LAKE COMO – The Montana Trappers Association wants trappers to think twice about setting traps anywhere near the dog-friendly cross-country ski trails at Lake Como.
On Wednesday, the association’s district director joined the president of the Como Trails Club to tack up a sign asking trappers to completely avoid the popular area.
Those groups have been working with officials from the Bitterroot National Forest and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to craft a long-term solution on how to best manage the popular area in a way that offers opportunities for a wide variety of recreational activities.
The trapping issue came to the forefront last year after a Missoula-based wolf trapper posted a sign that warned skiers that wolf traps might be found along the 30-plus miles of cross-country ski trails just south of Lake Como.
Bitterroot National Forest officials responded to that threat last winter with an emergency order that required a 150-foot setback for traps from all the trails within the ski area. The setback remains in place.
“We know that one of the main reasons that this area has become so popular over the last couple years is that it allows skiers to bring their dogs,” said Bitterroot Forest District Ranger Chuck Oliver. “We also know that trapping and dogs are not a good mix.”
In January and February of last year, nearly 1,500 people skied in the popular area. They brought about 300 dogs with them.
Como Trails Club president Tony Neaves spends a good deal of time at the area each year keeping the trails groomed or skiing.
As far as he could tell, there was only one trapper who used the area last year. That person made it a point of setting his trap line a long distance away from the ski trails.
“There was one trapper and he stayed far away from everyone,” Neaves said. “It was not an issue last year.”
There were no incidents of dogs being caught in traps last year at the ski area.
Montana Trappers Association District Director Toby Walrath of Corvallis said he’s one of the people who brings his family and dog to Lake Como to cross country ski.
“I think it’s a really valuable thing to have in the Bitterroot,” Walrath said. “At the same time, there are trappers who have been using this area for decades. From a trapper’s perspective, they don’t want to have to give up anything.”
Up until five years ago, when the club first started grooming the ski trails, Walrath said basically no one used the area in the winter time.
“Finding a resolution is really challenging,” he said. “It’s difficult because people have perceived risks that may not even exist. Any time there is one or two articles in the paper, people get nervous.”
Walrath said he was encouraged about the conversation that has occurred between the different partners that has led to this starting point that includes signage to educate both the trapper and cross country skier.
“Working together to find a solution is far better for both sides than simply just having someone impose new regulations without any input,” Walrath said.
The Montana Trappers Association is encouraging trappers to avoid high use areas like the Lake Como ski trails, he said.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Regional Wildlife Manager Mike Thompson said there should be room for everyone in Montana’s outdoors.
“We don’t want people to get the notion that we’re trying to shoehorn trapping in between a cross country ski trails or skiing in between trap lines,” he said. “This is a really big place and there’s room to get along. Often times, what’s lacking is people being willing to talk to each other.
“Once you can get people talking, the outcome is not a new regulation,” he said. “The outcome is common sense.”