Trapped on public lands

Montana ballot initiative (I-160) would outlaw trapping on public lands-

A grassroots effort to protect pets from traps set on public lands has grown into a larger movement to ban trapping (by ballot initiative) on public lands.

Trapped on public lands. By Martin J. Kidston. Helena Independent Record





  1. JimT Avatar

    It would be a better story if it contained information about the regulations of trapping, what they are, and how the general public could avoid traplines while out exercising their rights to use the lands for recreational purposes. We had similar experiences in Vermont and New Hampshire with dogs; the traplines there could basically be set anywhere,and there was no state requirement that the traps be a certain distance from hiking trails or frequently accessed places, and there was no requirement that the traps be marked in some way, either on file with the authorities to show the public where they were, though poaching might be become an issue with that kind of access, or to use flagging to clearly mark the area of a trap. What these two gaps in regulations were creating was essentially an unmarked minefield for other users of public and private lands. I don’t recall the penalties for trappers if dogs were caught in the traps, or a human for that matter.

  2. william huard Avatar
    william huard

    Trappers don’t want any regulation or change. I would like to know the actual incidental take number that affects all wildlife, the trapper doesn’t want that disclosed- that’s the dirty secret. All I know is that I was extremely disturbed by the communication between the trappers in Indiana and the southern hunting clubs that was part of the investigation done by the Indiana DNR. We are talking real scumbags here. All this talk about wildlife conservation- please- give me a break! Wildlife watching generates hundreds of millions to Montana’s wildlife budget while the trapper generates less than 100,000. How many more dogs, lynx, wolverine, owls and other unintended victims have to suffer to allow this brutal industry to continue to operate?

  3. Nature rules Avatar
    Nature rules

    Trapping is just the most horrible way for an animal to die. sometimes they are in that trap for days, no food, no water, in pain. any animal, even ones not intended for, can get trapped in them, just to die. It should be outlawed everywhere, along with poisons. If man or woman must kill, at least it can be done humanly!!!

  4. jon Avatar

    Trapping should be banned. It is inhumane. Depending on the traps you are talking about, the animals have no way of protecting themselves if a predator comes along.

  5. Jay Barr Avatar
    Jay Barr

    While I appreciate your concerns regarding trapping, for the most part I would suspect most trappers are well-intentioned. There will always be those that aren’t and nothing can be done about that without unfairly penalizing the rest. Placement of traps alongside trails is common because that’s where the animals will walk. Signing/flagging/etc. would just lead to theft/vandalism of animals/traps, so isn’t really an option for the trapper. The one thing that I would like to see changed regarding trapping regulations is a mandatory 24-hr. check. Humaneness and ethics mandates that an animal be removed from the trap as quickly as possible. For those of you that would like trapping banned because of the supposed cruelty and incidental capture of non-target species (which can be minimized by any trapper worth his salt): let’s do away with cars, too, because they kill thousands upon thousands of animals unnecessarily.

  6. Mike Avatar

    It’s time to say “adios” to this antiquated pastime.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Carter Niemeyer, who I take seriously because he has a lot of street credibility, convinced me that trapping is not necessarily inhumane. It can be the humane way of catching an animal alive, to be released later. In fact we arguing this in our case against the Forest Service on helicopters in the Frank Church.

    Having said that, I am not fond of recreational trapping for pelts.

    Many trappers could do a lot to improve their methods.

    I haven’t read the initiative. Maybe someone could post the wording.
    – – –
    Note: I found it and put a link to it further down.

  8. mikarooni Avatar

    Ralph, the only people who should be “catching an animal alive, to be released later” are authorized employees or otherwise licensed contractors of local, state, or federal agencies or properly supervised and sanctioned research personnel and then only in the execution (no pun intended) of lawful duties. There should be provisions in the law to cover these instances. The general public should never be involved, on their own, as a whim, as a perverse and childish hobby, in those activities; that’s how we got lake trout in Lake Yellowstone and walleye in other waters.

