A split Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved multiple new trapping regulations Thursday.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks proposed nine new regulations ranging from quota adjustments for some animals to requiring the reporting of any caught animal that cannot be legally trapped. But the most contentious item on the agenda centered on which roads or trails require a “setback,” meaning how far a trap must be placed away as to avoid conflicts with other users.
FWP proposed a change from the current regulations that require setbacks from “open” roads and trails. The new regulation sought to clarify open as any road or trail designated by administrative signs or numbers, but with the exception of roads closed year-round. Roads blocked by boulders or Kelly-humped, inaccessible to trucks or OHVs but open to snowmobiling, would remain open to trapping without setbacks.
Opponents of the exception argue that closed roads are popular for recreation such as cross country skiing and having no setbacks creates a safety concern.
Supporters of the proposal noted that no setbacks are currently required, closed roads are travel corridors for animals such as wolves, and conflicts have not largely arisen under the current regulations.
The commission put the regulations out for public comment two months ago, but in recent days KC York with Trap Free Montana Public Lands has raised issues with FWP’s characterization of the public comments. The department produces a report to the commission and said that “several” commenters opposed the exceptions to the setback, but more than 60 of the 140 comments stated their opposition.
“There was a much greater push (against the setback exception) for some people and groups than might have been implied the way you wrote that,” said Commissioner Tim Aldrich of Missoula.
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Commissioner Richard Stuker of Chinook, saying he values trapping but public safety was his primary concern, offered an amendment that would eliminate the exception. If passed, any numbered or signed road or trail would require a setback of 50 feet for furbearers and 150 feet for wolves regardless if the road is open to vehicles.
Trapping opponents praised the amendment.
“I admire your courage because it’s not an easy thing to do,” said Marc Cooke with Wolves of the Rockies.
Long-time trapping advocate Bob Sheppard said he believed education programs provide the best means of teaching trappers to avoid areas where a conflict is likely to arise and many of the roads in question are difficult to access.
Commissioner Shane Colton of Billings noted his frustration that data on miles of trail falling under the exception had not been provided to the commission, but joined Commissioners Pat Byorth and Logan Brower in opposing the amendment.
The commission then passed the nine regulations changes on a vote of 3-2, with Colton, Byorth and Brower in support and Stuker and Aldrich in opposition.
Regulation changes include the setbacks, tagging of pelts within 10 days of the season close, reporting nontarget catches, lowering the fisher quota to zero in the Cabinets, creating a Region 1 personal marten quota of 10 and lowering the Region 2 bobcat quota from 200 to 150.