Montana’s Two National Embarrassments

Two of Montana’s top Republican elected officials made national news last week — and both for scandalous behavior that left people across the nation asking “what’s wrong with these guys?”

Gov. Greg Gianforte made the news for shooting a Yellowstone National Park mountain lion that had been treed by hounds. Known as Cougar M220, it was first collared by park biologists in 2019 when it was 3.5 years old — and thanks to Gianforte’s predilection for killing collared research wildlife, it won’t get any older.

Since that’s the second collared Yellowstone National Park animal Montana’s governor has shot — the first being a collared wolf that was already caught in a trap — it’s no surprise the reaction to these needless deaths of top predators in the immediate vicinity of Yellowstone is drawing widespread condemnation and revulsion.

No ethical Montana hunter would intentionally shoot a collared animal for one very good reason — because they know the research coming from the collar’s GPS unit is what biologists rely on to responsibly manage the public’s wildlife for the benefit of the ecosystem and the public.

And much like the incident in which Gianforte illegally shot the trapped, collared Yellowstone wolf, questions have once again plagued the governor’s needless killing of yet another collared research animal. This time, as reported in the Washington Post: “One person familiar with the incident told The Post that the mountain lion was kept in the tree by the hunting dogs for a couple of hours while Gianforte traveled to the site in the Rock Creek drainage area.”

Holding treed cougars until hunters arrive is outlawed in Wyoming. Although the governor’s spokesperson denied that’s what happened, the truth may well be proved by the collar the mountain lion wore since, as a Yellowstone National Park spokesperson told reporters: “Park biologists use the collars to study cougar populations and have the technology to identify when a cougar is hunting, feeding or moving.”

In the meantime, Montana’s lone representative to the House, Matt Rosendale, brought even more shame to Montanans by being one of only three people out of the 435 members to vote against a resolution to provide aid to Ukraine in the face of a nationwide invasion by Russia.

Rosendale refused to talk to Montana reporters, but sent out an email with his specious reasoning for his vote. It ran the extreme right-wing gamut from the southern border to opioids to crime, inflation, and “energy dominance must be restored.”

Of course none of those supposed reasons have anything to do with providing aid to the Ukrainian people in their hour of dire need — nor are they so mutually exclusive that our nation can’t work on the issues Rosendale cites and still provide the much-needed aid to Ukraine.

Which begs the question, why would Rosendale bring such shame on our state through his extreme outlier vote against helping Ukraine — particularly when the effort to do so has now received the support of most Western nations?

Is it any wonder Montanans are embarrassed and at a loss for a reasonable explanation when people across the nation ask “what’s wrong with these guys?” Indeed, we have a governor who likes to shoot trapped, treed, and collared research wildlife from Yellowstone National Park and a congressman who won’t lift a finger to send aid to people suffering death and destruction caused by the unprovoked invasion from a “superpower” nation.

Montanans may decide to get rid of Rosendale and elect some responsible representation to Congress in November. But unfortunately we’re stuck with Gianforte, the heartless killer of collared wildlife, for another two years of national embarrassment and shame.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.