  9. Mike Koeppen Avatar
    Mike Koeppen

    From my experiences with traps and traplines, I can say that trapping is quite cruel to animals. Along the Salmon River in Idaho, my wife and I saw an otter’s leg that had been chewed off and left with the trap. We also saw where an animal (probably a coyote) had been trapped (already killed by the trapper), where it had torn up all of the brush within reach trying to escape. And a marten along the Lochsa River that shredded all of the bark as far as the trap chain would allow.

    In addition, it is not uncommon to find the remains of birds, such as Stellar’s Jays, and many other animals that blundered into traps.

    I’ve also had two dogs caught, one in a leg hold, and the other in a conibear, along popular hiking trails. And, while releasing the dog in the leghold, I placed my left hand into a second trap that I did not see. To answer Jim T, there are no penalties for trapping or injuring someone’s pet or humans with a trap or snare.

    The problem as I see it, are very few regulations on placement, long or no check periods, and unlimited traps allowed per trapper.

  10. mikarooni Avatar

    Mike, we need photographs, more photographs than we already have, of the sorts of things that you have seen, not because I question your veracity or because I like disgusting images, but because exposing the public to what trapping is really all about is the fastest way to getting this disgusting and deranged “sport” ended. Bullfights, dog fights, cockfights, are all noble by comparison.

  11. spanglelakes Avatar

    Jay Bar – most trappers are well intentioned? The intention is to trap and kill an animal. You say that changing the time that a trapper must check traps to 24 hours somehow makes for more “humaneness and ethics”? Every trapper should experience what the animal he traps goes through: have a leg or arm clamped in a steel trap for 72 hours – w/o food, water, shelter. The same with snares. Have the trapper put his head through a snare and try not to pull back – like any wild animal would do in an attempt to get away. Comparing the hideous pain of trapping and snaring wildlife, to drivers in vehicles unintentionally hitting an animal isn’t even on the same page.

  12. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I looked for the text of the ballot initiative. Here is the link to the Montana government website.

    Initiative No. 160 (I-160)

  13. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Now that I have read this, it seems like a moderate measure that I can support.

  14. jon Avatar

    spanglelakes, couldn’t agree more. We are on the same page.

  15. jon Avatar

    Not only that spanglelakes, but depending on what kinda trap a hunter uses, the animal that is trapped won’t be able to escape a bigger predator that sees it and the trapped animal might also starve to death.

  16. Nathan Hobbs Avatar
    Nathan Hobbs

    One of many reasons I have enthusiasm towards doing away with recreational trapping is the chance to see more fisher, mink, marten, otter and so forth. Trapping is not the only reason they are hard to come across, but it is one of them.

  17. Phil Maker Avatar
    Phil Maker

    When I said “well-intentioned” I meant as far as trying to avoid catching pets. I do think that trap checks every 24 hrs., rather than 72, is more humane. Have you ever done any trapping, or even been around it?

  18. william huard Avatar
    william huard

    I would love to hear from a trapper who thinks this ballot initiative is unfair or unreasonable. The majority of americans do not trap, and it boggles my mind how these people who have shown nothing but contempt for wildlife can be allowed to do whatever they want to wildlife. We should one ballot initiative at a time take some of these rights away, one state at a time. Trapping has nothing to do with wildlife conservation, and everything to do with waste and cruelty.

  19. Marc Cooke Avatar
    Marc Cooke

    Phil. I have never done any trapping. This is the picture as I see it. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong at anypoint. The trapper locates a spot that they feel will increase their chances at the targeted species they desire. They set their trap. Along comes this creature and it places their foot into the trap which snaps shut. I would think this would cause trauma to varying degrees. Skin laceration to fractures of the bone. This animal immediately goes into a panic till exhaustion sets in. In the mean time they have lost their ability to protect themselves, water themselves feed themselves…… The cold starts to invade their body and shock becomes more of a life threatening issue. Mean while the trapper decides that maybe its time to check their traps. They arrive at the above mention trap and have to make a decision. Do I want to shoot this animal and risk blood and a hole in the pelt? No cant do that it might bring less value. So I guess I will have to just stomp on it or beats it to death with a club. They take this animal and walks off. A little way down the trail they tosses it into the bushes. Not the animal they wanted. Just an unfortunate creature that is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe it was one of the the animals I like to photograph? Maybe thats one reason I dont see as many as I use to? Bottom line is this. Trapping needs to go! This was not meant to incite or inflame you our anyone else. It how I see it.

