Safe and accessible Missoula recreation areas free of dangerous traps proposed

Note: A number of these seven recreation hot spots in the greater Missoula area include public lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, in addition to state of Montana public lands and city of Missoula public lands and open space. The proposal to make these seven recreation hot spots off-limits to trapping was sent to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks by Footloose Montana, WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, Humane Society of Western Montana and The Mountain Lion Foundation. Missoula Mayor John Engen also offered his support, saying “prohibiting trapping in these high-traffic public lands seems nothing but reasonable to me.” Below is the full press release and link to the letter to Montana FWP.

Conservation and animal groups propose safe and accessible Missoula recreation areas

Archaic trapping rules currently put people and pets at risk in the outdoors

MISSOULA—Today, local and regional advocacy groups sent a list of recreation hot spots to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks that would benefit from being free of dangerous traps. The seven areas comprise some of the most popular places to visit in the Missoula wildland-urban interface. Indiscriminate and cruel traps are allowed in and around Missoula’s most popular recreation spots even as the region’s economy increasingly relies on outdoor recreation. A global pandemic has made safe and accessible public lands more critical to communal well-being than ever before, and a slew of high-profile incidents involving domestic animals has highlighted the need for safer recreation areas.

Areas proposed for safer access include Kelly Island, Lolo Trails, Council Grove State Park, Jonsrud Park, Marshall Canyon, and important fishing areas along the Clark Fork River and Rock Creek. Along with concentrated public recreation use, these areas are critical for wildlife and biodiversity. Their closure represents a very small fraction of land available to trappers in the Missoula area. Closures would help prevent tragedies like the death of Betsy who was killed in a trap near the Clark Fork River in December, 2019.

“Residents of the City of Missoula and Missoula County have invested for decades in open space and public lands to support habitat and recreation and have expectations that those public spaces are safe for humans and companion animals,” said Missoula Mayor, John Engen. “Prohibiting trapping in these high-traffic public lands seems nothing but reasonable to me.”

“Closing these areas to trapping is baseline common sense for conservation and public safety,” said Sarah McMillan, conservation director of WildEarth Guardians and a longtime Missoula resident. “These areas are not only some of our favored getaways as Missoulans, but are also critical to the wildlife and biodiversity that makes our home such a wonderful place.”

“The time has come to end trapping around communities in Montana,” said Stephen Capra, executive director of Footloose Montana. “It’s not just an issue of safety, but reclaiming the lands that belong to the vast majority that own these public lands and want to utilize them for recreation without fear for their family or pets.”

“Indiscriminate traps present serious risks to endangered species as well as humans and dogs. They have no place in public recreation spaces,” said Michelle Blake, western region coordinator for the Mountain Lion Foundation. “We hope FWP commissioners will seriously consider this common-sense proposal to protect public safety.”

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission has indicated that they are open to hearing from the public about areas that may not be appropriate for trapping. Every year, the commission and the Department review furbearer and wolf trapping regulations. The commission is slated to meet on August 15th to review proposed regulation changes. Conservation advocates, animal welfare enthusiasts, and outdoor recreators hope the commission will consider safe access areas.

A copy of the list sent to MT FWP is here:

Background: Trapping on public lands is legal in Montana. The law does not require trap locations to be marked, signed, or for any warnings to be present. No penalties exist for trappers who unintentionally trap non-target species including endangered species, protected species, domestic animals, pets, humans, or livestock.

No database or official record is kept by any public entity and no requirement exists that trappers report when they have captured a dog in their traps. The pattern these incidents follow is usually similar; dogs screaming and frantically biting at the person desperately trying to rescue them. Veterinary and even human medical treatment along with associated expenses can result, as can long-lasting psychological trauma. Neither the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks nor trappers are liable for the damages that are caused by traps.

The true toll that trapping takes on native wildlife is difficult to know. Reporting requirements exist for some species, but not for many, including coyotes, red foxes, badgers, weasels, and raccoons. The accuracy of reporting is unverifiable, and numbers do not adequately articulate the suffering and carnage that traps wreak on bobcats, foxes, endangered wolves, coyotes, and other animals.

The existence of trapping by a minuscule subset of the population using Montana’s public lands is in direct conflict with one of the state’s most valuable economic strengths: outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation generates $7.1 billion in consumer spending and $2.2 billion in wages and salary in Montana. 71,000 jobs are directly tied to the industry. This economy is not bolstered by piles of dead animals discarded by public roadways or by the thousands of wild animals taken from Montana’s diverse public landscapes for personal profit.

