The case of Greg, the Mighty Wolf Killer, keeps getting curiouser and curiouser.
In case you’ve been hibernating and just emerged from your cave, a couple weeks ago Boise State Public Radio (yes, you read that right) broke the news that Governor Greg Gianforte got a warning citation from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks for harvesting a wolf that had first been trapped, then shot, by the governor. The citation was for not having completed an online class on wolf-trapping, as required when someone purchases a wolf trapping license.
The incident occurred in mid-February, though nobody in Montana knew about it until Boise State Public Radio, and other members of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaborative of a number of western public media agencies, reported on the governor’s brush with the law. Within a day or two, the case made national news, including the Washington Post and New York Times.
To complicate the case, the wolf that fell victim to the Guv’s trap and rifle wasn’t any old wolf, it was a Yellowstone Park wolf, Number 1155, bearing a radio collar. It was a wolf that had been followed for at least several years, a wolf with a documented history, had been photographed many times, and had its own fan base. Ol’ 1155 had the bad judgement to wander some ten miles out of the Park before blundering into the Guv’s trap.
As it happens, while the case was first reported by out-of-state media, a Montana journalist, Nate Hegyi, of Missoula, was the reporter who developed the story. He told Slate, an online news magazine, that he had gotten a tip that the governor had trapped and killed a Yellowstone wolf on February 15, Presidents Day, and had been issued the warning citation for not completing the trapping course.
The wolf trapping and shooting happened on private property, a ranch owned by Robert E. Smith, an executive with Sinclair Broadcasting Group which owns, among many other outlets, the NBC Montana TV stations. He has also been a financial supporter of Gianforte’s political campaigns. The ranch manager is also vice president of the Montana Trappers Association, and his name, as well as Gianforte’s, is on the trap’s required tag.
Slate raises some questions about how it all happened. Did the Guv make a quick trip down to the ranch for the federal holiday weekend, set out a trap or two and 1155 immediately blundered into it, conveniently meeting his demise before the Guv had to go back to the capitol? Another scenario might be the ranch manager setting traps, finding a catch and then calling the Guv to come down to the ranch to dispatch the critter. If that was the case, it would be in violation of regulations, as an uncollared wolf must be dispatched immediately. A collared wolf must be either released or dispatched immediately.
The New York Times reported that Gianforte told a news conference that he has been trapping wolves since he was a “tot.” This is remarkable, considering he was born in California and grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before going to college in Hoboken, New Jersey. It’s no wonder that he was almost 60 years old before he finally found success.
Of course, all this happens in the middle of a legislative session in which a multitude of bills have been introduced to greatly increase harvest of wolves, as well as try to remove grizzly bears from the endangered species list. Nothing ever happens in a vacuum.
We might also wonder who got to issue the warning citation to the Guv. Will there be books written about the warden? There is a best-selling series of mystery novels by Wyoming author C. J. Box about a fictional Wyoming game warden, Joe Pickett, who, as a rookie warden, fearlessly issued a citation to the governor for fishing without a license.
On a personal note, I’ll mention that, back on the Minnesota farm where I grew up, I occasionally ran a trapline for pocket gophers.
It was not one of my more successful endeavors.
Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.