HAMILTON – A group opposed to trapping on public lands will begin gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that seeks to end the practice.
The state Attorney General’s Office approved the proposed initiative Initiative 169 by Trap Free Montana Public Lands this week. The group will have to gather 24,175 signatures by the end of May to place the issue on the November ballot.
A Montana Trappers Association official said that organization is taking the initiative seriously and is in the process of developing a coalition of sportsmen and others to oppose it.
“We will fight this to the end,” said MTA president Toby Walrath of Corvallis. “There’s no question about that.”
A similar initiative campaign by Footloose Montana came within 1,500 signatures of qualifying for the ballot in 2010.
KC York of Hamilton is the chair of the Trap Free Montana Public Lands ballot initiative committee.
In the four years since the last attempt to place the issue on the ballot, York said a minimum of 180,000 animals have been killed in traps, according to state furbearer harvest reports.
“In addition, an increasing number of companion animals are getting trapped on public lands,” York said. “Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks stated the 50-plus dogs that were reported trapped last year is not unusual. Two dogs were killed.”
York said the initiative’s focus is strictly on public lands. About 65 percent of the land in the state is privately owned.
“I-169 only affects trapping and only on public lands,” she said. “The rights of the private landowner, as well as hunting and fishing rights, remain protected.”
The committee reviewed issues with the proposed Footloose Montana initiative and made changes so this attempt more acceptable to people, she said.
The initiative would allow for trapping of “nuisance and conflict” animals on public lands if non-lethal methods have been tried and shown to be ineffective, York aid.
York said seven states have addressed trapping on public lands in some manner.
“We just think this issue should be put before the people,” York said. “If what we’re asking is unreasonable, the voters will tell us so. It’s time to let all Montanans decide instead of the less than one percent who are trappers.”
The proposed initiative can be found at trapfreemt.org
Walrath said the initiative is being pushed by animal rights groups that are opposed to ranching, hunting, trapping and fishing.
“This is an anti-rural Montana initiative,” he said.
The Montana Trappers Association maintains that trapping is a legitimate activity that is necessary for wildlife management and a traditional use of public lands in which Montanans should have the right to participate, Walrath said.
The trappers association will host an event in Missoula on May 31 its calling Montana Public Land Users and Sportsmen that Walrath said will bring more than 60 public land user groups together in opposition to the proposed initiative.
June 20 is the day signatures for the initiative must be submitted.
Walrath called the proposed initiative a “disgusting waste of taxpayer dollars,” that, if passed, will remove the most effective tool for managing predators in the state.
“It certainly would be a very dark moment in the state if we were to lose trapping on public lands,” he said.