I-177 Would Ban Trapping On Montana's Public Lands
This November, Montanans will vote to decide the future of a long-standing Montana tradition: trapping on public lands.
Ballot initiative I-177 would ban commercial and recreational trapping on public lands, which make up about a third of Montana. Trapping would still be legal on private lands, and the initiative would allow Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to trap nuisance or diseased animals on public lands.
Chris Justice is a volunteer for the ballot issue committee Montanans for Trap Free Public Lands.
"Trapping these days is nothing like trapping was a 100 years ago, when all of Montana was wilderness and there were very few human pressures on our public lands and our wildlife," Justice said.
Justice points out that of Montana’s million residents, less than one percent — about 6,000 people — are considered active trappers, and their traps catch pets and wildlife indiscriminately. Last year, traps caught 14 dogs and one Canada lynx, which is considered a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Existing regulations outline how frequently traps should be checked, how far traps can be placed from public use areas and when traps can be placed on public lands. But Justice says no amount of regulation can adequately protect wildlife from traps.
"They chew their own legs off. They freeze to death. They self-abort. They get eaten by other animals, you know," Justice said.
He says traps are “weaponizing” public land, which should be safe for everyone to recreate on.
"It's one of those practices that no longer has a place on our precious public lands in the 21st century," Justice said.
But Toby Walrath, president of the Montana Trappers Association, says modern day trappers serve an important role in Montana’s wildlife management.
"We've seen in other states where reducing trapping opportunities has resulted in increases in disease and animal populations and so forth," Walrath said.
Walrath says a trapping ban would hit the state with a one-two punch economically. The sale of trapping licenses averages between $110,000 to $115,000 each year, with trappers essentially doing disease and population control work for free.
If I-177 passes, FWP may need to contract private trappers or hire additional personnel to manage wildlife that was previously trapped on public lands. FWP does not yet know how much that would cost, but estimates the loss in revenue from public lands trapping licenses at about $61,000.
Walrath’s biggest concern is that I-177 is the first step toward limiting other forms of recreation on public lands, like fishing and hunting.
"We have watched the history of ballot initiatives being used by animal right groups around the country for a very long time," he said.
Walrath says interest groups, like the Humane Society of the United States, are parachuting into Montana to swing public opinion and chip away at hunting, fishing and trapping access. The Humane Society says it supports I-177 but is not spending any money on the campaign. In fact, nearly all the financial support comes from Montana residents, according to campaign finance reports.
In contrast, support for the campaign opposing I-177 comes from national groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Big Game Forever and the Ohio State Trappers Association.
Regardless of campaign finances, Walrath says I-177 goes against the public lands principle of multiple use.
"It takes away public lands access to a large user group, which may not affect everyone at this time but sets the precedent for shutting down other user groups in the future," he said. "So I think there's certainly some room where non-trappers and trappers can come together and find some resolutions without going to the extreme of cutting out an entire user group on public land."
A yes vote on I-177 is in favor of banning trapping on public lands. A no vote would keep trapping on public lands.