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New York Times: Under Gianforte, Montana Law Enforcement Officers Faced Pressure to Lie and Termination

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New York Times: Under Gianforte, Montana Law Enforcement Officers Faced Pressure to Lie and Termination 

Over the weekend, the New York Times took a deeper dive into how Gov. Greg Gianforte shooting and killing a trapped, collared wolf near Yellowstone National Park resulted in the Chief of Law Enforcement at the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department being terminated, and the department’s game warden leaving “a job he said he loved.”

This investigation follows a recent letter from Montana sportsmen that accuses Gianforte of leading “the systematic evisceration of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks” by gutting the department’s senior staff and replacing them with “inexperienced young staffers who, without mentors, can be easily controlled and silenced.”

Read more about how “Law enforcement officers say they were pressured to lie when Gov. Greg Gianforte of Montana killed a black wolf in 2021”:

  • Mr. Hawkaluk now says his sense of dread was warranted. By the time the wolf affair was settled, his superiors had pressured him to lie about the governor’s role, and his boss would be forced out of the department, he told The New York Times in his first interview about the episode. He, too, would leave a job he said he loved.
  • Law enforcement officers involved with recording Mr. Gianforte’s wolf, collared as No. 1155 by trackers in nearby Yellowstone National Park, now say the procedures were anything [but] typical.
  • They say that officials leaned on them to record the governor’s hunting buddy, rather than governor himself, as the shooter, in an attempt to avoid giving the governor a citation, and that the officials bristled when the warden and his boss refused.
  • Mr. Hawkaluk said he saw it as an attempted “cover-up.”
  • With the warden refusing to go along, [Montana Fish, Wildlife And Parks Department head of law enforcement Dave] Loewen said he and the deputy director of the department went to the office of the department’s director, where, sitting at a conference table, was Mr. Lumley. Mr. Loewen did not back down from attributing the kill to the governor. His superiors relented and agreed to credit the governor with the kill. Then they issued a public warning to him for killing a wolf without the required trapping course.
  • From that point on, things went from bad to worse for Mr. Loewen. Rumors began circulating of an inappropriate relationship with another department employee, Mr. Hawkaluk said and Mr. Loewen confirmed. When those were batted down, Mr. Loewen was accused of fostering a hostile work environment and put on administrative leave in July 2022. He staunchly denied the charges.
  • Since the Montana Legislature was in session in Helena, the capital, at the time of Mr. Gianforte’s kill, wolf experts doubt the governor could have set the trap and then made the 177-mile trip to shoot the wolf quickly enough to satisfy regulations designed to minimize suffering.
  • As for that original warning issued to Mr. Gianforte, the man who designed the classes that the governor had not taken said the infraction was serious. An improperly licensed hunter should have received a hefty fine or lost his license, said Thomas Baumeister, now with the Montana chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
  • “Enforcement has a fair amount of discretion; there are few areas where it’s black-and-white,” Mr. Baumeister said. But with a radio-collared wolf just outside Yellowstone, he was more definitive. “On this one,” he said, “it is black-and-white.”