KC York

Montana continues to kill wolverines despite Endangered Species listing There are only about 300 wolverine remaining in the entire contiguous U.S. But finally, after many years of effort by conservationists the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed wolverines as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act which now requires government agencies to implement policies to recover the species before they go extinct.

Given that most of the remaining wolverine are in Montana, it's clear the state's policies on trapping should be changed to protect and restore wolverine, which are caught, maimed, and killed in traps legally set for other species.

Instead, not only has Montana's Governor Gianforte announced he intends to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service over the Endangered Species Act listing, his Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is using a loophole in the federal agency's interim rule that allows wolverines to be trapped, injured, and killed in traps set for other species, including wolves, bobcat, marten, fox, and coyote.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says the loophole, known as the 4(d) rule, only provides the wolverine trapping exemption if the trapping is being legally done using best trapping practices and all wolverine incidental trapped must be reported.

The problem is Montana’s trapping regulations are lax and riddled with loopholes and allow unregulated year-round legal trapping for predatory animals. Being scavengers, wolverine are very attracted to bait, gut piles, and carcasses. The old-time trappers despised them for robbing their trap lines.

Under Montana's current trapping regulations, unlimited snares, massive leghold traps, and body crushing conibears can be set, baited, secreted, and left unattended. There is no required trap check time. Trapped animals can be left for days or weeks, injured, exposed to the elements, dehydrated, and at risk of predation and death.

Only traps set for bobcat in lynx protection zones and for wolves require a 48 hour visual check. But there is virtually no monitoring for compliance and, according to experts, this is double the recommended time to reduce injury and increase potential survival of animals that have been trapped, such as lynx or wolverines, that must be released.

Wolves are now the primary target for incidental trappings in Montana. While regulations require 10-pound tension, the pressure for trap to close on larger leghold traps, it has proven ineffective at avoiding incidental trapping of wolverine. Three of four wolverine reported trapped early 2023 in Montana were caught in legal traps set for wolves.

Yet, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks defended the regulations at a recent legislative oversight committee hearing and the agency's Director, Dustin Temple, falsely testified that no wolverine had been inadvertently trapped since 2012, the year legal trapping of wolverine was halted.

According to FWP's records, however, ten wolverine were reported trapped in Montana from 2013 - 2023. Half were dead and since there's no monitoring of those released it's impossible to determine their fate.

The Fish and Wildlife Service's 2023 wolverine summary cited Montana's report of only three wolverine deaths -- not five as listed in the state agency's own records. That means neither the federal agency nor the public can accurately assess the impacts on wolverine trapping based on false state information.

Furthermore, the loss of any individual in a low population is significant since it compromises the health, genetic variation, and the wolverine's ability to survive and withstand environmental changes over time. Studies on trapper-killed female wolverine report pregnancy rates ranging 70-90%.

Considering a mere 0.3% of Montanans bought a trapping license in 2023, the real question is why trappers should take precedence over protecting and conserving the rare wolverine for present and future generations as legally required under the Endangered Species Act.

KC York is the president and founder of Trap Free Montana.