Montana governor killed mountain lion that ventured outside Yellowstone, office says

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) killed a mountain lion that was being tracked by the National Park Service after the animal ventured outside the protected areas of Yellowstone National Park.

Gianforte, who had a valid mountain lion license, was part of a group that drove the mountain lion up a tree with four hounds on public land in December, the governor's office told The Hill on Wednesday.

The governor then legally harvested the lion and reported the kill, per his office.

The Washington Post reported that hounds kept the mountain lion up in a tree until Gianforte arrived, which is illegal in neighboring Wyoming.

Gianforte's office denied that account.

"He had been tracking the lion on public lands and was a member of the group that used hounds to tree the lion in accordance with Montana mountain lion hunting regulations," a spokesperson for his office told The Hill in an email.

The Dec. 28 hunt was legal, said Greg Lemon, a spokesperson for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks service.

"Mountain lion hunting has a strong history in Montana and mountain lion hunters are some of the elusive predators' strongest advocates and those most engaged in how lions are managed across the state," Lemon said in an email. 'Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks even works with lion hunters and houndsmen on monitoring activities to ensure populations remain healthy, which they are."

Under federal law, hunting and discharging firearms is barred in Yellowstone, but animals that venture outside the park into nonprotected lands in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana are fair game.

Gianforte received a written warning last year for killing a Black wolf outside of Yellowstone without proper certification.

In January, Montana wildlife officials voted to close one region in the state for wolf hunting and trapping once a certain threshold of wolf harvests was reached. The decision came after 23 wolves ventured outside Yellowstone and were killed.

The National Park Service estimates that Yellowstone is home to 34 to 42 mountain lions year-round, though a population estimation for 2020 onward is currently underway.

The agency said it is monitoring the mountain lion population and "new research is underway to evaluate population abundance, predation patterns, and competition with other carnivores."

The Hill has reached out to the governor's office and the National Park Service for comment.

This story was updated at 6:24 p.m.