fine—was not unusual as this was seen as an “educational opportunity.”

It is illegal to kill wolves inside of Yellowstone, but they can be hunted in states like Montana, tagged or not, if they find themselves past those invisible boundaries. According to the National Park Service, 25 Yellowstone wolves have been hunted and killed in the 2021-2022 season. Nineteen of those wolves have been “harvested” in Montana. 

At the time, Gianforte told the Helena Independent Record that he “got interested in harvesting a wolf when that became legal here in Montana. I started five years ago mostly hunting wolves … at this point I probably have over 40 days invested over five years attempting to harvest a wolf.” More work than most GOP officials put into anything that isn’t directly lining the pockets of their richest donors.

And surprise surprise, the 10-acre ranch on which Gianforte killed the wolf was the same stretch owned by Smith. The man who supposedly taught him how to illegally trap the wolf was Lumley. Which makes one wonder out loud if Gianforte’s assertion that he didn’t know is false; it’s why he quickly told authorities he hadn’t gotten the required permit in the first place. My guess is that like most rich folks who abuse their powers, the phrase “slap on the wrist” was laughed about while drinking something brown in an expensive piece of crystal.

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