Reasons to Oppose Trapping

The Many Wrongs with Trapping in Montana

Our Montana outdoor lifestyle and presence of public lands is a major draw for residents, small businesses and the visitors who come primarily to view wildlife. Our public lands comprise roughly only 1/3 of Montana. Contrarily, and unknown to many, lies the hidden indiscriminate destruction from legal year-round trapping resulting in an unknown number but reported average of 50,000 wild animals trapped and killed and a reported average of nearly 50 dogs trapped annually in Montana. After Wildlife Commissioners extended trap setbacks to apply to traps and snares to predators and non-game, FWP reported an average of 25 dogs are trapped, annually. Not all trapped dogs make it on the report. Not all make it home alive.

We should be able to safely enjoy our public lands free from the hidden tens of thousands of traps and snares whose whereabouts are known only to the trapper. We can no longer afford the commercialization of our valuable wildlife, tolerate incidental non-target catches, disregard indiscriminate pain and suffering, forego nonlethal methods, ignore violations of hunting ethics, or accept safety hazards of traps and snares on our public lands.

(1) Montana Poor and Lax Trapping Regulations

(1) Montana Poor and Lax Trapping Regulations:  Montana has one of the worst in the nation for trapping reform while killing over 192,000 REPORTED animals from 2011-2014 and trapping over 100 dogs per FWP reports. Montana allows the trapping of dozens and dozens of species but only 5 have a quota, a limit on how many can be killed either per person and/or per season. The overwhelming majority of trapped species are not required to be reported. Only costing a resident a nominal amount, ~ $28, a trapping license is not required of residents to trap. It is only required to trap species classified as furbearers and wolves. In addition to wildlife classified as predators, that leaves the overwhelming majority of species in Montana, classified as “nongame” legal to trap and destroy and in unlimited and unreported numbers. Trapping, therefore is NOT regulated. To proclaim otherwise, is false.

Nationwide, states were assessed on prohibiting body-crushing traps and snares for recreation or commerce in fur, requiring trapper education, requiring trappers report the number of animals they kill, maintaining records of non-target animals trapped, having a minimal required trap check time of 24 hours. Other than 2 exceptions, Montana is only one of three states that has NO required trap check time period. 48 hour trap checks are required only for traps set for bobcats in designated lynx protection zones and for traps set for wolves. Mandatory trapper education passed in the 2021 legislative session, but it does not apply to anyone who has purchased 3 trapping licenses in their lifetime and from any state in the country. Those trapping under the guise of livestock or property protection are also exempt. Montana scraped by a failing grade by requiring all traps are affixed with the owner’s identity. Landowner’s trapping on their land are excluded.

(2) Traps Make Public Lands Unsafe

Tens of thousands of baited, concealed traps on public land endanger adults, children, and pets. No warning signs are required and traps and snares are not marked in Montana. Over 55 family pets were reported caught in traps in Montana (2012-2013 season) and a woman suffered a heart attack attempting to release her dog. 2 dogs were killed. FWP had said 50 dogs trapped annually is no more than usual and dismissed the trauma and injuries as a small fraction given the reported 40,000-50,000 traps that are reported set. A leash is not required on public lands and does not act as a shield of armor for pets. Dogs hunting, accompanying cross country skiers, or going for a swim are not leashed and can easily fall victims to baited traps and snares. Trap setbacks, the distance a trap or snare must be set from a public road or trail are nonexistent or inadequate.

Trapping is legal year round in Montana. We should not have to compromise peace of mind and child and pet safety when using public land.

(3) Trapping Violates Hunting Ethics

The first rule of hunting is “Be Sure of Your Target,” but unattended traps indiscriminately catch, maim, and kill unintended victims from pets to protected species, such as eagles, grizzlies, and Canada lynx. Setguns were once legal shooting any unsuspecting creature that tripped the wire attached to the unattended gun. Imagine today’s hunter taking fire to then return later, some day, at their convenience, to see what they hit, injured, killed.

(3.1) Trapping Is Not Fair Chase

Trapping does not follow the time-honored principles of “Fair Chase.” Animals are lured with bait. Pre-baiting is even legal to condition the animal to the area where traps and snares will later be set. Game cameras are commonly used. It is illegal to leave a fishing pole unattended in Montana but trappers set and leave an average of 50,000 traps and are not present when their quarry is caught.

(3.2) Trapping Causes the Opposite of a Quick, Efficient Kill

Legally, other than the 2 exceptions, trappers can allow animals to linger in traps indefinitely, where they can suffer slow, agonizing deaths, break teeth and bones, and suffer dislocations, dehydration, hypothermia, and panic. “Jellyhead” is the term trappers’ use for an animal strangled in a snare so long that thick, bloody lymph fluid swells the head. “Wring-off” is their term for an animal twisting or chewing off a paw or appendage to escape. Trappers kill still-living, trapped animals by bludgeoning, stomping on them, drowning, shooting, strangling, injecting poisonous chemicals or by turning their dogs loose on them. Trapped wolves are required to be shot. The findings support the recommendations for 24 hr trap checks to help reduce injury, pain, suffering, and death. Repeatedly, trappers oppose 24 hr/daily trap checks.

