The Issue



Every year family pets needlessly die in traps. Many other are injured or maimed. Watch the Footloose Montana Public Service Announcement “Don’t let this happen to your dog!” on YouTube.

See what Charles Darwin wrote in 1863 in his “Trapping Agony” letter. Not much has changed since then… However, most people think fur trapping ended with the mountain man, or the anti-fur movement of the Seventies. But it didn’t. That mythical trapper living alone in a cabin, scratching a living off the land? According to statistics, he probably has a full-time job and, when expenses are figured in, doesn’t make a dime off of trapping. In the United States, trapping is an overwhelmingly recreational activity, meaning animals—including, every year, family pets—suffer for fun. Meanwhile, the pelts a trapper does sell are used for status symbol clothing, not for survival.   As Asian countries gain wealth, they also embrace fur garments as status symbols, and are driving fur prices higher and encouraging trappers to deploy more traps than ever on Montana’s public lands.

Trapping is a poorly understood activity in Montana—and trapping organizations would like to keep it that way. They don’t want the public to know they’re out there, or just how prevalent they are. We want you to be aware:

  • Almost every river and creek drainage in Western Montana has traps in it, and they’re often placed just along streambanks, where fisherman, kayakers, tubers—anybody who enjoys our waterways—is likely to wander along.

  • There is no safe season. Traps can be set all year. Hunters, cross-country skiers, mountain bikers–anybody who recreates with pets on public lands may encounter traps.

  • Last year about 3,000 individuals set traps in Montana. There is no limit on the number of traps an individual can set. In peak season there may be tens of thousands of traps baited and concealed like land mines on our public lands. Tens of thousands of traps may be set all year long.

  • According to voluntary survey results published by Montana’s Department of Fish , Wildlife and Parks, every year trappers kill an average of 50,000 animals they actually mean to catch–and kill thousands more “non-target” animals by accident. These numbers, the “accidents,” are never collected or reported, but your pet could be one of them.

  • Trappers kill endangered, threatened and sensitive species. Lynx, wolves, bald eagles, marten, fisher, and wolverines are all killed by trappers in Montana. Hawks, eagles, owls and other raptors are also routinely killed or severely injured by traps.

  • If hunters shot other people’s pets on public lands, there would be a public uproar. Trappers maim and kill dogs, cats and livestock on a routine basis, as part of the “non-target” by-catch that traps indiscriminately catch. A set trap snaps shut on whatever walks into it, including lactating mother animals.  When this happens, the offspring starve to death.

  • Trapping is one of the least regulated consumptive activities on our public lands. Montana has no trap check requirement. Trappers legally leave animals in traps for days adn weeks at a time. Traps may be legally set within a stone’s throw of roads and trails. Traps may be set 365 days a year.

  • While hunters, anglers, snowmobilers, backcountry skiers, hikers, rafters and other recreation groups have fought hard to conserve our state’s bounty of natural resources, trapping is a strictly consumptive use. Trappers take what they want and give nothing back to the public resource. There are no Rocky Mountain Bobcat Foundations, no Beaver Unlimited, no Foxes Forever, no trapping organizations helping to conserve our wildlife or its habitat. In fact, in the case of species considered “sensitive” by the U.S. Forest Service, like wolverines and fishers, trappers are fighting to maintain their consumptive use—even as it pushes the species toward extinction.

  • Misleading information abounds. Despite repeated requests from citizens, Montana FWP has been unable to regulate trappers beyond the few rules and recommendations currently on the books–which bodes poorly for those seeking more protection for recreation on public lands.  In the past decade Montana citizens have made several attempts to require trap check times, or increase setbacks from public recreation areas. These have all been dismissed by Fish, Wildlife & Parks commissioners and pro-trapping legislators in the state assembly.  In any case,  regulations on trapping are unenforceable due to the hidden nature and sheer numbers of traps on our public lands.

  • Montana owes a great debt of gratitude to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for its conservation of our wildlife.  FWP does excellent work in many areas, but it has fallen short on the issue of trapping.   Because trappers wrote the trapping regulations, they are skewed in favor of trappers, and data offered by either FWP or the Trappers Association to the public is often scant or unreliable.

    • FWP will warn the public about traps in an area only after a pet death or accident has already occurred—even in highly popular recreation areas.

    • Except for a few intermittent “track surveys,” FWP relies entirely on trappers to voluntarily submit trapping results. In many cases voluntary trapper surveys are the only data FWP has for furbearer populations.  This hurts our wildlife’s fight for survival.  For instance, at the same time that trapping for wolverine continues, independent wildlife biologists confirm that populations of wolverine have fallen below sustainable numbers.  Not only do our wildlife live by their wits in harsh, unforgiving circumstances, they are further, unnecessarily challenged to endure long, painful deaths in recreational traps.  Those that chew off their feet or wring off entire limbs to escape in panic rarely survive.

    • FWP claims recreational and commercial trapping is a management tool needed to control predator populations. No facts support this assertion. In fact, Colorado limited trapping on public lands in 1996, and in the eight year period afterwards, livestock losses to predators dropped 62%!  Coyotes have been shot and trapped for the past century, and their numbers haven’t changed.  That’s because like many other species, they self-regulate their populations.  The more that are trapped, the more they reproduce.

    • Trapping is an antiquated activity of few that has no place in a modern world in which increasing number of species are struggling for survival.

Promoting Trap-Free Public Lands for People, Pets, and Wildlife