Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About Trapping in Montana

How do people protect themselves and their companion animals from traps and snares?

How can they? The whereabouts of traps and snares are known only to the trapper. Warning signage are not required. While leashes would help keep a pet closer, they are unrealistic for use, i.e. with hunting dogs, while cross country skiing, horseback riding, or while going for a swim. Baited and lured hidden traps attract unsuspecting curious animals, and easily children, to them. Trap setbacks, the distance a trap or snare must be set back from a road, trail, or site applies to public roads and trails only with administrative signs or numbers. Setbacks do not apply to public roads closed year-round to motorized vehicles, other than snowmobiles. Snares and traps can legally be set secreted and baited right on these roads coveted by the public. Traps and snares are frequented along and in waterways and no setbacks apply. Conibear, lethal body crushing, traps are very difficult to disarm. The use of cable cutters may be too late for a snared strangling dog and leghold traps cause significant trauma as well as potential injury to the pet and the owner. Traps effectively lock the public out of safe use of our public lands, year round. Over 100 dogs were known trapped in Montana according to FWP in less than 2 1/2 yrs. Some die as a result. Some never make it on to the reports. How can we be protected from something that is hidden, secreted?

Trapping occurs only in the winter, right?

No! Although that is the major trapping season, in order to get the best furs, unbeknownst to the species, the furbearer trapping season runs generally from Nov through March or April. Beavers, also classified as furbearers, only get a 3 month reprieve from being trapped in most of the state. The trapping of predators and nongame wildlife is legal year round, no license required for residents, and is without regulation or reporting necessary.

How often must trappers check their traps?

No trap check requirements exist in Montana, except for wolves which are allowed to be suffering in traps, exposed to the elements for up to 48 hours. Traps set for bobcat in designated lynx protection zones are required to be checked every 48 hours. For all other species, Montana has NO required trap check. In fact, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) no longer even recommends 48-hour trap check intervals. According to professional trappers and the findings, significant injury and death could be minimized with a mandated 24 hour trap check. 36 other states have 24hr/daily trap checks in their regulations. Three states, Alaska, North Dakota, and Montana have none.

Isn’t trapping strictly regulated by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP)?

How can it be when no license purchase is required to trap for Montana residents, except to trap species classified as furbearers, most species can be trapped limitlessly, no required reporting for most species, there is no check station, no trap check time requirement, traps and snares exclude no species, trapping itself is legal year round, we have a handful of wardens, and the reported tens of thousands of hidden traps and snares are scattered across our vast landscape, and whose whereabouts are known only to the trapper?

Only 4 out of 10 furbearer species have limits on how many can be trapped (otter, swift fox, fisher, bobcat). The trapping and killing of these 4 species are required to be reported and of recent, marten have to be reported and tagged. The rest of the species are not! There is no trapping season for lynx and currently none for wolverine. Both species, however, do fall victim to trapping. These are referred to as “incidental” or “non-target” trappings. The wolf quota, with the majority of public comment strongly in opposition, was increased to 5. For the 2021 wolf season, the quota was increased to 20 wolves.

Traps and snares can be set 50′ from the edge of a public road or trail THAT ARE designated by administrative signs or numbers. Trailheads require a 300′ foot setback for ground sets and 1000′ for conibears and snares. Ground sets including snares are unlawful within 1,000 feet of a designated campground or recreation site that is accessible by a highway vehicle at any time of the year. Traps set for wolves require a 150 foot setback along open roads and hiking trails that are designated by administrative signs or numbers and 1,000 feet of a designated or marked trailhead accessible by highway vehicle. Only the larger body crushing, Conibear traps, 7 x7 and larger, need to be set recessed 7 inches in a cubby or enclosure with an opening of 52 square inches or less. This does not apply if they are at least 1/3 submerged in water or are at least 48 inches above ground. The trap setbacks DO NOT APPLY to: Roads closed year-round to motor vehicle and OHV use are not subject to these setbacks, for instance, Kelly- humped roads that are inaccessible to motor vehicle and OHV use but are lawfully accessible by snowmobile. Therefore, without warning the public, baited injurious and deadly traps and snares can be secreted directly right along these closed coveted public roads and trails.

Nongame wildlife (e.g., raccoon, red fox) and predators (e.g., weasel, coyote) the latter which fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Livestock, are completely unregulated—no trapping license required of residents—and can be trapped year round, in unlimited and unreported numbers in Montana. The three exceptions are Fishing Access Sites, Wildlife Refuges and National Parks (unless exceptions are granted). No warning signs are required for trapping in Montana, and trappers are not required to take or pass trapper education if they purchased three trapping licences in their lifetime and from any state. The exception is anyone seeking to trap wolves must take the wolf trapping certification class. Trappers claiming they are trapping for livestock or property protection do not have to take trapper education. Montana trapping harvest reports are reported as estimates, much of which comes from only 1/3 of licensed trappers sampled, returning the voluntary surveys.

