Utilizing the truths in trapping, the best available science, ethics, & responsible stewardship to achieve trapping reform.

Why is Trapping Reform Necessary in Montana

Montana Received D- Grade for Trapping Regulations: Montana has one of the worst grades in the nation for trapping reform while killing over 192,000 known REPORTED animals from 2011-2014 and trapping over 100 dogs per FWP reports. Nationwide, grades were awarded based 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. Image of coyote and quote from Albert Einstein - “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”Grades also include positive marks for prohibiting trapping of bobcats and otters, both vulnerable to over-exploitation. Born Free compared states and Montana just scraped by a failing grade by requiring traps are affixed with the owner's identity.

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

A: 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 or while going for a swim. Yearly, dogs are also caught in traps and snares illegally set. Baited and lured hidden traps attract unsuspecting curious animals, and easily children, to them.  Conibear, body crushing, designed to be quick kill traps are very difficult to disarm, 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?

Q: Trapping occurs only in the winter, right?

A: 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, without regulation or reporting necessary.

Q: How often must trappers check their traps?

A: 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 and therefore any other creature that gets caught in the wolf trap set. The only other requirement for 48 hr trap checks applies to traps set for bobcat in designated lynx protection zones. 36 states have 24 hr/daily trap checks in their regulations. Only 3 states have none. Alaska, North Dakota and Montana. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) recommends (but does not require) 48-hour trap check intervals. According to professional trappers, significant injury and death could be minimized with a mandated 24 hour trap check.

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

A: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, 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. Marten have to be tagged. The rest of the species do not have to be reported! At least 2 dozen, i.e. 24 species, can be trapped in Montana!

75% of the species legal to trap go unaccounted for!

There is no trapping season for lynx and currently none for wolverine. Both species, however, do fall victim to trapping and are often referred to as "incidental". The wolf quota, with the majority of public comment strongly in opposition, was increased to 5 per trapper/hunter.

Traps and snares for furbearing animals can be set 30 feet from the centerline of a public road, 50 feet from a public trail and 300 or 1000 feet from public trail heads and campgrounds, depending upon whether the trap is lethal or non-lethal. 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.

Species classified in Montana as predators (e.g., weasel, coyote, skunks) fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Livestock and are completely unregulated—no trapping license required—and can be trapped year round, in Montana. The three exceptions are Fishing Access Sites, Wildlife Refuges and National Parks (unless exceptions are granted). "Nongame" wildlife applies to the other animals not classified (e.g., raccoon, red fox, badger). They, too, can be trapped unlimited, unreported, year round by residents and no trapping license purchase is required.

No warning signs are required for trapping in Montana, and trappers are not required to take or pass any training course to buy the license. Efforts in the legislature to require mandatory trapper education classes have failed, repeatedly. In 2019, Trap Free Montana Public Lands partnered with Wolves of the Rockies for a mandatory trapper education bill. The bill failed with trappers having much to do in killing it. Trapping wolves simply requires buying a license and showing up for a 6 hour presentation.

Montana trapping harvest reports are reported as estimates, much of which comes from less than half of licensed trappers sampled, returning the voluntary surveys.

According to Montana FWP, "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."

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 50,000 - 60,000 wildlife are killed by trapping in Montana. The number of animals trapped by unlicensed trappers is unknown. They don't get a survey. The number of "incidental" trapped animals that are released but later perish from trapping injuries are unknown and up until 2019 and TFMPL's ongoing adovcacy they were not required to be reported if the trapper thought they were uninjured.  ALL incidental trapping in sets designed for wolves are required to be reported but it is not promoted or commonly known. At least 5 eagles were reported injured from traps in one year alone in Montana. Some were killed. Trappers, by and large, police themselves. Montana's trapping seasons correlates to the breeding, pregnancy and birthing of dependent young.  The collateral damage from trapped pregnant females and orphaned young is unaccounted for in the toll trapping actually takes.

Q: Isn't trapping an outdoor sport like hunting?

A: 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 furbearers and pays nothing to trap year round, other species limitlessly, 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. 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 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 in 48 hours 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 55,000 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 birthing season of most species, leaving countless young to perish. Trapping is also a leading factor causing a steep decline in populations of lynx, wolverine, fisher, marten and otter and caused the near extinction formerly of swift fox in Montana.

Q: Is trapping an important part of the economy?

A: For the state of Montana, 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. It is the hunting and fishing licenses that do! Pet owners, veterinarians, wildlife rehabbers, and taxpayers endure the costs from trapping and the "incidental" victims, protecting the rare and threatened species and their habitats.

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

A: 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, 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, electric fencing, animal behavior modification, wire tree wraps, repellents, and flo devices e.g. beaver deceivers.

Q: If traps are so bad, how were wolves reintroduced with traps?

A: Leghold traps used for reintroduction purposes are different, as is the motive. Those most commonly used for reintroduction 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 ie $165 a piece vs. a commonly used leghold MB750 for wolves costing about $45. The latter is 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 more than 80 countries and 8 U.S. states. However, less than 5% of trappers use padded/laminated jaw traps. The goal is also completely different, one to relocate, reintroduce, promote survivability, reduce injury. The other is to preserve the pelt, trap a select color, catch and kill as many as possible. Just the opposite of high season recreational trapping, trapping for reintroduction 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 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 there often are injuries whether noticeable to the naked eye or not. A 1995 study by Wildlife Services found 97% of coyotes caught in padded traps had severe swelling of their trapped limb, 39% had lacerations, and several had simple or compound fractures.

Q: Does trapping contribute to wildlife management and disease control?

A: 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.  How many incidental catches amount to a contradiction of effective wildlife management?

The prey species determine the number of predators. If prey is abundant then the predator's litter size and survivability of offspring increase. The predators help keep the prey healthy and numbers in check. Trapping targets the predators leading to ecological imbalances and causing disruption to the ecosystem. Nature responds to overpopulation with disease as evident now with increasing chronic wasting disease in deer, elk, moose.  Unlike in nature, trappers target the biggest, the best, the fittest to kill. Trapping in Montana occurs for many species during the pregnancy and period of dependent young thereby taking a much bigger and unaccounted for toll.   

The justification trapping is for disease control doesn't really hold. It’s the healthy animals, not sick ones, that generally get lured into baited traps. Those are the ones, trappers are after anyhow. Sickly animals basically lack the luxurious coats. 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).

Q: Trapping is recreation, is it not?

A: 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. 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, shoot or strangle them, stomp on their chests until their lungs collapse, for "predators" and "nongame" even sic their dogs on them, anything goes. 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?

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

A: 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 applied to species classified as furbearers. FWP does not have the authority over the predators. That’s the bailiwick under the Department of Livestock. However, for the Montana 2016/2017 Furbearer Trapping Proposals, the Wildlife Commissioners changed that trap setbacks from designated roads, trails, trailheads, etc. which applied only for trapping furbearers and wolves 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 and they want to trap on or right next to them.

Q: Isn't trapping Montana's heritage and tradition?

A: 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.”

FWP Furbearer / Trapping Guide Regulations

Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks HARVEST AND MANAGEMENT REPORT. PERIOD COVERED: July 2013 – June 2014 PDF - 1.3 MB
PREPARED BY: Brian Giddings. State Furbearer Coordinator. Montana

A coalition of wildlife supporters addressing the indiscriminate cruel truths of trapping by promoting responsible, ethical, science based wildlife management in Montana and safe use of our public lands.

Call 406-218-1170 for more information!

Trap Free Montana Public Lands, P.O. Box 1347, Hamilton, MT 59840

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