It is not surprising the Ravalli County Commissioners did not solicit input from Footloose Montana along with other groups they called upon in what they say is the creation of a large predator control position paper. To quote from the Missoulian, Oct. 21, "Ravalli County commissioners to write ‘living with wolves' policy," Ravalli County Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher says, "Trapping is a prime target for something we'd advocate for."
Perhaps there is a lack of awareness or concern that thousands of steel-jawed leg-hold traps, body-crushing Conibear traps and throat-choking snares are already legally set on Montana's public lands - all year long. From trappers' voluntary reports, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks estimates trappers kill about 40,000-50,000 animals each year - animals they target for trapping. No one really knows. There is no license required and no trapping limit for most species.
Trapping, due to its indiscriminate nature, violates the first rule of hunting: Be sure of your target. Traps and snares will not only kill wolves but catch, injure and kill any species that encounters them, including pets; sensitive, endangered, protected and game species as well. Footloose Montana promotes trap-free public lands for people, pets and wildlife (www.footloose montana.org, and on Facebook).
"We don't want it relisted. We wouldn't do anything that would endanger that status," Kanenwisher said.
In the past, it was trapping campaigns that drove wolves to the edge of extinction. What about the other species? Trapping is a contributing, if not leading, cause of the depletion of fishers, otters, lynx, marten and wolverines. Swift foxes have been reintroduced twice as a result of trapping for wolves and coyotes. Wolverines all but disappeared in the lower 48 states by the early 1900s due to poisoning and trapping targeted at wolves, coyotes and other predators. Montana is the only state that still allows the legal trapping of wolverines, which are now on the candidate list for endangered species.
Animals can legally remain stuck in traps and snares for an indefinite period of time as there is no required trap check in Montana. Trapping a lone male wolverine during its search for a mate over large territories compromises the species and the limited gene pool. Inevitable deaths of offspring occur with the trapping of animal mothers.
Scientific studies show trapped animals suffer from fear, anxiety and physical pain. They suffer dehydration, starvation, predation, severe swelling, lacerations, dislocations, broken teeth and bones. Some freeze to death while exposed to the elements. Some chew or twist off their paws in order to escape. Not much has changed since Charles Darwin in 1863 commented about trapped animals, "it is scarcely possible to exaggerate the suffering thus endured from fear, from acute pain, maddened by thirst, and by vain attempts to escape."
While enjoying the outdoors, one shouldn't have to experience the traumatizing event of a pet getting injured or even killed as these tragedies occur every season. Many Montanans' enjoyment of public lands has been tainted by the fear of these hidden undisclosed landmines. Some report haunting experiences finding an otter's paw, a trapped marten dangling from a tree, a dead fawn caught in a snare, a trapped mountain lion with its dead cub at its side or their futile attempts to free their trapped dying pet.
In 2010, 34,586 signatures were obtained from Montana voters for a trap-free public land ballot initiative. Ravalli County was one of the 34 districts that qualified the ballot. However, the statewide initiative fell short by only 1,500 qualified signatures.
More people are now educated about the indefensible cruelty, conservation and safety concerns of trapping for people, pets and wildlife. "Living with wolves" and recommending trapping is an oxymoron. Many Montanans do not want more trapping, they want less or none at all.
Footloose Montana strongly opposes the recreational trapping of all wildlife. We stand behind former trapper and renowned wildlife biologist Chuck Jonkel's statement, "The days of trapping are over. It is now time to preserve wildlife."
Anja Heister writes on behalf of the Footloose Montana board of directors.