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Trappers in two areas of Montana with populations of threatened Canada Lynx may have new regulations in the coming season in the wake of a settlement reached between Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and three environmental groups.

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved for public comment proposed furbearer seasons and quotas for the 2015-2016 season on Thursday. Among the proposed new regulations are reductions in bobcat quotas in Regions 4, 5 and 6, in addition to a new requirement that the lower jaw from bobcats be forfeited to FWP for analysis. What received the most attention are proposed trapping regulations for northwestern Montana and the Greater Yellowstone area intended to reduce incidental take of lynx.

In March 2013, Friends of the Wild Swan, Wildearth Guardians and Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed suit in U.S. District Court alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act for Montana allowing trapping in areas inhabited by lynx. The suit alleged that trapping and snaring resulted in lynx illegally caught and killed in some cases under the ESA.

In February 2015, the state of Montana and the plaintiffs reached a court-approved settlement. The terms include a two-year moratorium on wolverine trapping until at least the 2017-2018 season.

Existing regulations limiting leaning pole sets to poles less than four-inches in diameter, breakaway devices on snares and restrictions on ground sets for body-gripping traps remain in place. Mandatory release and reporting of captured or killed lynx would also remain in effect.

Lynx protection zones around Yellowstone National Park in south-central Montana and a portion of northwestern Montana that includes the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and around Glacier National Park will have their own special regulations.

No rabbit or hare parts can be used as flagging within 30 feet of a trap. Natural flagging such as bird wings or feathers, or fur cannot be used with 30 feet of a trap.

No fresh bait can be used, only bait that is tainted for at least 24 hours.

Body-gripping traps are limited to a five-inch jaw spread unless used in a water set, an elevated set or leaning pole 48 inches off the ground or recessed in a box with an opening no larger than 52 square inches.

Trappers targeting bobcats must check traps at least every 48 hours.

The foothold trap size for bobcats is limited to 5 3/8-inch jaw spreads, unless on a leaning pole set 48 inches above the ground or equipped with a 10-pound pan-tension device.

Snares must be at least 5/64 inches in diameter, with an eight-inch loop from side-to-side, and equipped with a 350-pound or less breakaway device.

Mathew Bishop, attorney for the plaintiffs, encouraged the commission to endorse the settlement, which if approved after public comment, would see the case dismissed.

“I think at the end of the day it was a compromise, a good decision among the parties,” he said. “The changes apply to only a small percentage of the state. It’s based on the best available science and at the end of the day, we see less lynx being caught and killed in traps set for other species.”

Bishop provided a list of 15 lynx trapped incidentally since listing in 2000.

Nick Gevock, conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation, called it a “good faith effort” on the part of trappers in his organizations support of the settlement.

"It was a difficult negotiation, but we believe these changes would reduce injury and mortality to imperiled lynx," said Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan, in a statement. "Our goal is to protect and recover lynx and this agreement would work toward that."

Kylie Paul, outreach coordinator for Defenders of Wildlife, also threw support behind the settlement.

“There’s a lot of good approaches and a good-faith effort -- we do think there’s a lot of Montanans that will support this as well as lynx do need as much protection as they can get,” she said.

Paul did ask the commission to continue the ban on wolverine trapping indefinitely and end the trapping of fishers a mid-sized weasel with a statewide quota of seven animals.

The Montana Trappers Association, who intervened in the lawsuit along with the National Trappers Association, was not satisfied with the settlement, said MTA president Toby Walrath.

“There’s not any evidence that shows trapping in critical lynx areas are impacting lynx at all,” he said. “All the data we have shows that’s not valid. Habitat in Montana is just not that conducive to growing lynx populations.”

Walrath refused to sign onto the settlement and issued a formal objection with the court. He believes trappers were stifled during legal proceedings from providing input.

Walrath hopes to convince the Fish and Wildlife Commission to adopt different regulations. The MTA supports a jaw spread of 5 5/8 inches, which is the size of many commercial traps, he said.

An eight-inch snare loop will only result in lynx stepping through and then being caught around the hips, and is not an ethical way to hang a snare, he said.

The MTA also opposes a mandatory trap check, as someone could check a trap early one day and then late another, he said. The MTA did support a 48-hour recommendation with a stipulation that if a lynx was trapped, it would go to a mandatory check, he said.

“The Montana Trappers Association is concerned about furbearing populations in our state and dedicated to seeing them into perpetuity, however, the three items are less about helping lynx and more about restricting trappers,” Walrath said.

The final decision on the proposed settlement agreement will occur on July 9, 2015.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 or tom.kuglin@helenair.com

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Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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