A bald eagle release at Headwaters State Park

The release of a bald eagle after it was caught in a trap in Montana in March 2015. That makes a minimum of 15 raptors, including numerous golden eagles, goshawk, and owls that fell victim to traps and snares in Montana from 2013 through just January 2015. Some never made it onto the Montana FWP records, yet the reports and/or records of treatment exist. Most of the birds were injured. Some were found dead. Birds of prey, aka raptors, are federally protected under the Migratory Bird act. Most trappings occurred on public land. A couple of trappers received a warning. We are aware of only one trapper being charged. This maybe because most sets were determined legal and catching “incidental” nontargets is exactly part of what trapping does. Wildlife that are incidentally captured in traps in Montana, that can be released uninjured, are not required to be reported. This determination of injury generally falls upon the trapper once they return to check their trap. A rarely publicized exception for reporting is for traps set for wolves. ALL “non-targets’ caught in “wolf sets” must be reported in Montana. We have no required trap check time interval in Montana, other than wolves are permitted to suffer for up to 48 hours stuck in a trap. Experts tell us after 24 hours, injury is a given. An animal alive, running off or flying away does not equate to uninjured. Their future is bleak and fate unknown. To try to prevent raptors from getting trapped, Montana regulations require bait greater than 1lb in weight that is visible from above be set 30 feet from the trap. Clearly, this isn’t working. How many perish, never to be discovered, never reported? Meanwhile, wildlife rehabbers, veterinarians, FWP, you and we pay. However, raptors, like all the targeted and indiscriminate victims of trapping pay the most.

Photo by Erik Petersen
A bald eagle release at Headwaters State Park. Montana Raptor Conservation Center rehabilitated the bird after it was caught in a trap near Fort Belknap March 2015.

Luckily someone found the eagle before it starved to death. The trap cut off circulation to her foot so a toe had to be amputated.