  20. william huard Avatar
    william huard

    groups like the US sportsmen alliance will argue that this initiative will start a precedent so that all the animal rights activists will attempt to push their agenda to ban all types of hunting, fishing and other recreational activities. So in the meantime the status quo of animal torture should be allowed to continue without any changes or regulation. The right-wing fear machine worlks with everything.

  21. Phil Maker Avatar
    Phil Maker


    Your reasoning loses a little when you get to the part about the trapper worrying about damaging the pelt, and then discarding the animal because it was a non-target species. Traps, with the exception of Conibears and other “kill” traps, are designed to hold certain-sized animals, so the type and amount of foot damage, in theory, would be minimalized. I’ve seen Carter Niemeyer purposely put his hand into a wolf trap (the largest w/ the most holding power) without suffering any of the damage you describe- though I admit he didn’t struggle and fight to free himself as a trapped animal could do. Yes, the animal once caught is more or less rendered stationary and may or may not undergo the cold and shock you suggest. Suffocation, if done properly, is a humane method for killing an animal. In looking at the IDFG website (search “furbearer harvest”), it’s doubful if the trapping levels of any of the species listed would be enough to reduce your viewing opportunities in the slightest. Do you hunt?

  22. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    Trapping near hiking trails has long been a contentious issue in this area and there have been occasional dogs caught, fortunately in foothold traps and not deadly 330 conibear wolverine sets. Trapping has been closed within ¼ mile of an increasing number of trails with people pushing for closures around all of them. A seemingly reasonable compromise was passed this past year wherein there are now ¼ mile closures around all trails with the exception that small conibear traps are allowed in trees at least 5 feet above ground and snow as close as 50 yards from all trails. That eliminates potential dog catches near trails and still allows trappers to target by far the most economic species, the marten which are particularly beautiful in this area and very much in demand. Most trapping in the local area is done by a few 12-15 year olds who are generally too young to find jobs but can make over $3,000 if they work at it hard.

  23. Marc Cooke Avatar
    Marc Cooke

    Phil, In the spirtit of good conversation I will engage your request. I will start with hunting. No, I dont hunt. I have not hunted in almost thirty five years. However, I am not against hunting. Every hunter I have spoke to has always told me that they put their animal down as quickly as possible. Getting back to trapping I find several errors in your logic. Your using the word “minimalized”says it all. This is meant to be a measurement of a sort. The intent of this word is to show some degree of of not allowing pain or suffering or movement. Not sure how to reply to your statement about this gentleman Carter Niemeyer. Without having any docummentation or studies on bone density and skin composition to fall back on I can only make an assumption on this using my past experience. I dont beleive for one moment a trapped animal will not struggle with this painful/frightening situation. I will use the term which I see all creatures in nature do when challenged. ” Fight or Flight” That said I stand by my orginal remarks that there will be damaged inflicted to this unfortunate creature. With trauma if left unattened, will on its own progresse to varying degrees of shock and possible death. Phil, I live in Montana which I dont expect you to know. However, I live at the base of a national forest. Literally right next door. I tend to spend most of my time photographing and exploring my backyard. I do understand that animals will travel and the dynamics of land occupation are very fluid. However, when a trapper comes in and hammers at a certain area you can have nothing but a decrease of wildlife. You cannot take a negetive from a positive number and have an increase in the original number. Impossible! I am currently seeing this where I spend most of my outdoor time. On a side note I do fly fish when I take guest into the Bob Marshall on pack trips during the warmer months. Of course it catch and release! All the best. Marc

  24. Phil Maker Avatar
    Phil Maker


    I’m sure every hunter has the intent of killing their game as quickly and efficiently as possible. Do you think it happens that way every time? Most state wildlife agencies calculate into their quotas a factor for wounding loss. I suppose, on a large geographical basis, this could amount to certainly hundreds, if not thousands, of animals per year.

