Big Sky Country is the fourth largest state in the United States, with over 17 million acres of national forest land throughout the state. That is a lot of space for wildlife to roam free. So, it should come as no surprise that you might see a squirrel or two while out on a hike. But what about having a pet squirrel? Can you have one in Montana?
Can You Have A Pet Squirrel In Montana?
Montana has an exotic species law that falls into three categories. The categories include; controlled, noncontrolled, and prohibited. Mammals such as the southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) fall in the exotic prohibited species, meaning the tree squirrel cannot be held in captivity, sold, purchased, exchanged, or imported.
Other squirrel species are not mentioned in the prohibited species list. However, According to the Montana Code Annotated 2021, “wild animals” includes any animal that comes from the wild, including birds and reptiles.
Squirrels have become extremely popular as pets. It’s not hard to find a YouTube channel showing off a pet squirrel. Unfortunately, not all states allow residents to own wildlife as pets. However, according to the Fish and Wildlife Parks (FWP), owning squirrels is a bad idea.
Small mammals such as squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons carry zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted to pets and humans.
Depending on when you read this, the laws may change. So you’ll want to contact the Montana Fish and Wildlife Department to ensure the regulations have not changed. That said, here’s what we found regarding owning a squirrel as a pet in Montana.
Species of Interest Categories
The species of interest include animals that are not native to the ecosystem. Below are the three categories and a quick explanation of the animals that fall into the category.
- Controlled: Consists of live, exotic species that may not be purchased, sold, imported, or exchanged without the proper authorization. Some of the animals in the controlled category include; fish and specific species of birds.
- Noncontrolled: This category consists of exotic wildlife, hybrids, and subspecies such as; frogs, salamanders, species of birds, crustaceans, etc. They may not be purchased, owned, or released into the wild without the proper written authorization.
- Prohibited: Under no circumstances are these exotic wildlife species, subspecies, and hybrids such as; African clawed frogs, Gambel’s quail, foxes, squirrels, etc. It is illegal to sell, hold in captivity, or purchase.
The species of concern are native breeding animals that are considered “at risk” of becoming endangered. They are not currently threatened or endangered, but their population is small or declining.
You can view the complete list of animals on this list.
Is it Illegal to Have A Pet Squirrel in Montana?
According to the FWP, it is illegal to possess most wildlife species without the appropriate permits. In addition, according to the Montana Legislature, anyone who purposely violates any law regarding fish and game is subject to a misdemeanor charge.
If found guilty, you are subject to fines not exceeding $1,000 and imprisonment for no more than six months. In addition, if convicted, forfeits their hunting, trapping, and fishing license for a period set by the court.
How to Become A Wildlife Rehabilitator In Montana?
Montana does not offer opportunities for its citizens. Instead, only facilities are permitted to rehabilitate animals. The following facilities are permitted to rehabilitate hawks, eagles, and owls.
- Montana Wild Wings Recovery – Kalispell
- Montana WILD – Helena area
- Wild Skies Raptor Center – Missoula area.
- Montana Raptor Conservation Center – Bozeman area
What Types of Squirrels Exist in Montana?
Montana is home to two native species of tree squirrels, the northern flying squirrel, and red squirrel. Like most states, other tree squirrels and grounds have found their way to the state.
Today, it’s not uncommon to see a variety of species of squirrels throughout different regions.
Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus Carolinensis)
The Eastern Gray squirrel is a non-native species of the state. These species inhabit areas with broad-leafed deciduous forests.
One such area is known as Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest. There are over three million acres of forest land.
It is home to deciduous trees, such as oaks, maples, and beeches. These trees are popular among wildlife, predominantly gray and flying squirrels.
These opportunistic feeders will eat just about anything they can find. Including seeds, fruits, nuts, insects, and even bird eggs!
The Eastern Gray squirrel will also strip the bark from trees in search of food during the winter months.
The coat of an Eastern Gray squirrel is salt and pepper colored. With a gray fur coat and a large bushy tail. The color camouflages it within the woods, hiding it from predators.
Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)
The Red Squirrel (Sciurus) is a native tree squirrel of the state. Today, it can be seen throughout a large area throughout the state, even in suburban areas.
This squirrel has reddish-brown fur on its upper body, while the belly and undertail are white. In addition, there is often a grayish or whitish band along the sides. The Red squirrel’s tail is also red with white edges.
The Red squirrel feeds primarily on tree seeds, buds, fruits, nuts, and fungi. However, when their food is in short supply, they can be seen feeding on bird feeders, gardens, and the generosity of humans.
The Red squirrel is the most vocal of all the squirrel species and will often chatter at perceived threats. They are most active in the early morning and late afternoon.
Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys Volans)
Montana is home to the flying squirrel (Glaucomys Sabrinus). These species live in coniferous forests and riparian woodlands of Western Montana.
The diet of both flying squirrels includes insects, nuts, berries, acorns, sap, and mushrooms.
Southern Flying Squirrels produce two litters each year with 2-4 young each. The gestation period is 40 days, and the mother weans her babies at 6 – 8 weeks.
Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus Niger)
This squirrel is bigger than most species at a weight of 1 – 3 pounds and 19 – 29 inches long. The fur on its back ranges in color between black and gray, while its underside has an orange tone that stretches to its ears, feet, cheeks, and tail edges. In addition, its long, bushy tail varies in color.
The Eastern Fox squirrel is the most common type of tree squirrel found in Montana. This species can be seen foraging in bird feeders and people’s backyards.
The Eastern Fox squirrel is most active in the early morning and late afternoon.
Their diet consists of acorns, beechnuts, fruits, fungi, corn, and insects. During the winter, they have been known to eat tree bark when food is scarce.
The Eastern Fox squirrel is a loner except during mating season or when raising young. Mating season begins.
They breed twice a year and produce 1 -2 litters of young each year. After 45 days of gestation, the female fox squirrel will produce 1 – 7 blind, hairless young and wean them at eight weeks.
Does Montana Have Ground Squirrels?
Montana is home to several ground squirrels such as; Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs, Columbian Ground Squirrel, Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel, Hoary Marmot, Least Chipmunk, etc. The most prominent ground squirrel found in Montana is the Richardson Ground squirrel.
The Richardson Ground squirrel is a small, chunky ground squirrel. They have a brownish-red back with a tannish underbelly. This species is found in dry, short grass prairies and is found throughout most agricultural areas throughout the state.
The Richardson Ground squirrel feeds on green vegetation, seeds, fruits, and insects. These squirrels will also store food in their burrows.
Can I Relocate to Montana With A Pet Squirrel?
According to the laws, the squirrel will not likely be able to be kept as a pet. The FWP prohibits humans from keeping wildlife as a pet. According to the FWP, small mammals carry zoonotic diseases easily transmitted to humans and pets.
However, there have been many instances where the state Game Commission didn’t allow residents moving to different states to keep a pet squirrel. Finally, after some lengthy legal battles, the squirrel was allowed to remain a pet.
One such case that comes to mind is the case of Nutkin, the squirrel that was acquired in South Carolina (where it’s allowed to own squirrels) and relocated to Pennsylvania.
Can You Buy A Pet Squirrel In Montana?
No, the laws prohibit anyone from owning wild animals without the proper permits and licenses. Unfortunately, the law only grants permits and licenses to sanctuaries and zoos.
However, several websites, such as this one, sell all kinds of exotic animals throughout the United States.
That said, be prepared to pay for a domesticated squirrel. Prices range from $300 – $800 or more. In addition, if caught using one, you could face legal issues.
Squirrels are cute wild animals that have a better chance of survival in the wild. Montana prohibits the ownership of any kind of wild animals, including squirrels. The mammals fall into the prohibited category on the species of interest.
Therefore anyone caught owning is subject to a misdemeanor and losing their recreational fishing, hunting, and trapping license.
If you enjoy these critters, your best bet is to head to your nearest park and enjoy watching them from a distance. Remember, it’s always best to leave wildlife in the wild.
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