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20 thoughts on “Safe and accessible Missoula recreation areas free of dangerous traps proposed”

  1. This particular issue isn’t something I care about one way or the other. But I have noticed that lately most of Matthew’s posts are just re-posts from WildEarth Guardians’ blog. What has kept me coming back to this site since Sharon first contacted me and asked me to write a guest post a while back is the high quality original commentary and articles offering a balanced perspective presenting both sides of controversial environmental issues. It’s kind of disappointing seeing this site just regurgitating blog posts by radical groups like WildEarth Guardians with no additional commentary or analysis.

    • I agree that this blog ought not be thought of as an extension of any group’s PR campaign. However, posting press releases is OK, in my view, if they are germane to federal forest management and planning, and are accompanied by comments or questions that serve to stimulate constructive conversation.

      It may be good to review our purpose:

      “Our goal is to solicit broad participation from a cross-section of interests in a respectful atmosphere of mutual learning on topics related to the Forest Service and public lands policy. We believe that ideas will be stronger and choices clearer if developed through such a multidisciplinary, multi-perspective dialogue.

      “We especially seek to share perspectives among practitioners, the public and the academic and science communities.”

    • Patrick, in the interests of transparency, Matthew (recently?) became communications director for Wild Earth Guardians, so I think that’s why there has been a recent spate of suchlike posts. Congratulations, by the way, Matthew!

      My goal is to add our own experiences and views to items and questions of interest, and not necessarily just post those of third parties, without our own commentary.

      On the other hand, when he posts those (about something we know about) we are always free to add our own commentary or point out things that are overstated or not true, or just not specific enough (e.g, I had an email exchange with Sarah of Santa Fe in which I asked for the GPS points of the places she was talking about, so I could plan a TSW Field Trip and see for myself). That contact and convo would not have happened without his posting the essay.

      I’m hoping the topic of “how bad Trump and all his appointees are” topic will go away after November but…I wonder if all that vitriol can just drain away or will seek a new target. Hope it’s not us at the bottom of the Pyramid of Pristinity!

      • Oh ok, I guess that makes sense. I can see the positives of sharing these pieces, but maybe they should be spaced out a little more so it doesn’t feel quite so much like this site is just syndicating WildEarth Guardians blog? I do find those posts interesting when they concern motorized access issues I care about, at least from an “understand your enemy” perspective. 🙂

      • Sharon: As you know, I wrote you an email on July 1, 2020 and said “I started a new job this month. I tried to edit my bio on the contributor page, but it doesn’t look like I can edit it. Could you please change this part of my bio? Thank you.”

        So there is no need for you to write: (recently?) above. All of my posts on this blog over the past nearly 10 years have been “related to the Forest Service and public lands policy,” which is the goal/focus of this blog. And I often will add my own experiences and views, which include the experiences and views of the people and organizations I work for, and closely with. If I’m lucky and blessed enough to make it to retirement, I promise to add a few more paragraphs of my very own thoughts on every single post.

        • Matthew, I apologize, I forgot the “this month” part of your email and got absorbed in editing.
          I would like to hear your own thoughts, but understand about your not being able to spend the time yet.

          • Thank you, Sharon.

            Personally, I’d like to see a ban on trapping on pubic lands. I’m not a dog owner, and never have been. I personally would favor stricter leash rules on some public lands. Regardless of the rules, I’m personally turned off by dog owners who let their pets run wild on public lands, chasing wildlife, etc. I also know people in Montana who have had their pets killed on injured by traps. I can only imagine what that would be like. Many of these incidents happened within the so-called ‘wildland-urban interface.’ And many more incidents are bound to happen. I would image that many people in Montana would favor removing deadly traps from these very high use areas on public lands of various ownership. I would think many of the public employees would agree.

  2. Howdy Patrick. Feel free to make your own blog posts, or not read what I choose to post. As a longtime contributor and moderator of this forest policy blog (which is now called The Smokey Wire: National Forest News and Views), I will continue to post press releases and guest columns “related to the Forest Service and public lands policy,” which as Steve correctly points out, is the central goal/focus of this blog. Cheers!

  3. But back to the topic at hand… nowhere I have ever worked has trapping been an issue.. let alone close to town.
    I’ve worked in South Central Oregon, the Sierra, and in the region with Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska. Is Montana really that unique???

