Trap Free Montana Public Lands (TFMPL) has until this Friday to gather enough signatures to get Initiative 169 on the ballet. I-169 allows the public to determine whether they want recreational and commerical fur trapping on public lands. This is a fair and reasonable measure. It applies only to trapping and only on public lands, which make up 1/3 of Montana. Hunting and fishing rights are not affected by I-169.
But reasonable and fair is not how the opposition to this initiative are behaving. Members of the Montana Trappers Association (MTA) have continually bullied signature gatherers across the state, upsetting some volunteers to the point that they have given up. The MTA has also openly harrassed citizens into not signing the initiative. Signed signature pages have been stolen from veterinary clinics and other locations. Recently, at the Hamilton County Farmer’s Market, a very large trapper verbally assaulted two female TFMPL volunteers. At the same event, members of the MTA showed up pulling a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks trailer and using their materials, violating campaign ethics and giving the distinct impression that the state agency is going along with the efforts to sabatoge I-169.
Not all of the battle has been so public. Last month an official complaint was filed by TFMPL with the Commissioner of Politcal Practices against MTA and their cohorts, Montanans for Effective Wildlife Managment. The allegation is that the MTA, a nonprofit, has been raising large amounts of unreported funds to fight I-169, including an auction that brought them nearly $25,000. The complaint is currently under investigation.
With this knowledge, it takes a stretch of the imagination to see the MTA as an ethical and responsible organization. Their efforts to squelch I-169 appear desperate and self-serving. Perhaps their actions are so extreme because they realize that much of the population wants to see trapping go the way of the musket.
While it can be acknowledged that some trappers are true naturalists who value their time in the wilderness and take pride in the heritage of trapping, no one can honestly dispute the cruelty of their sport. And the supposed role of trapping in managing wildlife is a story few believe any longer. Chronic trapping of beaver has desecrated riparian habitat throughout the US. Rare and endangered species, such as lynx, wolverine, golden eagles and kit fox fall prey to traps. Fish, Wildlife and Parks reports that each year, an average of fifty dogs are indvertently trapped in Montana alone. Many of these deaths and injuries go unreported because the pet owner fears retaliation by the trapper. Or they simply know nothing will be done.
The effort to end trapping won’t go away. States and nations across the world are realizing that fur is no longer a needed entity and that we can do better than to impose suffering on our native wildlife. Steel-jaw traps have already been banned in 88 countries. Their use is banned or restricted in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington. The European Union forbids the use of steel-jaw traps as well as the importation of pelts from countries that use these devices to trap and kill fur-bearing animals.
We still have a few days to do what we can to put trapping on Montana public lands to the vote. If you live in Montana, or know someone who does, hurry to the TFMPL website to see how you can sign the initiative! Each vote counts. Our persistence and patience will pay off. Eventually, public lands will be a place that can truly be enjoyed by all, including the native species that reside there.