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We the people should have the inalienable right to enjoy our public lands without threat from hidden steel devices that harm people and maim and kill pets and wildlife. It is very important for Montanans to vote yes on I-177, the initiative that allows everyone safe access to our publicly owned lands. Only trappers are allowed to hide weapons of destruction on our public lands. It’s time to rid our publicly owned lands of indiscriminate traps and snares.

I-177 restricts commercial and recreational trapping to private land the size of Wyoming. It is far from radical; more than 100 countries and eight states have fully banned or restricted trapping, including Washington, Colorado, California and Arizona in the West.

I-177 allows trapping on public lands to protect health and safety, livestock and property and for research and wildlife management activities. It’s a common-sense solution that allows the public to hunt, fish, hike and work on publicly owned lands without the danger of concealed, baited steel traps and snares. It will end the cruel, random destruction of Montana’s heritage, our wildlife, and allow imperiled species to recover.

Trapping is classified as recreation. It is indiscriminate therefore not scientific and does not control populations. “Montana’s harvest seasons are not based on reducing or controlling diseases,” wrote former fur-bearer coordinator Brian Giddings, Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Some claim that a mandatory trapper education class will make a difference in the cruel toll inherent with trapping. But those who’ve attended trapping classes know that the ethical part is about how to treat the pelt so it does not lose value. This isn’t ethics. Ethics are the first rule of the Pope and Young Rules of Fair Chase: “The term ‘fair chase’ shall not include the taking of animals ... helpless in a trap…”

The ethics of Fair Chase include knowing one’s target, a quick, humane, kill and no wanton waste. Trapping has none of these ethics. The trapper isn’t even there, and may not show up for days or weeks to bludgeon, drown, strangle or stomp on the terrified animals until their lungs collapse, so as not to damage the pelt. For every target animal a trapper takes, he kills and discards an average of two more animals. No one knows how many offspring starve to death when nursing mothers are trapped. One out of four animals chews its leg off to escape the panic and pain. This is not an ethical way to treat any living creature.

“The leg-hold trap … is probably the most cruel device ever invented by man and is a direct cause of inexcusable destruction and waste of our wildlife,” wrote Dick Randall, a former federal trapper, in a statement to Congress in 1975. “Even though I was an experienced, professional trapper, my trap victims often included non-target species such as bald and golden eagles, a variety of hawks and other birds, rabbits, sage grouse, pet dogs, deer and antelope, badger, porcupine, sheep and calves.”

I-177 does not harm, but helps ranching and agriculture. Livestock get caught in traps just as easily as deer, elk, bear and moose. The unlimited, unregulated trapping of predators means rodent populations go unchecked, destroying farm fields. Exceptions in the initiative allow for trapping of problem animals as well.

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Unlimited trapping of beaver in this era of drought and forest fires is irresponsible. Beaver create wetlands, raise aquifer levels, cleanse and store water, make natural firebreaks. Trapping lynx, wolverine, fisher and other species to near extinction threatens to close vast territories to industry like timber and mining. Trappers do not pay costly reintroductions of species, the public does. Pet owners shoulder the trauma and cost of vet bills for their pets maimed and killed in traps. All this, for the recreation of less than one percent of Montanans.

Traps and poison are unlawful in city parks and school playgrounds. Any claims otherwise are fear-mongering lies.

Vote for I-177, the Montana Trap-Free Public Lands initiative. It’s time for public lands to be truly public.

Connie Poten is the secretary for Montana Trap-Free Public Lands.

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