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Wolf trapping

Mike Ross of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks holds a wolf trap during a class in Billings in September.

HELENA — State officials are reviewing a proposed initiative for the 2014 ballot that would ban animal trapping on public lands in Montana.

A similar initiative failed to qualify for the 2010 election, but the issue has since received widespread attention because of the state's decision to allow wolf trapping for the first time during the 2012-13 hunting season.

Trappers say it is a necessary wildlife management tool that helps sustain and maintain some animal populations by keeping others, such as wolves, in check.

Trappers were responsible for 97 of the 225 wolves killed during the hunting season, and they were instrumental in reducing the predators' population in the state by 4 percent.

But 55 dogs were caught in traps during the 2012-13 season, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and there were highly publicized instances of other species, such as mountain lions, being caught.

That has helped draw attention to trapping as indiscriminant and inhumane, and should rally people to support the proposed ban, said Footloose Montana spokeswoman K.C. York.

"There are hidden land mines out there by the thousands," York said of the traps. "I think people will find what we're proposing will be fair and reasonable."

The Montana secretary of state received the proposed ballot initiative Monday from Footloose board president Timothy Provow. The proposal would make it illegal to trap or attempt to trap animals and game birds on public lands, including public lands leased to private parties.

Under the proposal, state and local government employees would still be able to conduct trapping for public health and safety.

The Legislative Services Division is reviewing the proposal. If the language is approved, Footloose would be free to gather the 24,175 voter signatures required to place it on the ballot.

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Montana Trappers Association spokesman Toby Walruth said he is doubtful such an initiative could muster much support. Trapping is a part of Montana's culture and many families are financially dependent upon it, he said.

"You can't just let the wolf population get out of control. It has to have some level of control," Walruth said.

FWP runs an effective training program — 2,414 trappers completed it in the past year and 1,500 bought licenses — and the association itself is working to prohibit trapping in areas visited by a lot of people, he said.

Walruth suggested the initiative is really an attempt for Footloose to raise money and their profile, a notion that York refuted. The organization is already mobilizing support across the state in anticipation of getting a green light to collect signatures, she said.

One issue raised by the Legislative Services Division in the 2010 proposal was that the state can't pass laws binding activities on federal lands, meaning the initiative would not have applied to lands controlled by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management.

York said she was not familiar with that question and would have to consult with the organization's attorneys to see whether the same potential obstacle exists for the new proposal.

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