Kitty Killers

Montana’s wildlife regulations have been piling up since the territorial legislature first convened in Bannack in December 1864. At that session, the legislature prohibited fishing for trout with anything but “fishing tackle, consisting of a rod or pole, line and hook,” and “[t]hat said hook shall not be baited with any drugs or substance poisonous to any kind of fish whatever.” The legislature later added to its wildlife-management statutes, including the 1883 enactment of bounties for killing predatory animals. Bears and mountain lions were worth eight bucks, wolves were worth a dollar, and coyotes netted fifty cents.

Today, the Montana Code allows the owners of a majority of a county’s livestock to submit a petition for a bounty program to the county commissioners. Under Section 81-7-201, a county may pay out up to $100 for each wolf or mountain lion killed, $20 for each wolf pup or mountain lion kitten, $5 for each coyote, and $2.50 for each coyote pup.

In other words, the Montana Code literally allows counties to pay people to kill kittens. As absurd as this might sound to kitten lovers, it doesn’t even approach the absurdity of several other wildlife statutes on the books.

Under Section 87-1-231, for example, anyone who captures a “bear, wolf, tiger, mountain lion, or coyote” must report the capture to the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) so the animal can be tattooed for future identification. Any confusion as to what the legislature intended concerning the capture of wild tigers in Montana is addressed by the department’s administrative regulations, which clarify that a “tiger” is a “member of the species Felis tigris” (i.e., the cat with the orange and black stripes that is not ordinarily found roaming the Montana countryside).

The 2011 legislature overhauled many of the fish and game laws to separate out those statutes that created criminal offenses, including Section 87-1-231. The Title 87 criminal code working group apparently spent countless hours crafting a revision that would make these laws more understandable. But because the working group was not tasked with making any substantive changes to the law, the Montana Code continues to criminalize the failure to report the capture of wild tigers, yet allows the scofflaws who capture gorillas, hippos, or crocodiles to do so without giving any notice to the FWP.

Another dubious provision is found at Section 87-1-224, which explains what to do if a beaver dam obstructs a stream into which “sewage of a town or city is dumped.” Leaving aside the dumping of sewage directly into Montana streams, the statute goes into great detail about whose responsibility it is to destroy the offending beaver dam. Should the landowner refuse to take action, for example, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) must step in.

The problem of sewage backing up against a beaver dam is an inherently local issue, so the DEQ obviously shouldn’t have to foot the entire bill, right? In order to keep things fair, the statute says: “The department shall furnish all labor needed to blast out or otherwise remove the beaver dams. Necessary explosives must be furnished by the county in which the beaver dams are located.” With great foresight, the legislature has thus prevented any bickering at the site of a beaver dam over who has to go get the dynamite.

Alex Roots is an attorney with Landoe, Brown, Planalp & Reida, P.C. in Bozeman.