“Sampled Trapping license holders are sent the Furbearer Survey by mail in the spring following the end of the Trapping season. Return rates have generally ranged between 30 and 40 percent over the past 8 years,” according to FWP.

The harvest data compiled in the Furbearer Trapping Harvest contains no report for 2004.

Based on the trapping harvest reports, an annual average estimate of over 50,000 wildlife are killed by trapping in Montana. The number of animals trapped by unlicensed trappers is unknown. Non-target, incidental trappings are only required to be reported for those species, including “domestic animals” who cannot be lawfully trapped. Therefore, the lawfully trapped species excluded from being reported as trapped “non-targets” are furbearers and wolves whose season is open and quotas have not been reached, and all the nongame and predator classified species. Trappers are not permitted to trap animals or birds classified as “game”, migratory birds, or species listed under the ESA, i.e. lynx, grizzly.

The number of “incidental” trapped animals that are released “unharmed” according to the trapper, but later perish from trapping injuries are unknown.  At least 5 eagles were reported injured from traps in one year alone in Montana. Some were killed.

Trappers, by and large, police themselves.

Isn’t trapping an outdoor sport like hunting?

No! Trapping contradicts principles of ethical hunting. Unlike a hunting tag, which is generally limited, a trapper pays a mere $28 for a trapping license to trap unlimited numbers of various furbearers and pays nothing to trap year round, unlimited other species, classified as predators and nongame, gaining personal profit —all wildlife owned by the people of Montana. Hunters generally have strict regulations, including the species age, sex, quota, seasons and are strongly encouraged to employ fair chase ethics. Ethical sportsman strive for a quick, clean kill, and respectful hunters will track and eliminate the suffering of their wounded prey. Trapping, on the other hand, contradicts all hunting ethics. Traps are hidden and baited; the trapper isn’t there, and does not know what was trapped, suffering, until they return, even many days later, at their convenience. It is illegal to leave a fishing pole unattended in Montana, but this does not apply to traps and snares. “Know your target” is a maxim of hunting, but traps are indiscriminate. Trappers say, “Trapping is like Christmas, you never know what you’ll get”….. eagles, osprey, mountain lion, deer, even elk, are caught in traps. Hunting closures occur within 24 hours of a quota, whereas trapping closes over 48 hours later once a quota has been or is near reaching. Trapping quotas are frequently exceeded. Unlike guns, there is no excise tax on traps to benefit FWP. Set-guns, which were unattended guns left to trigger and kill any investigating animal are illegal, but a reported average of 50,000 traps are set and left on our Montana lands that indiscriminately kill an estimated minimum of 50,000 animals annually. These are not for food but instead for fun and personal profit, commercializing upon our wildlife. Unlike hunting, trapping is done predominantly during the pregnancy or birthing season of many species, leaving countless young to perish. Trapping is also a leading factor causing a decline in populations of lynx, wolverine, fisher, marten, and otter and contributed to the near extinction formerly of swift fox in Montana. The rare swift fox continue to fall victim in the relentless trapping of coyotes and despite their rarity have their own furbearer season as well.

Is trapping an important part of the economy?

For the state of Montana, according to the latest available reports trapping brings in $96,000. Hunting brings in $311 million, fishing brings in $226 million, and wildlife watching brings in a huge $401 million. Montana’s outdoor lifestyle, treasured public lands, and wildlife viewing opportunities are a major draw for residents, small businesses, and visitors, generating 43,000 jobs and $2.75 billion in tourism-related revenue. This, in turn, generates over $250 million in state and local taxes, annually. Trapping hurts the economy by destroying the rare and reclusive animals people want to see. The money generated from the sale of trapping licenses doesn’t even cover the salaries and benefits for the FWP Furbearer Division. The burden of costs falls on the hunters and anglers. It is those licenses not from the sale of trapping licenses. Pet owners, veterinarians, wildlife rehabbers, and taxpayers endure the costs from trapping and the “incidental” victims, not the trappers.

What about predator control, managing wolves, and nuisance animals?

