Sunday, December 13, 2009

Montana: Debate heats up on state trapping restriction

Group pushing initiative to ban leg traps on public lands statewide

By Nick Gevock - 12/11/2009

The fight is heating up over a proposal by a Missoula group to ban trapping on public lands throughout Montana.

The group, Montanans for Trap-Free Public Lands, is pushing a ballot initiative that would bar trapping statewide on public lands. The initiative would still allow wildlife and land managers to trap specific problem animals but bars the public from trapping for animals on federal and state lands.

The measure aims to end a practice that poses a danger to pets, said Connie Poten, spokeswoman for MTFPL. She said her group has no interest in banning trapping statewide, but public lands are for everyone.

"The public ought to be able to go there and not be endangered by traps," Poten said in a telephone interview.

In addition, Poten said banning public land trapping would help cut down on the hundreds of animals that inadvertently get killed every year when they're accidentally caught in traps set to catch furbearers. She said trapping is a cruel and outdated practice, and is harming wildlife populations.

"There's no way to control what animals or human walks into a trap, and there's no way to force someone to check their traps often," Poten said. "There are about five species that are kind of hanging by a thread right now, mainly because of trapping." Those species include fisher, wolverine, lynx, otter and marten, Poten said. She said the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks keep a good estimate of the number of animals killed and is letting trappers deplete the populations of some animals.

But trappers say the anti-trapping group is using a campaign of misinformation to push its animal rights agenda.

Contrary to Poten's claims, trapping in Montana is highly regulated by FWP, said Tom Barnes, a Dillon resident and president of the Montana Trapper's Association. The state has regulations dictating where traps can be set on public land, has a trapping season and sets quotas for animals.

"FWP biologists are professionals," he said. "They collect data every year to the best of their ability of the number of certain species that are harvested." For example, the state has closed all trapping for lynx and only allows five wolverines to be trapped statewide. Other, more abundant species have more liberal quotas because their populations are doing fine.

Barnes said it's true that occasionally a dog gets caught in a trap, but MTFPL is overstating the problem. And state regulations have minimum distances from roads and trails, campgrounds and fishing access sites where traps aren't allowed.

"They make it sound like there's a pet getting caught in a trap every day; that's just simply not the case," he said.

The anti-trapping group has until June to gather roughly 25,000 signatures to put the measure on the November 2010 general election ballot. State law requires at least 5 percent of the registered voters from a minimum of 34 legislative districts throughout Montana.

Reporter Nick Gevock may be reached at


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