(3.3) Trapping Causes Wanton Waste

For every targeted animal trapped, other wild and domestic animals are often trapped, injured, killed and discarded; this waste is in violation of hunting ethics. Of all the wildlife legal to trap in Montana, the wanton waste law only applies to “furbearers”. The rest can be trapped and left. Animals in traps and snares are commonly predated upon by others resulting in damaged and wasted fur. Legal year-round trapping also indirectly kills untold numbers of orphaned young.

(3.4) Trapping Commercializes Wildlife

While the commercialization of wildlife has been outlawed for over a century, it survives in the form of recreational trapping. Hunters and anglers are prohibited from capitalizing on their quarry, but trappers, for a pittance or no trapping license purchase to the state, profit from killing publicly owned wild animals and selling their furs.

(4) Traps Are Cruel and Cause Pain and Suffering

Animals caught in traps suffer fear, anxiety, and physical pain. Trapped animals are known to struggle to frantically try to escape, often biting at the trap with recurring intervals for reasons such as time of day, the elements, the pain, if they have young left behind, the sound of humans. Injuries caused by traps range from lacerations to dislocated joints, broken bones and teeth, even amputation of limbs. The most commonly used trap, the steel-jaw leg-hold trap, is condemned as inhumane by national and international veterinary associations and has been banned in over 90 countries.

(5) Trapping Is Costly to Montana

Wildlife watching brought 400 million dollars into Montana in 2011(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; U.S. Census Bureau), making it one of Montana’s largest industries. In 2022, wolf-related tourism reportedly contributes at least $82 million annually to towns in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. In contrast, less than 6000 people, 0.6% of Montanans, purchase the $28 trapping license. That does not begin to cover the furbearer division staff salaries and benefits. Trapping depletes rare species, wastes wildlife with unintended captures, costs pet owners and taxpayers for the care of incidental catches, costs taxpayers to protect, as well as reintroduce, threatened and endangered species and their habitats, depletes our watersheds, and has a negative impact on Montana tourism.

(6) Trapping is Marginally Regulated and the Regulations Are Not Enforceable

While hunting and fishing are strictly regulated, trapping is not. For $28 a Montana trapper is given a license and allowed to set unlimited numbers of baited traps and in which only the trapper knows their whereabouts.  No trapping license is required of residents to trap predators and the majority of species referred to as “nongame.”

(7) High Country Beaver Trapping Drains our Water Supply

Replenishing aquifers is crucial to Montana’s agriculture and communities. Trapping beavers in upstream, publicly owned forests and drainages reduces water retention and stream flow critical for irrigation, drinking water, wildlife, and fish habitat. Beaver-created ponds and riparian habitat are critical to the success of healthy watersheds and species ranging from moose to songbirds, as well as the creation of natural firebreaks and overall healthy watersheds. In places where beaver dams are not wanted, effective, non-lethal management alternatives exist.

(8) Wildlife is Montana’s Heritage

Even though our rich wildlife heritage is under increasing pressure, Montana is still a refuge for species disappearing from the lower 48—the grizzly, fisher, wolverine, lynx, and others. Trapping—no longer necessary for survival—has been replaced by wildlife watching as an essential source of state income and employment. As former trapper and noted bear biologist Chuck Jonkel has observed, “The days of trapping are over. Now it’s time to protect the animals.”

(9) Trapping Undermines Wildlife Management

Trapping is market-driven; fur prices dictate participant numbers. Quotas are often increased to incentivize trappers. Trapping provides little-to-no reliable scientific data.  The majority of the legally trapped species in Montana are not required to be reported and most can be trapped in unlimited numbers. A trapping license is required only for residents to trap furbearers and wolves, but not to trap other species. According to Fish, Wildlife & Parks, less than 1/3 of trappers return the voluntary surveys sent to those who purchase a trapping license. This is anecdotal data which is unreliable as hard science. The harvest reports have failed to even recognize some legally trapped species, i.e. porcupine, or different subspecies, i.e. weasels, skunks, grouping them simply as one. Records are inconsistent, incomplete, and some animals, including protected species, never make it on to the reports.  Montana’s trapping harvest reports, such as 2004, contain no record of any data or harvests

A lactating female killed in a trap results in starved offspring whose numbers are unknown and unaccounted.  Trap released animals are not monitored for their survivability. Evidence shows the longer an animal is trapped, the lower their chance of surviving. Trapping is managed solely for recreation, not for wildlife management or disease control. 

(10) Protection of Hunting and Fishing

The opportunity to hunt and fish forever more are protected under Montana’s constitution, voted in as such by the large majority of Montanans in 2004. The constitutional proposal put before the voters was distinctly and intentionally devoid of the words trapping, trappers, or to trap.