    My remark regarding Mr. Niemeyer is to show that the traps don’t necessarily cause inhumane levels of pain; and yes, I think trappers should try to minimalize/lessen the “suffering” of animals in foot-hold traps.

    There are studies of wolf populations where as much as 35-40% of the wolves can die (from whatever causes incl. harvest) and the overall population doesn’t decline. I don’t know if this applies to other furbearing species, but some of this trapping kill is probably compensatory mortality (individuals that would have died from other causes). So in the strictest sense your argument of removal of an individual does “decrease” the total # of that animal, it may have very little affect on the population (which is more important than the individual).

    Do you not think that embedding a sharp hook in the mouth of a fish causes “shock and possible death” even though your intent is to release? Are fish somehow less in your eyes than mammals when it comes to potential suffering?

  25. spanglelakes Avatar

    Phil – if you think the anti-wolf crowd intends to kill a wolf “as quickly and efficiently as possible” – then you need to go on line and read the predator and anti-wolf sites, or even the blogs on papers like the Mt Express. “Gut shoot ’em” is the anti-wolf crowd’s favorite phrase. Recommended is using a .22 caliber rifle so the wolf will still be able to travel and then die a horrible death out of sight.

    Also recommended is to shoot at as many wolves as possible, since a hunter can “only” tag one. Look at the IDFG wolf hunt map – it’s no accident that the Middle Fork and Salmon zones are still “open”. There are a lot of wolves in these zones and a lot of wolf haters. They are shooting and wounding wolves, but not turning in a kill – so the “fun” can continue.

  26. spanglelakes Avatar

    Phil Maker – in response to your question (unclear who you were asking) re being around trapping. The answer for me is yes. Way too much. Since an early age.

    Re. Carter Niemeyer putting his hand in a wolf trap. He traps now for IDFG to radio collar wolves. Traps are set and checked in the evening and at daybreak. This is a huge contrast to the 72 hr time that trappers in Idaho are required to check their traps. And most don’t even do that. Why should they? Where is the enforcement? What judge in what county is ever going to prosecute a trapper? Why even bother to write up a ticket?

    Trapping and snaring to kill animals for fur or for fun, belong in the past.

  27. Phil Maker Avatar
    Phil Maker


    Have you not read my other posts? I advocate for daily trap checks for all species. The issue under discussion isn’t whether trappers that don’t can/will be prosecuted. The conscientious ones will abide by the law. Nor is the issue whether the anti-wolf public is gut-shooting wolves. That will go on no matter the listing status and abundance of wolves, though I think that is mostly a lot of hot air. You have no evidence that it is any more than a bunch of talk.

  28. jerryB Avatar

    Phil Maker….
    Ever sat at the table with the “agency” and representatives of the trapping associations with the goal of enacting stricter regulations on trapping? I have… and it’s a total waste of time trying to reason with minds that have been “frozen in time” and keep alluding to “it’s our cultural heritage and we’re not about to change”.
    They have NO interest in establishing a required trap check, increasing setbacks, posting warnings, moratoriums on wolverines, fisher, or any animal whose population has dropped to the level where they’re being considered for listing.
    Until you have tried to negotiate with this type of human, I’d say you don’t have a clue what the hell you’re talking about.

  29. jerryB Avatar

    More research on-going relating to animal cruelty and abuse.

    There is legitimate evidence that the individuals involved in violent acts against animals present a danger to the public that must be addressed.

  30. Phil Maker Avatar
    Phil Maker


    The failure to enact tougher regulations is the weakness of the agency- has nothing to do with the trapper organization (name me any organization of any sort that would willingly give up its current situation for one that allows lesser freedom). The agency must ENFORCE their desired controls/changes. Sounds like you were a member of the impotent bureaucracy unable to regulate those you were charged to regulate.