    Also, Matthew, are dogs allowed to wander in the woods unleashed around Missoula? Or are the traps situated along trails? I think most people think loose dogs chase deer, etc. and may also have a negative impact on wildlife. And it might not be safe for dogs either, considering, say, grizzly bears. Can you tell us more about this situation?

    • How we can end trapping in the Urban Interface, by Footloose Montana:

      Footlose Montana’s page on legislation and policy in Montana:

      Footlose Montana has held public education events, including trap release workshops, across the entire state:

      Montana’s trapping regulations, via MT Fish Wildlife and Parks:

      • Matthew, I asked you those questions about Montana, I’m sure you know the answers off the top of your head, I think it would take four sentences.

        The “is Montana unique” was not directed to you, but others around the country to say if it’s a problem where they are so we can get a better perspective on how widespread the issue is.

        My question was simply where are the traps and the dogs? Are the traps along trails or are the dogs that are trapped wandering off trail? I’m not sure that any of those links would answer my specific question.

        • Sharon, I’m flattered that you would think I would know so many different types of regulations, rules and policies on so many different public lands policies or different public lands agencies ‘off the top of my head’….but I don’t. Not even close.

          That’s why I posted the links. I’m not sure, for example, what the exact MT FWP trapping regulation set-back from a given trail is (I’m not a trapper and think some of the regs changed recently), or what the specific dog-leash requirements are on a given trail around Missoula (it varies), so I provided some links for anyone to review. Also, I don’t know trapping regs nation-wide, but believe most people would be surprised, and outraged, over many of the current trapping regulations in all parts of the U.S.A. But communal learning is the best, and sort of a central tenant of TSW, right, so readers are welcomed and encouraged to do their own exploration. Also, I shared some of my personal views above.

          Hopefully this discussion can actually focus on the issue at hand, because it’s a good discussion for TSW, in my opinion. There are a lot of “topics related to the Forest Service and public lands policy” in the original post here, so let’s have it. Thanks.

          • I was only interested in your observations.. I’ve always found that in matters of outdoor recreation, what is in regulation is not always what people do. I thought you might have observed traps on trails if they were there, or not.

  4. I think it’s cultural more than anything. Defenders (of certain kinds) of Wildlife, got their start as an anti trapping group. It’s part of that urban folks with advanced degrees, 4 bikes, 23 different sport shoes, and a Subaru versus those horrid rustic types kind of thing.

    Trapping is much more productive on canines and other varmints than any other method. Most wildlife biologists support trapping in that trapping provides some of the only data and access to carcasses for many small furbearers. Colorado via ballot issue eliminated foothold, conibear, and snares.

    I worked for a veterinarian who did volunteer work in the winters studying wolves in Northern Michigan, they exclusively used the trap shown. They trapped wolves, took the measurements and samples they were looking for, and released the animals unharmed. Foothold traps are a good in that by catch can be safely released.

    Given the names of the groups pushing the issue are the frothing at the mouth extremist environmentalists, I imagine they are simply against any sort of trapping. They love telling other people what to do, I mean how many people belonging to those orgs have trapping licenses?

    • RE: “I mean how many people belonging to those orgs have trapping licenses?”

      According to this:

      “Through a combination of data provided by the states and data provided by the survey, Responsive Management estimates that there were 176,573 licensed trappers in the United States in the 2014-2015 seasons.”

      That comes to about 0.05% of all people in America, or about 1 person out of 2,000. So, yeah, I suspect the number of licensed trappers in “frothing at the mouth extremist environmentalists” groups is pretty low, also.

      FWIW: According to the MT FWP “ Furbearer Program Statewide Harvest Management Report 2013-2014 Montana”, the total number of trapping licenses sold over this 2-year period was 5,957. That comes to about 0.6% of Montana’s population, or about 1 trapper for every 200 people in the state.

    • I have an advanced degrees (forestry), 4 bikes, I guess several sport specific shoes, a Subaru, and a young gun dog pup. I also don’t think it is too much to ask to not trap in the highly recreated areas around Missoula. I think that if you polled the local upland bird hunting community there would be a fair amount on consensus on this issue.

  5. Thanks, A, this was good at explaining why people trap for agricultural reasons (which you wouldn’t think fits highly recreated lands around Missoula) but ??


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