A bill that would ban hybrid wolves in Montana has loped through the legislature, unanimously passing the Senate with the same all but assured in the House.
Senate Bill 344, introduced by Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, would prohibit the future ownership, breeding, and sale of wolf hybrids and require the reporting, identification and tattooing of hybrids presently owned.
It would also make a hybrid wolf holder liable—like those of bears, wolves, tigers, mountain lions, and coyotes—should the hybrid injure or kill livestock.
Since late 2005, at least 120 sheep have been killed in eastern Montana by what genetic testing has proven to be wolves of “captive origin,” says Carolyn Sime, wolf program coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
The attacks have been notably messy, lacking the efficiency and skill of wild wolves.
“It’s the difference between a professional, hard-wired, wild wolf, and a quasi-hard-wired, quasi-domesticated, quasi-socialized animal of wolf-dog origin that usually gets its food from people,” Sime says.
Humans have also been the targets of hybrid wolves kept as pets in a handful of attacks from Missoula to Billings.
These animals are largely the product of irresponsible, surreptitious breeders playing “genetic roulette,” says Carl Bock of the Wolfkeep Wildlife Sanctuary.
“Unfortunately that’s just destroyed any possibility of there actually being a legitimate species, because of the low quality control of the breeding, and then not understanding lines, not understanding genetics,” Bock says. “So it’s been more of a human problem than an animal problem, but the problem is still there and needs to be dealt with either way.”
Sime acknowledges the bill lacks the teeth to catch owners and breeders breaking the law. “But if someone is injured, if there are injured or dead livestock,” she says, “we can backtrack to the owner, and it could be a helpful thing.”
No one testified in opposition of the bill at the Feb. 10 hearing, perhaps to avoid future self-incrimination.
“In all honesty there is a bit of an underground element,” Sime says, “and it’s kind of always been that way.”