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Nothing unusual about governor’s mountain lion hunt

| March 13, 2022 12:00 AM

Gov. Greg Gianforte garnered national attention last week following reports of his recent mountain lion hunt north of Yellowstone National Park.

Turns out, it’s much ado about nothing.

According to news reports, the Republican governor harvested a 5-year-old male lion last December using a trained and licensed hound team that tracked and treed a cougar on the Gallatin National Forest north of the park boundary. The lion had been fitted with a GPS collar in 2019 as part of a Yellowstone Park research project.

“After the lion was treed, the governor confirmed the mountain lion was a tom, harvested it, and put his tag on it,” Gianforte’s spokesperson Brooke Stroyke told news outlets.

Stroyke refuted a Washington Post report that cited anonymous sources who claimed the governor used unethical tactics on the hunt, clarifying that Gianforte was “a member of the hunt from start to finish.”

Based on the information reported, nothing about Gianforte’s hunt was illegal or even unusual in Montana.

Using trained hounds to track and tree mountain lions is a common hunting method, clearly permitted under Montana regulations. In fact, many expert outfitters and guides point out that hunting cougars without a hound team would be a difficult if not impossible endeavor.

Mountain lions are not an endangered species — like the federally protected lynx — and sportsmen and women willing to take on these arduous hunts play an important role in keeping the state’s lion population within healthy, manageable parameters.

Estimates suggest approximately 5,000 cougars roam the state, with Montana hunters harvesting approximately 500 lions each of the last two years. Each hunting district has a quota set by wildlife officials, and the hunts end as soon as that number is reached.

Officials confirmed that the cougar Gianforte killed was one of 25 that have been fitted with a GPS collar as part of the Yellowstone Cougar Project. Researchers use the data to learn more about the elusive animals’ movements on the landscape and interactions with other predators.

While some conservation groups have criticized Gianforte’s decision to harvest an animal that’s part of a federal research project, shooting game animals fitted with “radio collars, neck bands, ear tags and/or other markers” is permitted under Montana hunting regulations and is actually quite common. The law only requires that the animal harvest is reported to game officials — it was — and the collar is returned to local wildlife officials.

Gianforte’s lion hunt appears to have been on the up and up, and well within the boundaries of state regulations.

Still, public scrutiny of the governor’s outdoor endeavors isn’t without merit, considering he was issued a warning just last winter for trapping and shooting a radio-collared wolf near Yellowstone without first taking a state-mandated trapper education course.

The governor has to play by the rules like every other Montana sportsman and woman. And in the case of his recent lion hunt, it appears he did. End of story.