It turns out traps are the least efficient way to control a species because they can’t target an animal. A bullet has a much better chance of eliminating the offending animal. Coyote population numbers are self-regulating—they can produce between one and 19 kits a year. It would take killing 70 percent of them to dent their population, and that has never been achieved (information provided by Dr. Jack Laufer, wildlife biologist). They, as in other species, are dependent on food, space, resources. Wolf traps are simply another more intensified layer of baited, lethal traps harming or killing many creatures that step into them, not just wolves. Idaho voluntary survey findings from 2011/2012 season found for every wolf trapped, 1.2 other animals were caught. Almost half of those nontarget animals died. These “incidental” trapping victims included deer, elk, moose, mountain lions, bear, deer, dogs, even geese. Increasing pan tension on wolf traps, the amount of pressure it takes for traps to shut, is ineffective at reducing incidental trapping. Pan tension is difficult to set and even harder to maintain. No enforcement of pan tension is possible or documented by FWP. Predation is not the leading cause of livestock losses. For example, according to the Montana Livestock Loss Board, .005% of livestock were killed by wolves in 2011—a statistically insignificant number. When predators are killed, it does not prevent future losses of livestock. New predators rapidly fill in the vacant territory, and if the livestock remains vulnerable to predation, the cycle of depredations and loss will continue.

Non-lethal methods exist to mitigate potential conflicts with wildlife. These include the use of lambing sheds, guard animals, carcass removal, range riders, fladry, lights, hazing, barriers, alarm devices, human supervision, animal behavior modification, wire tree wraps, repellents, and beaver deceivers.

If traps are so bad, how were the wolves reintroduced?

Actually, it is another trapping myth, but leghold /foothold traps were not used to reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone and Idaho. Secondly, trap selection for purposes such as research differs, just as does the trapping motive. The traps most commonly used to try and reduce harm are the McBride EZ Grip wolf leghold trap which has hard rubber on the inside of the jaws and the Victor Soft Catch. They are also much more expensive we are told, i.e., $165 a piece vs. a commonly used leghold MB750 for wolves costing ~ $45. The latter are more commonly used by Wildlife Services, too. The steel-jaw leghold trap has been declared inhumane by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, and the National Animal Control Association, and has been banned or severely restricted by almost 90 countries and 8 U.S. states. However, less than 5% of trappers reportedly use padded/laminated jaw traps. Most importantly in trap selection, the goal is completely different in trapping, say wolves, to relocate, reintroduce, collar, promote survivability, and reduce injury. The other is to be sure to hold the trapped wolf, preserve the pelt, trap a select color, trap the alphas, and to catch and kill as many wolves as possible. Just the opposite of high season recreational trapping, trapping for research generally isn’t done in the winter in order to prevent frozen toes or paws and exposure to the elements. Trap monitoring is constant or at most checked within 24 hrs. Some traps are equipped with transmitters, some with pain injectables. Recreational trapping for wolves in Montana requires a 48 hour visual trap check. Even with provisions, due to trapping, during their reintroduction many Mexican wolves, for example, were injured, some died. Wolves fight traps really hard and the findings are injuries are pretty routine whether noticeable to the naked eye or not. A 1995 study by Wildlife Services found 97% of coyotes even caught in padded traps had severe swelling of their trapped limb, 39% had lacerations, and several had simple or compound fractures.

Does trapping contribute to wildlife management and disease control?

Traps are indiscriminate and any animal that seeks food or a mate, is curious, takes a drink or goes for a swim, defends its territory, or traverses, is fair game to a trap or snare. Non-target species, known often as “incidental” catches, are not uncommon. These “non-targets”, even if released and reported unharmed, can often later lose toes or paws from the trapping damage and many likely eventually perish from those injuries and the evidence of stress known as capture myopathy. How many incidental catches amount to a contradiction of effective wildlife management? Trapping is market driven and fur prices dictate participant numbers. Indiscriminately removing predators opens the territory up to new potential problematic predators or leaves young immature predators that lack the effective skills to hunt natural prey.

Regarding disease, it’s the healthy animals, not sick ones, that get lured into baited traps. Predators help keep rodent populations in check, thereby benefiting agriculture and removing disease vectors. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, the National Academy of Sciences, and the World Health Organization, there is no scientific evidence that trapping controls the spread of disease such as rabies. Brian Giddings, fur-bearer coordinator for FWP, wrote, “FWP regulates furbearer trapping seasons for recreational harvest opportunities. Montana’s harvest seasons are not based on reducing or controlling disease” (e-mail response to Footloose Montana, March 16, 2009).

Trapping is recreation, is it not?

