Public land trapping ban is counterproductive, costly and divisive

By: 
DAVE CHADWICK

It is important for Montana’s wildlife and our public lands to vote no on I-177, a sweeping and radical initiative that would outlaw trapping on all public lands in Montana.
Whether you are a trapper or not, a broad-brush ban like I-177 will create more problems for Montanans, our wildlife, and our public lands. The ban will be expensive, it will worsen conflicts among public land user groups, and it sets a terrible precedent. At a time when we should be coming together to protect our public lands, I-177 would push Montanans further apart.
Responsible trapping is a traditional, sustainable use of Montana’s wildlife resources. It is also an important wildlife management tool. You might not be a trapper, you might not even know any trappers, but you depend on trapping more than you know. A ban won’t make the need for trapping go away, it will just make it more expensive for cash-strapped land and wildlife managers.
Like all wildlife management activities, trapping rules and seasons are set by the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, based on science, under the public supervision of the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, and within the statutory framework set by the Montana Legislature. It’s a system that protects the public interest and ensures that decisions are based on science, not politics.
In recent years, trappers and other wildlife conservationists have supported sensible new rules to reduce trapping conflicts. Trappers led the effort to institute mandatory trapper education in 2011, a proven strategy for reducing conflicts, only to see the bill they worked so hard for die on the Senate floor. Unfortunately, their efforts were met with indifference by some legislators and hostility from activists who would rather outlaw trapping altogether. Anti-trappers condemn trapping for being unsafe and then fight against efforts to make it safer. Their rhetoric also ignores decades of improvements in trap technology that reduce stress and suffering of any animal caught in traps.
Of course, there are times when trapping – like hunting, shooting, biking, camping, fishing, and every other outdoor activity – is inappropriate in a particular area of public land. In those situations, public land managers can, and do, exercise their judgment, consult with the public, and make appropriate decisions to protect public land users. Public land managers can close specific areas to trapping whenever it is necessary, and they do.
I-177 would shortcut good public land decision-making and responsible wildlife management. Instead of working to prevent conflicts and find common ground, the measure would simply outlaw trapping on every single inch of federal, state, county, and local public lands. This absolute approach is an irresponsible way to address complex problems.
At a time when our public lands are under attack, we should be careful about making ballot box decisions that arbitrarily favor one set of public land users over another. When we do that, we lose not only that activity, but yet another set of public land advocates. Trappers have a right to use public lands, just like hikers, bikers, hunters, anglers, cowboys, sheepherders, rock climbers and every other American. When we start using the ballot box to kick user groups off of public land, who is next?
With so many assaults on our public lands, we need to bring different user groups together. This includes ethical trappers who love a sunrise looking over the Bob Marshall as much as any hiker or elk hunter. We should be working to resolve problems and unite diverse interests together to defend our public lands, not selectively outlawing certain user groups. Montanans should vote against I-177.

Dave Chadwick is the Executive Director of the Montana Wildlife Federation. He can be reached via email at dchadwick@mtwf.org or by visiting www.montanawildlife.org.

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