HAMILTON – A mountain lion paw found torn off in a wolf trap has a former houndsman from Darby asking for change in the way the state manages the predator.
A little over two weeks ago, a friend of Cal Ruark’s dropped off the trap with the severed lion paw in it.
Ruark – a former president of the Bitterroot Houndsmen Association and now a mountain lion advocate – said his friend was antler hunting in the Reimel Creek area, east of the Sula Ranger District, when he made the gruesome find.
The man told Ruark there were deep claw marks in a tree near the location of the trap.
“He told me the trees were all tore to hell,” Ruark said. “The drag on the trap was hung up on a tree and there were claw marks on the trees where the lion had stood up on its back legs and tried to climb.”
Ruark is sure the mountain lion didn’t survive.
“It might have been able to get along for a little while, but it’s dead now,” he said. “It can’t hunt on three legs.”
Every year, mountain lions die after being caught in traps set for wolves or other furbearers.
Under the current rules, those dead lions are not considered under the quota system that Fish, Wildlife and Parks uses to manage mountain lion numbers.
Ruark believes that needs to change. He will take that request before the Fish and Wildlife Commission at its regular meeting this month.
KC York of Hamilton is leading an effort place a referendum on the ballot that could ban all trapping on public lands.
York said between October 2013 and February 2015, 32 mountain lions were captured in traps set for furbearers other than wolves. State records showed that 21 died, six suffered some type of damage to their paws, but were released and another five were set free unharmed.
“So 84 percent of those mountain lions captured in non-wolf sets were either dead or injured,” York said. “Only one of those trappings was determined to be illegal.”
In the two years that wolf trapping has been legal in Montana, York said state FWP records show that 16 mountain lions were caught in traps set for wolves. Five of those lions died.
York said 96 percent of the trappings were considered legal.
“You can’t legally trap a mountain lion in Montana,” she said. “These trappings are considered incidental. It goes with the territory of trapping in this state.”
Anja Heister, co-founder of Footloose Montana, said no one knows for sure how often a mountain lion loses a paw or toes to a trap.
“It was a horrific sight,” Heister said about the lion’s paw in the trap. “This was an incident that was actually discovered. No one knows for sure how often it happens. Trappers have a term for it when an animal loses a foot or a toe. They call it twist off or ring off.”
The Ravalli Republic contacted Montana Trapping Association president Toby Walrath of Corvallis for a comment on this story. Walrath said he would either provide a written comment or a phone contact for someone else in the organization Thursday night. By Friday’s end, the newspaper had received neither.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks regional wildlife manager Mike Thompson said all he could say about the issue at this point is that it was being investigated.
Ruark said he wants people to know about this.
“There are a lot of people who should be angry about this lion caught in a wolf trap,” Ruark said. “Trappers should be mad because it makes them look bad. Outfitters should be thoroughly angry because they get $5,000 a pop from their clients to kill one and now there’s one less to hunt. The fact that it’s not counted toward the quota should make local houndsmen angry, too. Everyone involved should be upset.
“But unless there’s a consequence, it’s only going to get worse,” he said. “It’s not right to ignore it when a mountain lion dies.”
If someone put all the mountain lions that died after being trapped in a pile and took a photograph, Ruark said people would pay attention.
“From my perspective, these incidental kills should be counted,” he said.