It’s difficult to understand why a hobby continues on Montana’s public lands that causes such brutal indiscriminate suffering, such collateral damage, cannot logistically be regulated, is costly to Montana and endangers people and their pets. Trapped animals can live for days in pain and terror before a predator gets them, they die from the elements, starvation or dehydration, or a trapper comes along with a club to beat them to death, drown them, stomp on their chests until their lungs collapse, sic their dogs on them. Trapped wolves are the only ones that are required to be killed by gunshot. In order to try and escape, animals tear or chew off their paws once they go numb in the traps. Underwater traps, used for mink, otter and beaver, slowly drown the panicking animal. Trappers say the number one reason they trap is for fun and at what cost to everything else?

How about traps be set farther away from the public or increase setbacks for traps from trails?

Having traps and snares farther away from likely encounters with other outdoor recreationists does not eliminate the indiscriminate trapping, injury and deaths of tens of thousands of animals. Hunting dogs will still continue to get caught and killed in traps. Traps set farther away fosters the secrecy in trapping. It would make it even more difficult for the limited and inadequate number of wardens to try to monitor and lessens the ability for nontargets to be discovered, released unharmed or potentially receive medical rehabilitative care. Trapping farther away promotes animal suffering by facilitating trappers checking their trap lines even less often. Setbacks, the distance traps are from trails only applied to species classified as furbearers. FWP does not have the authority over predators and nongame. That’s the bailiwick under the Department of Livestock. For the Montana 2016/2017 Furbearer Trapping Proposals, the Wildlife Commissioners changed the trap setbacks from designated roads, trails, trailheads, etc. to apply for trapping ALL, including predators and nongame!  Some trappers either say they trap so far away no pets will get caught whereas others complain about the setbacks claiming those trails are what are used by the wildlife more frequently in winter.

What about Best Management Practices (BMPs)?

The exposed cruelty of trapping and the threat from the prohibition of fur sales to other countries, a trapping study to “address animal welfare” was complied by the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) who represents the wildlife agencies in the United States. This resulted in what is known as the “Best Management Practices” aka BMPs for trapping. The BMPs still allow considerable harm and suffering e.g. up to 30% in leghold traps can suffer from severe trauma, including amputation and death. A conibear trap can crush the victim for 5 minutes before permanent consciousness must occur. 30% of conibear victims are allowed to suffer indefinitely and still meet the BMP standards. The BMPs also fail to address the injuries caused to the non-targets caught in traps. Snares, a common and deadly trap type, were not part of the study.

Another key point, the study operated under 24 hour traps checks. Other than 2 limited exceptions, Montana has no required trap check time period. “No way a critter that lingers in a trap for 48, 72 or more hours can expect to benefit from all the trap improvements heaven has to offer. Traps are traps which still involves constriction, freezing, overheating, dehydration, stress, fear and other injuries that are only cumulative every minute, hour and day the critter lingers before being killed by the trapper (if it hasn’t already perished for other reasons mentioned),” writes Carter Neimeyer, author, biologist, and retired Wildlife Services trapper.

The use of BMPs is voluntary, unpopular with trapping populace, and if mandatory it would be very difficult to enforce given the highly secreted nature of trapping and the shortage of wardens. For more on BMPs, see Trap Research & Findings.

Will trapping die of its own accord?

As the fur prices continue to decline, so is trapping. The powers that be are well aware of the decline in trapping and the growing intolerance of its formerly secreted and indiscriminate brutality. This has resulted in a national movement to try and save trapping and promote its waning acceptance.

Contradictory to the evidence, standard terms are universally used, “regulated trapping”, “animal welfare”, “humane trapping”, as well as benign verbiage, “dispatch” which is the euphemism for killing the trapped animal, by bludgeoning, strangling, drowning, stomping, shooting, or having dogs tear apart the trapped victim; and “harvest” for the number of wildlife destroyed by trapping.

Ultimately, wildlife are in trouble and are challenged with human encroachment, climate change, and the loss of habitat, connectivity, and biodiversity. We don’t know how many wildlife are trapped or how many remain. Trapping is one major and indiscriminate cause of their mortality we can and must stop! It is not the first time species were extirpated in our state and elsewhere. We will not let it happen again on our watch.

Domestic animals such as our beloved dogs continue to get trapped, snared, injured, and killed. When is it going to be another child? We cannot afford to wait to see trapping go by the wayside like other horrific destructive atrocities in our history. They, too, took a concerted effort of caring dedicated individuals to finally put an end to them.

Isn’t trapping Montana’s heritage and tradition?

Trapping was in many of our ancestors past, but does not need to be a part of our future. Montana’s wildlife populations were decimated from trapping by 1850 and now trapping keeps some species at the edge of extinction, hurting Montana’s economy and jobs. Our Montana public lands and wildlife are Montana’s heritage. As renown wildlife biologist and former trapper, Chuck Jonkel states: “The days of trapping are over. It’s now time to preserve Montana’s wildlife.”

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