  31. Marc Cooke Avatar
    Marc Cooke

    Phil, I believe you are correct that many animal are injured, some will die a painful death because of the sustained injury. I am not happy about hat as I am sure you are not. However, this injury was not premeditated! ( I believe as does Spanglelakes does with the wolve issue but we can debate that at another time) The hunter did not go out with sole intention of inflicting this type of pain and suffering. As for Mr.Niemeyer…your statement that “traps dont necessary cause” once again says it all. For the sake of argument. Lets say you and I broke our arms in the exact same manner and sustained the same injury. Your arm for what ever reason does not bother you. Mine on the other hand is extremely painfull. People threshold for pain very greatly. I cant prove it but I would wager it is the same with wildlife. Therefore with the sudden closing of the trap , pain will follow only to increase with the jerking and struggle. Have you ever accidentally stepped on yours or someone elses dogs foot? We all know what happens immediately afterwards. Concerning the acceptable mortality rate within a speices. I am not a scientist or have any degrees related to wildlife. However, I am of the opinion that every life has a value. My life is no more or less important to me then every creatures life is to them. Most species have genetic flaws. Who is to say that because of natrual mutation that animal that some trapper just killed did not have a gene that was resistant to an illness that was prevalent within that species? Or perhaps going way out on a limb could cure cancer within humans? I will concede one argument to you. That is your fishing statement. However, I realize that you and I will never meet tete but rest assured I continuely to struggle with that exact statement. I see in the near future , per haps this year me hanging my pole up for good. All the best. Marc

  32. jerryB Avatar

    Phil Maker…..
    “(name me any organization of any sort that would willingly give up its current situation for one that allows lesser freedom)”
    As we evolve (some of us ), as a culture, many of our actions in the past are no longer acceptable “human” behavior. Hence, news laws are passed which are reprehensible to the few that want to remain in the dark ages, but which the majority and the civilized, embrace… civil rights, gay marriage, dog fighting etc.

  33. Elk275 Avatar

    My nephew grew up on the family farm where the Bighorn River runs into the Yellowstone River. When he was in high school he ran a small trapline on the farm (7,000 or 8,000 acres) and trapped bobcat, fox, mink and coyote, which he also called in and shot. He would make $1500 to $2000 a year in the fur business most of it from the 2 or 3 bobcats that he trapped. Good money for 3 months part time work, this was his spending money. To day he is a grown man with 3 children, a wife and home.

    I have never seem any “evidence that the individuals involved in violent acts against animals present a danger to the public that must be addressed.” That is horse pucky. He is one of the kindess persons that I know and one of my favorite hunting buddies. My feeling is that this was their land and they could trap if allowed and I see no reason to restrict there rights or anyone else rights.

    It is kinda like abortion — if you do not like it don’t have one or don’t trap.

  34. Phil Maker Avatar
    Phil Maker


    What do you mean it’s not premeditated? That hunter went out there with the intent to harvest an animal. I am advocating that all means of killing/harvesting wildlife be made as ethical/humane as possible. Thoughts/standards (as you describe from the broken arm/pain threshhold example) about what is ethical/humane are up to each individual. And who is to say that the elk/deer/salmon/trout that was just killed legally (and more humanely than trapping as you seem to argue in most instances- and which are killed in much huger quantities than those trapped) also was not the cure for cancer? I think we are not as distant in our desires to have wildlife respected. If we truly seek to value every life, then we all become vegans, or even something more life-friendly than that. No more fabrics from natural fibers- plants are life forms, too. And that would also mean that we don’t eat plants as food, etc. I am finished commenting on this thread. I appreciate your input.

  35. gline Avatar

    “To answer Jim T, there are no penalties for trapping or injuring someone’s pet or humans with a trap or snare.”

    Why is this? this is morally and ethically wrong. Why does a trappers’ financial gain outweigh a human or pets suffering? I could use financial gain myself, but I would never set a trap for a “pelt”. I would rather see the remaining wildlife we do have in a photograph or live in the woods.

  36. jon Avatar

    Animals should not be trapped for their fur. To kill a creature just for its fur only to sell it to make money is disgusting. This is disgusting and wrong on all levels.

  37. gline Avatar

    “It is kinda like abortion — if you do not like it don’t have one or don’t trap.”


    – If we are drawing parallels between humans and animals I say: if mature, individual animals could speak English and have a say in the matter, we should let them have a say first on how they feel about being killed in a trap.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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